Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Two is a magic number

Next week is Twins, Triplets and More week. The idea is to raise awareness about the challenges that can face the parents of twins or more. This is a laudable aim, but I think that perhaps one of the best ways to get parents ready for twins is to bolster them up with some of the good news about having two at once.

I love my twins. They have been the most fantastic, frustrating, tiring and amazing addition to my family. Yet I clearly recall when I had my first son standing in my bedroom, staring over his cot and thanking my lucky stars that I had not had twins. The sheer hard work and anxiety of caring for a single newborn had wiped me out and worn me down to a paper thin sliver of exhaustion. If I were one to wear hats I would have removed my headgear in honour of any mother who could cope with two at a time.

But then, after two singletons, there I lay, stretched out on a bed with my belly gelled up ready for the ultrasound of my third pregnancy. As soon as the scanner hit my distended stomach, two little images came up clear as a bell on the screen. My twins lay one on top of the other, as if on bunk beds, both gently waving their limbs at me, content in their own amniotic sacs.

All I can say is that I was glad I was already lying down, as the shock would surely have felled me. I had no inkling that I had twins on board. I had been sicker than usual, but with two older boys aged three and five to run around after, I had put this down to tiredness and a lack of time to cosset myself.

My husband and I walked around the ultrasound clinic, one twin was lying in an awkward position so we were trying to persuade him to move, whilst our pacing gave us a chance to absorb what we had just been told. Our whole lives would have to shift, our house and car were too small to accommodate two new arrivals, and my husband had only just got his head around having one more baby.

I am ashamed to admit it, but for a moment I did consider not going ahead with the pregnancy. I was overwhelmed by the concept of twins and wasn't sure that I could cope. Those dark thoughts from the early days with my firstborn tortured me, and I wondered if I would snap as I had predicted once presented with two babies.

My husband shut down this avenue instantly, telling me I would never forgive myself and would regret it for the rest of my life. I knew he was right, but I was terrified. I have never considered myself a poster girl for motherhood and here I was embarking on a journey that would see me taking care of four children, two of them newborn babies.

When the twins were firstborn it was hard. I didn't breastfeed, but even with the help of my husband and any other willing family member, looking after two babies is tough. The interminable night feeds and the fact that during the day when one slept, the other inevitably woke up. The days when I would spin between two moses baskets, not knowing which one to comfort, and which to leave crying. Juggling two wriggling babies, both of whom were more put out that comforted by my cack handed efforts to care for them.

But the sight of my two tiny boys curled around each other in their crib like kittens in a basket, noses touching, tiny hands reaching out for one another in their sleep, made the hard work seem more bearable. I felt honoured by the fascinating and rare privilege of being able to see two humans develop and grow in parallel. Or at least I did when I had time to have such deep thoughts, which wasn't often in the early days.

I know that those twin mothers mired in the trenches of double doses of nappies, sleepless nights and the sheer slog of taking care of twins, might sneer at my rose-tinted reminiscence, but those rare, heart melting moments were the only thing that got me through those early days.

Snuggling two babies onto my lap after a successful feed, feeling their tiny bodies relax into mine. Allowing us a pause in our day, to just sit and be together amidst all the chaos of caring for them was what kept me sane. Remembering that these weren't just little machines designed to make work for mummy, but actually my precious boys, was the best way to forget about the mountains of washing and the endless sterilising of bottles - if only for an instant or two.

But for me the true joy of twins kicked in when their personalities started to blossom and I could finally get to know each one of them as a person, rather than a chore.

My boys are non-identical in looks and nature. One is a sleek, dark otter, with poker straight hair, that coats his skull like fine fur. His huge eyes are black brown and bright with intelligence. He climbs on anything that sits still for a moment, yet at 16 months his fear of walking remains intact. His brother is a golden lion cub, with flyaway curls and eyes of ocean green blue. He knows his mind and will not be stopped once he has an idea fixed in it.

Each is beginning to communicate, with me and with each other. They screech at one another over disputed ownership of toys, and they combine jabbing little fists with ear piercing squeals to explain their every need, be it for food, drinks, comfort or supremacy.

While I don't sense a huge dependence on one another, I know that for my twins each is like a familiar piece of the furniture to the other. Sometimes I will catch them glancing at each other, only to dissolve into fits of giggles over some joke only they can share. They fight constantly over toys, but equally play for hours together.

With my single boys I was a full time entertainer until they went to nursery. I was constantly plagued by demands to come up with some new diversion, with the twins they have each other, which is far superior to anything mummy could come up with.

I understand now with the insight of a slightly seasoned twin mummy, that having two at a time is actually a blessing, not a curse. It is hard work, but then nothing worth having comes easily, but it is the most rewarding, endlessly interesting and delightful treat to have the joy of two babies at the same time. For me two is definitely a magic number, and to keep that in mind is probably the best preparation for coping with twins I could offer.


  1. You make having twins sound wonderful which is strange because I always found the prospect horrifying!

  2. SP - me too, but it's not nearly as bad as I expected, and twins really are pretty fantastic.