We have no experience with twins in our family, my mother-in-law nervously stated between awkward giggles. I know this. They weren’t begotten naturally. But I was about to insert them into the family tree like a third nipple mutation.
I am an instinctive researcher, so I prepared myself. The planet-killing amount of diapers we would use, the hoops I would have to jump though to get two babies breastfed, the clothes. But there were some things I wasn’t prepared for.
Like the uber pregnancy. You visit the OB and the neonatologist about every day, and you could be an ultrasound tech by the time you’re done watching your babies in utero. You grow out of your singleton (that’s what moms of multiples call regular kids) pregnancy clothes at six months and start shopping for muumuus and shuffle slippers to get you through the last trimester. You follow a “do nothing after 3 p.m.” policy so your feet don’t swell like sausages. You eat and eat and eat, then wake up at night to eat some more. You swell until you look like a bloated tick, with only tiny arms and legs wriggling uselessly on your sides.
I wasn’t prepared for the general curiosity people have about twins. Thanks to fertility treatments, the twin birth rate has increased 76 percent since 1980, so twins aren’t a rare sight anymore. They are just two children.
But taken together, they turn into The Other. When my girls were babies, strangers would have one of two polar reactions: running over to engage with them or giving them a wide berth. When we walked down airplane aisles, it was as if we were carrying on exotic animals. There was a constant barrage of comments like: “Double trouble.” “You’ve got your hands full!” “You’ve been busy.” (Nudge, wink.) And the classic, “Do twins run in your family?” The best example came from a member of my twins’ moms group, who was asked, “Did you take fraternity drugs?”
While the positive attention is nice, there’s something embarrassing about having twins, especially two pretty girls. As if I had ordered them up from a catalogue. As if I’m showing off.
But mostly, I wasn’t prepared for the rudeness. My neighbor, who skipped going the IVF route because she had other options unlike everyone else who does IVF, told me, “We didn’t want multiples. No offense.” I get it. That’s how I was before I had twins. I thought multiples were some kind of special-crazy status people wished upon themselves, and that they were somehow stronger/better equipped than I to handle it.
When my girls weren’t invited to a party that was full of “only” children, I was hurt but I understood. Even I want to yell, “Watch out!” every time they enter a room. There’s a thing about twins that’s like a hurricane: the kid energy feeds off itself and rises. You know how you feel when your child’s play date is over and that extra child goes home and you can finally pick stuff up off the floor in peace and quiet? Twins are like the never ending play date.
And there’s an odd fetish with twins that I didn’t expect. My girls are tall and blonde and loud. Dads joke with my husband about locking them away now before they start dating. There are winks and elbowing. We all remember that beer commercial featuring identical blonde twins as one of the things beer-drinking guys love: “And twins!” There’s the creepy black-and-white photos of twins taken by Mary Ellen Mark, the creepy twin girls in the hallway in The Shining, and the even creepier Olsen twins. None of these extremes resemble any real twins I’ve known.
And then there’s the overall myth that twins play well together, or have their own language, or share so well. Do these people actually have twins? In our house there’s a lot of fighting and crying (and, when they were toddlers, biting and hair pulling). My girls want the same thing at the same time and neither has the maturity to say, “Okay I’ll just wait.” They excel at pushing each other’s buttons. On the way to school one day when one girl had trouble breathing through a stuffy nose, the other went out of her way to take loud, clear breaths in and out while looking at her sister and smiling.
My girls do follow the adage of being closer to each other than anyone else. When I watch them play, I realize I will never know anyone in my life like that. This twinship is intimate.
My girls have gotten used to people on the playground asking them, “Are you twins?” At first they didn’t know what the word meant. I had avoided it, calling them “sisters” instead (which, as fraternal twins, is all they are). I had followed the advice in books about raising psychologically healthy twins–to treat them like individuals. I sent out separate birth announcements, I don’t dress them alike, I’ve even held separate birthday parties. Of course, for their fifth birthday party, they wanted to wear the exact same dress. Just to spite me.
But now they’re drawn to different activities–one to dance and one to basketball. And that’s a relief. When I show up at the rec center I won’t be “that twin mom,” but just a mom; my girls won’t be lumped together as “the twins” but called by their names. We still get the question: “Are they identical or fraternal?” but that’s an easy one. (I do feel bad for the twin parents who are constantly asked if their boy/girl twins are identical.)
Five years in, I now have some ability to come up for air and appreciate the adventure we’ve been on. But if I had been more prepared for the cultural expectations surrounding twins, I might have been more relaxed around the day-to-day care of two children the exact same age.
We’re the first generation to figure out what it’s like to parent multiples not as oddities but as the eventualities of wanting children at an older age. And maybe we just need some space and understanding until we figure this new dance out.
Virginia Woodruff founded the website Great Moments in Parenting. She lives in Austin with her husband and three children.
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