Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

Two babies came home today after eight weeks in intensive care. It was a close squeak. We'd turned a dozen heads by the time we'd got from the hospital door to the car. We hadn't even got in the stupid car, and everyone's looking at us. "Twins," people said to each other, and pointed and stared.

I sat squashed between the two of them in the back singing all the way home. I don't suppose I've felt happier. It was a delicious highball cocktail of relief, joy and chest-beating man biology, with ice.

It had been tough on the special care birth unit. There'd be parents weeping and you never knew exactly why. It was the most gut-wrenching, sickening thing I've witnessed, especially when they were young families. We never knew if it was going to be us next up for some bad news and my heart was in my mouth for two months. Twenty years ago, the twins probably wouldn't have made it, but here they are blinking and pulling faces. There's nothing as peaceful as a sleeping baby - it's the greatest show on earth. It was a particularly long and peaceful evening, an unforgettable pause, as we suddenly became quite a large family.

There is something extra eye-catching and theatrical about twins, especially tiny ones. It's quite tempting to put them next to each other and make patterns with them. Everyone finds the symmetry of twins fascinating. Brains just go haywire for symmetry, and for babies.

A walk in the park is quite likely to become a press conference. They draw a crowd. The first thing people ask, apart from whether they were naturally conceived, which is no one's business, is whether they are identical. We don't know for sure, which makes things tricky. Having already dodged the first question, I can tell I am being taken for a loonie for not knowing this basic fact.

In some cases, it's hard to determine whether twins are identical, and this is one of them. Explaining why requires a PowerPoint presentation and esoteric vocabulary. That usually kills it. The only way to find out for sure if they are monozygotic or fraternal would be to do a DNA test, and they've been poked around enough already. They do look quite different until you compare them with another baby, and then they look remarkably alike. We've left their name-tags on, just to be sure.

I'm also refusing to tell anyone which one was born first, which is the next thing people ask. I'm not being unreasonable. Being born second is too much of a cross to bear. Twins are highly competitive. There is a whole chapter dedicated to fighting in every book about twins that I've read, and I think I've read them all. We picked up some ancient childcare books at the weekend and it's amazing how little has changed, apart from medicine.

Identical or non-identical, naturally conceived or otherwise, whoever came first, the questions never stop. They're babies and they are a beguiling, intriguing and beautiful mystery to us all.

a.james@independent.co.uk

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