Twin Encounters

Here are some thoughts on the issue that has sometimes been called “twin encounters”. I am thinking that this is common to those who have lost both of their twins and also to those who have lost one twin. The issue is primarily about the loss of the twin parenting experience or the experience of being a twin.

When we find out we are expecting more than one baby we usually feel a mixture of excitement, shock, disbelief, thoughts of “how am I going to manage”… and before long, for most of us, there is the feeling of being a little bit of a celebrity. It’s not always that way for everyone but so many of you describe that feeling. We imagine life with two (or more) babies and then as they grow, two little children and we wonder what that will be like as a parent. We are even thinking about whether they should be in the same class at school or whether we should dress then the same or differently or how we are going to foster their individuality while celebrating their togetherness. All this within moments of that first scan! Sometimes quite soon after those amazing moments, things fall apart and the dream of parenting twins is lost. One or both of the babies die.

As we go on the best we can, with our grief for the loss of these precious children, we also grieve for the loss of this special parenting relationship. Because having twins is unusual it is so very unlikely that we’ll ever have that opportunity again in another pregnancy if we are fortunate to be able to have more children.

Encountering living twins in the world around us is something we now have to face. We probably never thought this would be as big an issue as it often turns out to be and we might be surprised by the intensity of our emotions.

For some, these encounters happen before you even leave the hospital. Especially if you are in the Neonatal units, you’ll find twins everywhere. With one surviving twin, it became important to me have Emily’s cot label still with the words “Twin Two” on it. It was a comfort to me that she was still a twin despite her sister Katie dying four hours after their birth. In a practical sense it was also a warning to staff that there was a bigger story with Emily and to be sensitive to what that was. Only once was I in a room, struggling to breast feed this tiny 5lb, 11 week old baby, while sitting only feet away from a new mum feeding both her babies together. I never said anything but the staff were most apologetic later when they realised.

Many of us joined up with our local multiple birth club as soon as we knew we were having twins. It just seemed so exciting and to be a part of a group of people and hearing all their stories of managing two babies in one go… wonderful! What a time to look forward to. Then we arrive home without our two babies and the contact with these lovely people in this club that you’ll now never be really part of… strained and uncomfortable on both sides. There is a feeling that “yes, I still have twins… mine are just now in heaven” and “no, I can never be part of this group who are all about living twins and fun and BBQ’s and all the ‘difficult issues’ you once hoped to have to deal with. No matter how caring and considerate, the relationship with the multiple birth club is one that now brings much sadness and regret.

Many of us have to return to our old life, to jobs and other places and how many of you have written about your twin encounters in these places! How many go back to work to find another woman in the office is now pregnant with twins and it’s all the talk of the tearoom? You go back to school with your other children only to find there is a set of twins in their class. As you shop you see double prams and pushchairs everywhere and you can’t help yourself but you just have to do it… you look to see if there are twins in there and if there are, are they the same kind of twins as yours? Two girls, two boys, one of each?

When Emily was just starting Pippins, we drove up to a fairy dress up night and there outside the door were identical twin girls dressed in gorgeous angel outfits with the same curly golden hair… like Emily. She looked so alone… just her, next to this pair. I cried all the way home.

The intensity of the feelings about these twin encounters can be surprising. It can take us right off our guard. It is hard to describe what the feeling is. To say it was jealously would be wrong, sour grapes… no. To say we’d want anyone else to have to go through the pain we have experienced… no most certainly we wouldn’t. But it is a huge tug at our heartstrings. A knot in our stomach. A cloud over our day that hangs and won’t go away. It is tears that fall out of our eyes at unexpected and inappropriate moments. It is being polite to someone and then going home and crying as we cook the dinner. We might feel like we are bad or selfish people for having these feelings but I have come to find it is very, very common to feel like his when you have lost that twin parenting experience and it doesn’t go away anytime soon. Years later it is still a lingering feeling that rises at many an opportunity although I think I am now getting better and tougher at handling it… maybe! Knowing that it is “normal” helps in the dealing with it. No sense in adding guilt to a feeling when there isn’t any need! We just need to figure out slowly, as we can what works best for each of us as we confront these situations. There’s no one stop answer… everyone is different and everyone’s situations are different but it can be a relief to know you aren’t the only one who’s ever felt this way!