THIS is the first guest post in a special week of multiple birth inspired topics. So it's a big welcome to Harriet from the much admired Is there a Plan B? blog which charts the trials and tribulations of shifting from being a London lawyer to a stay at home mum of three in Scotland.
Her post made me laugh out loud. When I read about some of the questions she has been asked, it takes me back a bit. So, thank you very much Harriet and now it's over to her...
“Goodness, you’ve got your hands full!”
Thank you to Linda for hosting this week of multiple birth inspired posts and for her support of Tamba,
This is a post about about twins. And more precisely about the stuff everyone thinks they know about twins.
And the stuff everyone says to mothers of twins (I’ve got A and S, who are eighteen months old and identical as well as 3-year-old L).
And about the stuff, that sometimes we wish they wouldn’t.
Here are the twin myths.... or the information I should print out and hand to everyone who ever utters the handsfull phrase, or shows the whites of their eyes when they see me:
First the science and the stats. We talk about identical and non-identical twins, but that’s a kind of cosy fudge. Basically identical twins are formed when one sperm meets one egg and makes one embryo. For reasons brainier people that me don’t understand, it splits. It can split into any number, but mostly its twins (there are about 3,000 pairs of identical twins born in the UK a year, and about four pairs of identical triplets, more than that is even rarer). The babies are genetically identical. Non-identical twins are formed when the mum releases two eggs in one month (which can be genetic, can be related to age (you’re more likely to do it as you get older and your body starts getting rid of the eggs its not going to use) and can be utter fluke) and both are fertilised. They’re no more likely to be alike than any other siblings.
• It used to be the case that if two babies were born with two placentas they’d say “oh, they’re non-identical” and if there was only one they’d say “oh, they’re identical”. They now know that it’s not as simple as that (hence the fudge). If identical twins are formed very soon after conception, sometimes the split is so complete that there are two placentas. That explains the pair of twins we all know who claim not to be identical but who you can’t tell apart no matter how hard you try... They probably genetically are, but because there were two placentas their mum was told they’re non-identical, and without genetically testing them, which you can do, but it costs, you’ll never be certain.
• Apparently if the split happens before three days after fertilization you get totally separate babies, two placentas, two amniotic sacs, the lot. The hospital will tell you they’re probably not identical. They might be. If they split in days 4-8 you get two amniotic sacs and one placenta (that’s what I had). If it’s days 9-12 you get one placenta and one amniotic sac. After that an embryo very, very rarely splits. But if it does, that’s when conjoined twins happen. And all before you even know you’re pregnant!
• All that being the case, the thinking is that non-identical twins are, or can be, hereditary, because you can inherit a tendency to release more than one egg in a month, and identical aren’t. That they’re just fluke.
• The skipping a generation thing’s a sort of myth. It only happens if your father’s mother had the gene for releasing two eggs in one month. Your dad then (like mine) might be a twin or might have twin siblings. He could inherit the gene, but however hard he tries he’s not going to ovulate once, let alone twice, so he’s not going to have twins himself. But he could pass the gene on to you, and if you’ve inherited that gene, then you could have twins. Hey presto, twins have skipped a generation. But if instead of having a boy, your granny had had girls (so your mother is a twin or has twin siblings), then she could inherit the gene, would have twins and then it wouldn’t have skipped at all.
• And the stats? If conceived naturally about one in eighty pregnancies produces twins, of which one in three (so one in 240 overall) is identical. Twinning is increasing because of IVF and not just because of more than one egg being implanted. An IVF embryo is more likely to split than a naturally conceived one. Again they don’t know why, but it seems to me that if you’re poking around at the egg it’s perhaps likely that every now and then it will pop in two. Either way, you can’t assume that identical twins are “natural” and non-identical might be IVF. Assuming that’s any of your business anyway.
• Phew! That was a bit long and technical. You can see why I don’t normally come out with all that stuff when people stop me in the street, but that’s part of what they’re getting at when they ask “Do they run in the family”. In my case they shouldn’t. S and A are identical and identical twins, we’re told, aren’t hereditary. That said, my dad's a non-identical twin and my brother- and sister-in-law also have identical girls. Seems unlikely that that's not hereditary? Statistically it must happen every now and then (someone else can do that bit of maths).
• More myths: Their mother can't "always tell them apart". It took me about seven months to be able to do it all the time and I still make the occasional mistake. Small rant alert: it is not in any way helpful to the new mother of twins who's already comprised entirely of maternal guilt and stress to say "oh, well of course you can tell them apart". She probably can't and even if she can she'll have got it wrong at least once a day since they were born. All you're doing is making her feel like a cr@p mother.
• That said, I am 100% certain that A is A and S is S. A had nail polish on one of her toes until she was old enough to recognise her name.
• It is most definitely not "2 for the price of 1". It's 2 for the price of 2. Or, more often, more expensive than that because all the stuff that you bought for number one child thinking you could use it again for number 2 you have to buy all over again because number 3 wants to use it at the same time.
• They don't wake each other up. This is amazing and astounding and utterly, utterly, brilliant. Ours shared a cot (snazzy modern parenting lingo: "co-slept") for about six months until they got too big for the cot, and one of them could be screaming her little head off while the other slept on, stirring only to breathe. I never worked out in those situations which one of them was "sleeping like a baby".
• I, for one, never get bored of talking about them. They're two of the three-equal-best babies in the world, how could I?
• They empathise. Honestly and truly, from well before a singleton child would. By eleven months if A was crying S would go and find her favourite toy. They do it for other children too. Now I’d like to say that I’ve just got lovely babies, but I don’t think that’s it. L wouldn’t have dreamed of doing that. Still wouldn’t and she’s three. I think they just get that other people have feelings too.
• Parents, and families, of identical twins find them just as fascinating as the rest of the world. It doesn't get less interesting and amazing when you see them every day. It gets more. How can they be so alike and so different? S and A are genetically identical, and, at least at the moment, eat and do pretty much the same stuff at the same times, yet they need totally differing amounts of sleep. How does that work? Why does S not like peas, and A hate strawberries? And why does A have a double crown and S not? Surely that at least must be genetic - they can't blame our parenting for that one, can they?
• They play together. Older twin mums always tell me that’s one of the big bonuses, and I’m seeing it already. They giggle, they tease each other, they just love being together. One of the highlights of my day is after each meal when whoever gets down from her highchair first will run and play “boo” with the other from behind her chair. They fall about in laughter, and my world lights up.
• Not all twin pregnancies end in total bed-rest, can't move, can't walk, can't eat, major high-risk delivery panic panic horror.... despite what the consultants say, and whatever happened to your neighbour's sister-in-law's second cousin once removed. I know I was very, very lucky because I've met lots of twin mums who have had an awful time, and I am wordlessly grateful for it, but despite being 4 foot round the waist, I was mobile, comfortable and happy right up to the day they emerged wailing, through the sunroof (am too posh to push, naturally), with everything where it was supposed to be. We were home in 2 days.
• And finally, the one that always gets me: How did I conceive them? Doggy style. Now go away.
And now here we are, eighteen months later (or I suppose twenty seven months after that particular event!), still very definitely learning about these two astoundingly different, astonishingly similar little people. Every day they amaze me, and every day they make me smile. Sometimes they even let me write things like this. Can't complain really.
This week, as well as Harriet, there are going to be more fab guest bloggers on You've Got Your Hands Full writing about various aspects of being a multiple mum to mark Twins, Triplets & More week.
There will be a carnival on Friday July 2 all about the pains and pleasures of having twins or more. (Please send your entries to lindajonespassionatemedia[at]googlemail.com by 7pm Thursday July 1 to be included. And please do download the code for a Got Your Hands Full badge which you can see to the left...)
I'm also going on what's known as a blog tour. Eeek.