I was lucky: I'd been trying for a baby for two-and-a-half years and was pregnant on the NHS after my first attempt at IVF. I was carrying, the midwife predicted, a boy and a girl: an instant nuclear family. Life seemed as simple as the editorial in yesterday's Daily Express about the mother who wishes to abort one of her twins, which ended: "As for Miss B, far from being offered money to bear both children, she should be told that she had her moment of choice 16 weeks ago and must now live with it."
As summer drew near, I began to get a little less airy about my condition. There were the physical hardships: "morning" sickness so acute that I ripped my gullet; chronic backache, overwhelming fatigue. At night, such was the pressure on my bladder, I couldn't sleep for more than an hour at a stretch; my oedema was so bad that a colleague became convinced I had pre-eclampsia, to which she'd lost a child at 37 weeks.
More worrying, however, than the transient humiliations of twin pregnancy, were premonitions of life after birth. "Our twins?" said another colleague, when asked for handy hints. "It took us seven years to recover." "A nightmare," said a friend of a friend. Then my mother sent over from America a book titled, The Joy of Twins; strangely, the chapter devoted to "Good Things About Having Twins" numbered only three pages and two Good Things (one was something called "creative living").
How silly! I thought, brightly, as the advice and the book gathered dust. Surely it couldn't be that different from having two children of different ages? And at least I wouldn't have to go through another pregnancy.
It wasn't until the birth and the immediate aftermath that the full horror of bringing up twins began to kick in. I was so exhausted I couldn't eat. Every time I closed my eyes, I had a panic attack. I was paralysed with guilt about relating to them differently; filled with a sense of failure about my inability to comfort both. Could twins - with a fat redundancy cheque in the bank and a supportive husband in bed - really be so hard?
Here is Christine, loving mother of three-year-old girls, on the beginning of her life with twins. "Abby came out fine, but Elisa was in distress and they used forceps. I had an episiotomy, a torn anus, and bad bruising. Then I was sewn too tightly: I can count on one hand the number of times we had sex, or attempted it, in the first two years. A year after the birth I had to have emergency surgery to drain labial abcesses, which developed as a result of being run down."
Labour horror stories, you cry; everyone's got one; birth pains are irrelevant in the long term. So let us turn, then, to the early weeks. Here is Lucinda, 33, breastfeeding mother of six-week-old girls, describing her nightly ritual. "I try and bath one of them at six-ish," she says. "That takes an hour. Then I feed them. That takes another hour. They howl between 8pm and 9.30pm, so we have supper each holding a howling baby. After supper, I carry on feeding them until 11.30pm. Last night Eva had a tummy upset and fed and cried on and off until 3am, by which time my nipples were glowing in the dark. Sian slept until 5.45am which was great - I got two and three quarter hours' sleep. Then they both started feeding again.... You see," says Lucinda - who had a live-in maternity nurse for a month, and a husband who has now taken two weeks' leave, "why children get battered."
The early weeks are tough for everyone, you might argue: they'll be sleeping through the night before you know it. Not necessarily. "I remember," says Viv, mother of five-year-old twins and a three-year-old boy, "when they were eight months old, I shook one of the cots so hard that I bashed a hole in the bedroom wall. Then I went out in my nightie and, in the middle of winter, pushed them round just in their babygros in the freezing dark - I was desperate to stop the screaming."
Imagine, then, coping with a difficult pregnancy, a complicated delivery, sleepless nights ... without a partner. Imagine the physical, financial and emotional burden increased again by two. Perhaps - like me, during my pregnancy - you can't.
Note carefully, then, Candy, 26, mother of seven-month-old girls, who lives on pounds 400 a month, uses cloth nappies because it saves money and thought she was having a breakdown when her girls were three months old. Remember Monica, 30, single mother to a 12-year-old son, five-year-old twins, and another set born last month, who is dreading her older children's return to school. "People say," says Monica, 'Oh, they can entertain each other.' I disagree. I've just got two crying all the time."
And listen to Kate, 33, single mother ("though I harboured delusions about the father moving in") of identical girls, born at 31 weeks weighing only 3lb each. "At a year," says Kate, "I was still getting up to feed them a dozen times a night. I'd never had more than one and three quarter hours' sleep at a stretch. The sleep clinic was a non-starter - I was too tired to get there most of the time. Once I was so exhausted I drove through three sets of red lights and was stopped by the police. But the whole thing was pointless - I couldn't leave them all night because I had a lodger. And if I left them to cry they got more distressed. Then the stress and lack of sleep turned into a back injury so I stopped being able to lift them out of their cots. For a year we all slept in the same bed. Still," says Kate, "I've been able to sleep since they were three and a half."
Once they're sleeping through the night, surely it's a doddle? Don't they play together beautifully, aren't they natural companions? In fact, to their parents, twins - especially identicals - can seem like the demonic enemy. "It's two against one the whole time," says Kate. "Sometimes I used to crave another child, just to break up this clingy, competitive unit of two children thinking the same and doing the same. Discipline is a joke. I couldn't isolate one because the other would immediately rush over. Then I'd have two of them hurling themselves at the door. Now they've both got a phobia about locked doors. The best punishment is locking myself in the loo."
Twins are notoriously badly behaved: they encourage each other's naughtiness. "I would spend five minutes on the phone," says Kate, "and would then have to clean the house for a hour. Once they made a paste of flour, tea- bags and water, and threw it all around the room. Another time they prised open a tin of paint: one dived in while I moved the other. Another time they broke a milk bottle and I couldn't stop them cutting themselves. Cooking was horrendous - one time Yasmin all but sliced her thumb off while I was peeling a potato."
The problems - as the depressing evening seminars run by the Multiple Births Foundation testify - continue into school. Kate's "submissive" twin, Daisy, does not speak at nursery because - as is common with identicals - her dominant sister speaks for her. "Yasmin stands in front of her and does everything. Once she wouldn't let her take her shoes off to do gym. The school suggested separating them, so that Yasmin could go in the morning and Daisy in the afternoon, which meant four trips a day. I couldn't cope. In the end, Daisy didn't go at all. Then the school wanted to test their language development, which was a joke: they had to do the tests separately, but they wouldn't be separated."
Most pregnant women can't think past labour - I certainly couldn't. If I had known what I know now about having twins, the exhaustion, the guilt, the anxiety, the lack of time for anything else, I would certainly have thought more carefully about the reality of life with them. Perhaps I should have thought as carefully as Miss B.
Some names have been changed.
LEGAL REQUIREMENTS FOR AN ABORTION
Before an abortion can be granted, two doctors must certify that the pregnancy is a risk for one of the following reasons:
a) The life of the pregnant woman, or her mental or physical health, is endangered;
b) The physical or mental health of any existing children in the pregnant woman's family is at risk;
c) There is a risk that if the child were to be born, it would be seriously physically or mentally handicapped.
The abortion must be carried out within 24 weeks. However, there is no time limit if the health of the mother or child is at risk later in the pregnancy.Reuse content