Giving birth to one baby is momentous enough, but having two is twice the fun – and twice the effort. We chatted to some moms of multiples to ﬁnd out if twins are double delight or double trouble, and to learn how they made it through those ﬁrst tough months. We found that even when there’s two of them, every twin is unique. Here are their stories.
TWIN-TO-TWIN TRANSMISSION SYNDROME
Marlien fell pregnant naturally for the second time and was delighted to learn that she was expecting twins. But when she was around 15 weeks’ pregnant, her gynae noticed that her twins were different sizes. He diagnosed twin-to-twin transmission syndrome (TTTS), a condition that only occurs in identical twins when the blood vessels in the shared placenta channel the blood supply from one twin to the other. Her doctor explained that the pregnancy was extremely high risk and that there was a chance that one, or both, of the twins wouldn’t make it. He recommended she have laser treatment at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria, as the pregnancy was already at stage three TTTS – stage four means one twin has died. The treatment involves a small incision just above the mother’s naval, but the specialists explained that the odds were fairly evenly split between one twin surviving, both twins surviving and both twins dying. Fortunately, in Marlien’s case, she enjoyed the best outcome and both twins survived. However, one baby still had a smaller share of the placenta and wasn’t getting enough nutrients, so Marlien’s pregnancy was closely monitored until the doctors decided, at 32 weeks, that the twins had a better chance of survival outside the womb. Marlien was given a massive dose of steroids, and the babies were born by C-section. Megan weighed 1.88kg, while Lilly, the smaller twin, came out at 676g – 66% smaller than her identical twin sister. She was able to wear her dad Clyde’s wedding ring as a bangle at the very top of her tiny arm. Megan came home after two weeks, but Lilly caught an infection and her weight dropped to 580g. Despite her tiny size, she was a fighter and made it through 67 days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to be discharged at 1.4kg. At home, she was welcomed by her twin, her brother and her stepsister into a suddenly very full household. Three years on and Megan and Lilly are doing well. They have met all their milestones and don’t have any of the issues often associated with premature babies. Lilly is still smaller, but is gaining in height and weight, and slowly catching up with her sister. They both needed occupational therapy and physiotherapy, but are now flourishing. “It was very hard,” recalls Marlien. “I had to quit my job as a marketing manager and go back to my previous employer because they had more flexible working hours. Even so, it was five months before I could go back to work on a half-day basis. It got easier when my son started going to school, and I couldn’t have survived without a full-time nanny.” What she finds hardest is that her time is divided into four parts – before she’s even started paying attention to her husband or job. “I’ve thought a lot about having a single baby and being a mother to multiples,” she says. “If both the twins were crying, I could only pick one up. Because of that, they got a bit of tough love. When they got bigger, I could get down on the floor and get them both to climb on me for comfort.” Even with all the stresses of having premature twins, it’s been an awesome journey. “I feel so blessed,” she says.
THE MULTIPLE WITH MULTIPLES
When Tali’s mother was struggling to fall pregnant, she had fertility treatment and the result was Tali – and two other babies! When Tali’s time to become a mother arrived, she found that she also struggled with a form of infertility known as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and she also underwent fertility treatment. She too fell pregnant with multiples – but in her case, only two. As a small-framed woman, Tali struggled with her pregnancy, although it progressed smoothly. From 30 weeks, she had serious strain in her back and hips and her employer installed a stretcher at work so that she could rest. From 35 weeks, she wasn’t able to work at all, so she stayed home until her babies were born eight and a half months into her pregnancy. She was in awe. She says it helped her enormously to have her mother nearby to offer support and guidance. “She understood the challenges of parenting multiples. Our experience will also help me to understand their challenges, and to help nurture their identities – being one of many feels normal to me.” Her boys, Adam and Josh, already play together at eight months, passing each other toys. Although parenting multiples is hard work, Tali reminds herself each day what a special gift they are.
Hayley had dreaded having multiples her whole life and her husband warned her that this fear would become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It seemed like this was not to be the case when they struggled to fall pregnant and eventually tried IVF. The first round failed, and they agreed to have one more try while making peace with the fact that they may never have children. As luck would have it, the second attempt worked and Hayley’s premonition had come true: she was pregnant with twins. She had a friend with twins and knew exactly what she was in for. “It took a long time to sink in, because I’d been exposed to the realities and was scared.” But Hayley loved being pregnant, and managed to carry her twins until 35 weeks. It was difficult for the anaesthetist to place the spinal block because Hayley couldn’t lean forward far enough, but the attempts were not painful. Although both babies were over 2kg at birth, they were placed in the NICU for two weeks for observation. Hayley took the time to heal, sleep and prepare for what was to come. Her daughter, Harper, came home first and Hayley was surprised at how easy she found it all. Then her son Jackson was discharged and Hayley’s husband went back to work. Everything started to fall apart. “There were some nights when both of them just screamed all night. We had no routine and everything became a mess.” The good news is that Hayley’s babies were only 13 weeks old when she found her rhythm. The cleaning lady who comes in twice a week helps to take the pressure off, and the fact that her family all live within 5km of her house and pop in to help makes all the difference. The most important survival tip for having twin babies is to go easy on yourself, she says. “I see moms with singles going for massage classes and having allocated tummy time and I feel terrible for my twins. I’m trying really hard to relax about it and just accept that I’m doing my best and they’re fine.”
THE CELEBRITY SINGLE MOM
When radio presenter Melanie fell pregnant by “happy accident” at 39, she had already gone through menopause. Her gynae said he thought it must have been her very last egg. She had an easy pregnancy and made it to 38 weeks before Skye and Shannon were born by C-section. She breastfed them both and attempted to alternate with bottle feeds, but by three months the girls gave up on the bottle and would only take the boob. Although it’s no picnic exclusively breastfeeding twins, Melanie persevered until they were two-and-a-half and she went back to work. Melanie believes that without knowing that twins were in her future, she was always preparing herself for their arrival. “I dated twins, my best friends were twins, I had other twin friends, but I never expected to be a mother to twins.” Unfortunately, Melanie’s marriage didn’t last. “It’s a fact that 60% of relationships with multiple births don’t last beyond two years, so we were proud that we made it past that milestone!” she says. Today, her girls are 10 years old and she can vouch that parenting multiples certainly gets better.
IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY
Although Gena and her husband both have twins in their families, Gena wasn’t expecting to have twins herself. They had a beautiful daughter, Morgan-Lee, and then, four years later, fell pregnant again. When the gynae was carrying out the sonogram, he said, “Oh, we have a problem…” At the same time, Gena said, “Oh my goodness, it’s twins!” Pregnancy didn’t treat Gena well, and the double whammy meant that she spent most of the first three months with her head in a toilet bowl. Her second trimester went well, but she was plagued by anxiety that something was wrong with the twins because of the pain in her belly. Her gynae then had a serious talk with her. “He explained that there were two babies inside me, draining me, and that my tummy was growing twice as fast. It helped to put things into perspective.” But that wasn’t the end of Gena’s worries, because two days before Christmas, when she was seven months pregnant, she fell down a flight of stairs. She and her husband rushed to the emergency room but, fortunately, the babies were fine. Then she wrote off her car – fortunately with no damage to herself or her babies. By 35 weeks, she was taking strain. She and her doctor agreed that she would take it easy and do her best to get to 38 weeks. She managed to achieve this goal, despite being in early labour for the last few weeks. She even managed to see her daughter into her first day of Grade R, which was important to her. Finally, her babies were ready to be born and came into the world screaming and healthy. Her son, Alex, was 3.5kg, and her daughter, Maddie, was 3.1kg – both a high birth weight for twins. Gena’s mother-in-law, an experienced twin mum, came to stay with the family for the first three weeks, which Gena says helped enormously. But when she left, Gena crashed and started to suffer from postnatal depression. “I felt like the whole world was coming down on me. I said to my husband, ‘I can’t do this.’ And he said, ‘Well, no-one else is going to do it for you, my love.’ So I just went into robot mode and did everything on autopilot.” Then, when her babies were seven weeks old, something suddenly clicked. “I felt like I could do it. I found my routine,” she says. Her babies take turns to give her a hard time. Maddie vomits all day, but sleeps through the night. Alex is a delight by day, but wakes up all through the night. Gena survives by co-sleeping with her twins so that she doesn’t have to get out of bed to deal with them during the night. “I wouldn’t wish twins on anyone,” says Gena. “But you just have to hang in there and, in the end, it gets better and better.”
WHAT OUR MOMS SAY
Here are five top tips for surviving multiples:
1. Focus only on the job at hand. Don’t worry about everything else.
- “The nurse at the ICU said that I should give 100% to the babies while I was there, and then give 100% of myself to my older children when I was at home and try not to worry about the other ones when I wasn’t with them,” says Marlien.
2. Get all the help you can.
- “Save up for a night nurse. It will save your sanity,” says Melanie.
- “Accept help. No-one is judging you. People are just trying to make your life easier,” says Gena.
3. Be kind to yourself.
- “Don’t blame yourself for not being perfect,” says Tali. “And don’t sweat the small stuff. Breastfeeding didn’t work out, so I moved on without getting upset. I had two babies to keep alive.”
- “My husband and I agreed that if we made it to the end of each day and both babies were still alive, that was good enough,” says Hayley.
4. Make friends with other moms of multiples.
- “Join twin-parents support groups,” says Tali. “The South African Multiple Births Association will put you in touch with other parents of twins in your area, and it’s also great for buying second hand stuff in twos.”
- “Meet up with other twin moms even before you have your babies,” says Hayley. “It really helps to be prepared for what you’re going to go through. And get to know about the NICU so you know what’s coming.”
5. Try to get out.
“Even though you have twins, don’t be scared to leave the house. It’s very liberating. People will stop you every five seconds, though, and it can be frustrating. The best approach is to be friendly yet firm,” says Tali.