Multiples attract attention, there’s no getting around it. People approach you in public, sometimes just to look at your babies and say “Aw,” sometimes to tell you about twins they know, sometimes to tell you they are a twin! Once a woman came up to me and, touching my amazing double stroller, said, “I wish they had these when I had my twins 60 years ago!”
But sometimes people stop you and ask you a million personal questions, and it’s hard to decide how much you should say. Usually the first question is, “Do twins run in your family?”
If you poke around your family tree, you’ll probably find some twins — about 97 percent of all births are singletons, but twins make up the majority of that other 3 percent. Fraternal twins — twins who are no more similar than any pair of siblings — can sometimes run on the mother’s side of a family if women in that family tend to release more than one egg per ovulation cycle. If you’re having babies later in life, you’re also more likely to release more than one egg and therefore more likely to have fraternal twins.
But identical twins — twins who share the exact same DNA — and multiples running on the father’s side are apparently the result of chance and coincidence, and can happen to anyone. The truth is that multiples run in the human family: women of African descent are more likely to have twins, and women of European descent are more likely to have triplets or more, but anyone planning on having a child should be aware that you could always get a little more than you bargained for.
And of course, if you use any “ART” — assisted reproductive technology — you’re more likely to have multiples too. That certainly affected my pregnancy: My ovaries didn’t release two eggs in a cycle; they released 20! I underwent fertility treatment, and a course of injectable drugs put my reproductive system on overdrive. Of those 20 eggs, 16 were mature enough to inject a sperm into, 8 fertilized, and 4 were still growing five days later. Two of those four were placed in my uterus, and both of them implanted. As a result of this miracle of modern science, two happy, healthy little girls are now the beautiful center of my life.
So when a woman comes up to me in a shopping mall and says, “Twins! How precious! Do twins run in your family?” I have to make some decisions about how much I want to tell. She might accept a simple yes or no and ask no more questions. Or she might interrogate me — Are they boys or girls? Identical or fraternal? What are their names? Were they born early? How much did they weigh at birth? What’s their birthday? — until I am forced to run away. Sometimes people will actually come up to me and say, “Twins! How precious! You must have done IVF!”
In my case, that is true, but I know women whose multiples were the result of chance who get very annoyed when people assume they used fertility treatments. Even to me (and I am writing publicly about my experience!), the question seems too personal when it’s coming from a passing stranger.
But people who ask these questions do not mean any harm. They are delighted by the cuteness-overload of multiple babies. They aren’t thinking about how their questions sound or considering that you get asked these questions all the time. And people can’t help it: they have a question, and they hope that you, the parent, can provide an explanation for why you had multiple babies instead of just one, like most people do.
Perhaps, then, the best answer to the question is to tell these curious if slightly awkward strangers the truth: multiples happen. They happen for lots of reasons and they happen for no reason at all. Once they are here they are a lot of work and a tremendous blessing. Moms of multiples may need help with the workload, but it’s actually pretty easy to find the joy in (or the love for!) all our babies.
How you deal with the attention is a personal choice. Some parents of multiples enjoy it, but some would prefer to be left alone. But if you’re having multiples, you should expect these questions and have a plan to handle them, because your babies are so amazing, they’re going to stop traffic.
Amy Letter is the mom of twin girls Sagan and Tesla, and a writer, artist and professor of English at Drake University. She is a frequent blogger for Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.