Twin babies, the mobile drop-in centre

© baby-trend-expedition-jogging-twin-stroller
© baby-trend-expedition-jogging-twin-stroller

The day you push your twins outside for the first test drive in their new buggy, you embark on a new role in society – mobile drop-in centre. You may think you are the same person as before, just going about your business in town but your double bundles of joy have changed the stakes completely. Barriers come down, people open up. Whether you are ready for it or not you are wheeling around the conversation starter of the century.

Memory lane: Other twin parents have an inbuilt twin radar that never goes away. Seven years on I still stop in my tracks every time I see twin babies. Where once I was on the receiving end, now I’m the one who has to grin foolishly and stare, carried back in an instant to those golden days of babyhood, times two.

If there’s an opportunity I strike up conversation. ‘Congratulations, how old are they? I have twins myself.’ Some of these conversations are short. Others get long and involved. The oldest twin mother I ever chatted to had sons in their fifties. Another time I remember talking to a security guard in an art gallery about his twin girls, as if we’d known each other for years. The best stories older twin parents will tell is the surprise they had at the birth when a second head appeared.

Hands full: A standard comment you will hear as a twin parent is some version of “you’ve got your hands full there”. There’s some truth in that but it’s tempting to point out that, more importantly, your heart is full. If your babies are premature, you might want to lie about their age to keep the reactions down. If you happen to have different sized twins, this will also be a talking point.

There will be shop assistants who confess they always wanted twins and you are bound to come across the occasional person curious about the conception details. This conversation begins with the question – “are they natural?”

Sad stories: Twin pregnancy is by definition high risk and was more often seen as a burden than a blessing in the past. One thing I didn’t expect was the number of sad stories people told me about twins. A woman we once rented a holiday home from told the story of her twins’ birth 40 years before. They were too small to live and were left in a room in the hospital to die.

Another woman who stopped me in the street one day in Fribourg started out by saying she too was a twin but then revealed she didn’t grow up with her siblings. She was given away to a children’s home because her mother couldn’t manage. She never understood why they chose her, and the rejection hurt her still. Another lady at a garage told me her mother had given birth to three sets of twins but only one child had survived.

Kindness of strangers: One of the lovelier sides of having twins is the kindness it brings out in people – from the people who reach out to take a baby onto their laps in the bus, to the other Mums at the playground who will run to pick up your fallen toddler, when you are struck trying to get the other one down from the climbing frame.

One incident stands out for me. There was an old lady I used to see around town, always dressed in the same shabby coat and old shoes. One day, waiting at the lights to cross the road, she pressed a ten-franc note into my hand and urged me to buy something for the twins. Before I could protest she was gone.

If your twins are brand new and you’re getting up the courage to take them out into the world for the first time, don’t be afraid. There is a big welcome waiting for you.

Strange and terrible stories

Around the age of two and a half my twins discovered stories. At the same time I discovered the power stories had over them. It started with Goldilocks. The naughty little girl, the bear family, the repetition, the danger – I could not retell it often enough for them, always with the same cadence and gestures. They were hooked and stories like these got me over plenty of sticky moments, especially while travelling, when they were restless or bored.

By the age of four the girls were regularly demanding made-up stories. These they preferred to books, because they could be made to order and they lasted longer! The request was always the same. It should be about a little girl or animal, or both. One twin would demand that something “strange” and “terrible” had to happen, while her sister would modify this with “but not too terrible”.

So began a series of strange and terrible stories, usually involving the diminutive protagonist getting into some kind of danger herself, or rescuing an animal from danger. I got tired of this formula long before the children did. One story I told them about a Neanderthal family made a big impression. What really got them was that the people had not developed language yet and communicated by grunts, tone and sign language. Language truly is the greatest gift of our species.

This craving for stories stays with us for life. We meet friends and family to swap stories; we read books, watch films, follow television series. The news media are also part of the great storytelling tradition. These sources are all feeding the same need, which goes far beyond entertainment. We seek out stories to make sense of the world, to understand ourselves and others, to explore our worst fears and greatest hopes. Long live strange and terrible stories!

Neo Natal Ward

By Clare O’Dea

We are warm here but lying down. The time before was better because the noises were soft and there was moving. We were wrapped warm together in the red dark. Best of all she was always there. Murmur, murmur, laughing; murmur, murmur, calling out. Sometimes singing. We liked all the ways of her voice. But where is she now? Now she is not always there. Too tired to cry; will cry later.

Hands are here. Gentle touch on the head, her voice gentle too. Stroke of the cheek, holding my hand. Her voice says words: “can I take him out?” Her happy feeling comes in to me. Holding is nice, better than lying. This time I will stay awake and not let her go. He is here too. We snuggle together and she is our home and it is like the time before again and we sleep. Then she is singing the goodbye song, we are lying down, her sad feeling comes in to us.

We are awake. They change his clothes all the time but it is still him. I look at the different colours. Sometimes there are voices, sometimes hands, sometimes drinks and sometimes pain. I cry, I sleep and I wait. He waits too or cries for me if I am too tired.

She is back. We are drinking. I look across at him, his eyes are closed. This is different drinking but the best taste. Her happy feeling is all around us. Big voice is here too and he is holding with big hands and giving soft kisses on the head. We like when big voice is here. I look at his face and look some more. Amazing. Big voice says words: “100 more grams little fella, just 100 more grams.” He is talking to me.

Oh the feelings and the noises and the changes today. Lots of clothes. Too warm, too warm and then cold air on my face. All the world we heard in the time before but loud so loud. We were very quiet, trying to understand. The moving feeling was nice and the moving noise. Cold air again, warm inside place. Small voice is here now. That’s what was missing. Small voice is jumping around. Her voice says: “Gently, gently”. Laughing. Happy feelings are coming from everyone. We have to sleep.

I wake first and she is there. She makes a nest in her arms. He wakes and big voice makes a nest in his arms. We drink and we sleep again. Sometimes it is day and sometimes it is night and slowly we come to understand. From now on they will always be there.

Clare O’Dea, summer 2012.