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Pamela Chan, BCFamily.ca/Editorial


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When Annie Nolan – an Australian mum – posted a photo of her twins with signs answering the questions she commonly receives, I had to chuckle.  It is true that you get asked the same questions about twins.  Most of the time I don’t mind and consider this to be part of pleasant conversation.  Sometimes, though, the lines of inquiry are suspect to say the least.  Here are some of the best examples that I’ve encountered – often repeatedly.

Common Questions

  • Are they identical?  (I don’t mind if people ask me this question even though my twins are a boy and girl.  But it did strike me as odd when a neurologist-in-training asked me this question.  I figured she must have had a long night on duty.)
  • Double trouble, hey? (It’s just a joke/light conversation but to be honest they’re a double blessing. So I have to be honest when I reply.)
  • Are you disappointed that you had to have a C-section? (Of course not.  In fact, I felt it was the right thing to do based on the size, strength and position of one of my twins.  My pediatrician said as much after the birth.  My children were taken out three weeks early for medical reasons. I don’t believe in the concept of C-section guilt.)
  • They must be a lot of work? (Of course it certainly was in the beginning. But it’s all relative. A friend of mine has 6 children. Now she must be busy! I’ve never had a parent of 3 or more children ask me this question.)
  • Do twins run in your family? (Sometimes I feel this is just light conversation.  But more often it feels that the question is a means to divine whether my twins are the result of IVF, or not.  I can sense a note of frustration when the answer is “yes”. Now if this person really wanted to get down to the nitty gritty, he or she would ask if there are twins on my mother’s side of the family.  More specifically if twins run along the maternal line of my family.)
  • Are you the nanny? (I’m standing with two children who – I’m often told – don’t look like me.  There can be only one explanation.)
  • You’re not the nanny? Did you adopt your children? (There’s nothing wrong with adoption but why ask this as the follow-up question? Is it so hard to believe that I’m the mum?)
  • Your husband is [pause accompanied by puzzled look]? (My children are Eurasian.  I wonder if Caucasian father’s of Eurasian children get the same reaction.)
  • Did you have help when they were small?  (Yes, I did and I’m glad I did. Some mums of twins cart one under each arm and off they go.  Mine were born during a heat wave while I was recovering from a C-section. Having help to hold one of the twins and take care of them was particularly appreciated as we didn’t have family living nearby. I also fed my children one after the other – which means I didn’t get a lot of sleep. See **)

Questions that Cross the Line

  • You have twins at your age? Why did you wait so long? (Do mothers who have their last child after age 35 get asked the same question? Or is this a special question saved just for first-time mums?)
  • Did you use drugs? (Umn… Are you asking me if we procreated? Did we do the deed? And if we did shag, do you want details? Or is “yes” or “no” enough information for you?)
  • Round the table questioning of women who all happen to have twins. Which ones were not a result of IVF? One mum is keen to say hers weren’t a result of IVF. Others all chime in with the details. (Seriously? Are we doing this now?)
  • Were they born naturally? (No they were born artificially.  We used a robot to extract them. Why are you asking me this?  And for the record, if twins are brought out 3 weeks early due to health reasons, you can expect my next answer to be that I had a C-section. Root back up to the Common Questions section RE C-section guilt.)
  • So now you’re going to be a Full Time Mom?** (Question I received after saying I no longer had help with my twins.  Yes – because I was just part-timing it before now.)

So here’s the thing:

  • If you are taller or older, you have an increased chance of  giving birth to twins – even if twins don’t run in your family. Twins run in families.  Sometimes they just happen.  They can also be a result of fertility treatment. Not all fertility treatments involve the use of IVF.
  • A pregnancy with multiples is considered to be high risk.  If you are over 35 that is also considered to be high risk. If you were on bed rest – well there’s another complication.  Twins also tend to come early. The earlier they are born, the more likely there will be complications. Some Hollywood celebrities bound about with twins in utero until they’re full term. They are the poster women for pregnancy with twins. Most mothers have more complicated pregnancies that could have been quite stressful.  It is important to keep this in mind when asking questions.
  • It might be less common for Caucasian women to have Eurasian children but it is becoming increasingly more common. Don’t be surprised if children look quite different than their mothers. Caucasian women have been marrying non-Caucasian men for decades.
  • It’s best not to ask whether or not parents procreated before their children were born.  This is a private matter and you could be treading into sensitive territory.  Parents will tell you these details if they feel you need to know or if they want you to know.
  • I’ve known many women who have had children after age 35. None of them said “you know I was just so busy living my life and pursuing my career.  I just didn’t want to have children earlier.  But I’ve scheduled motherhood into my calendar now and here we go.”
  • It’s never a good idea to speak negatively about c-sections.  Why?  Because the woman next to you might have had an emergency or scheduled c-section.  It’s all about being sensitive.
  • When my twins were born, I took part in a study that looked at the reasons why women were choosing to have a C-section.  There is a lot more scrutiny – at least in BC hospitals – about whether or not women should be having C-sections.  Certainly my experience was not that it was encouraged or promoted. Neither did I get the feeling that I could dial up a C-section if I wanted to.  Trending stories on social media about women who are “too posh to push” doesn’t relate to the birthing scene here in BC, from what I can see.
  • There is no such thing as  a “part-time” mother.  Whether or not you have help – and whether or not you work outside of the home – you are a mother every second of the day.  Unless you are a person who is physically in the home where that mother lives, you should never make assumptions about how a woman is fulfilling her role as mother.

I tend to be a private person when it comes to sharing personal details. I’ve noticed that where there is a vacuum of information, people will sometimes fill in the details – whether or not their interpretation is accurate. For this reason, I suppose I should be grateful for any and all questions.

I guess?

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4 Responses to “Lean 30: 19 – Common Questions About Multiples”

  1. Christina says:

    You could use the Chinese ideogram for Double Happiness as a brand on family property, then people could ask you about the ideogram, or those who’d know could even guess it applies to your family: husband, and children.

    Many of these questions cry out for Al Jaffee’s classic “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions,” an old MAD Magazine feature.

    Not everyone who’d ask if twins run in the family would know to ask if the matrilineal side supplied the greater likelihood of twins. If I hadn’t heard if twins ran in your family I would have asked which side.

    “Did you use drugs?” I parsed this as “did you have an anesthetic during labour”, but I don’t have the full context of where this question was positioned (during fertilization guesses? conception guesses? labour? bedrest?), don’t have twins, but did request and receive an epidural.

  2. bcfamily says:

    Yes, Christina, I agree. Most don’t know the details of how twins run in families. I’m betting many don’t know that there are other reasons why you might have twins that aren’t just related to chance or a history of twins in the family. The drugs question is related to fertility drugs. I just can’t imagine ever asking someone this question. It smacks of judgment. I don’t think I’ll ever feel comfortable with this “just making conversation” inquisition.

  3. Christina says:

    No, those questions definitely cross a line. I was asked “why do you have only one child?” by a stranger in a department store, like my kid was a half of a salt and pepper set. I bit my tongue from replying “I didn’t get outside funding for a sequel”

  4. bcfamily says:

    I think these questions to parents with one child are more common than we realize. Why do they always seem to come from people who don’t know us very well? Or in this case – don’t know us at all. I know some will tell me that it’s just “making conversation” but I’ve also decided to rehearse some appropriate responses in my mind to help “make that conversation”.

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