I've just discovered that November 1 to 7, 2010 is International Multiple Birth Awareness Week. This awareness campaign is sponsored by an organization called ICOMBO (International Council of Multiple Birth Organizations). ICOMBO's mission is to "allow individuals and multiple-birth organizations to share and develop resources, promoting and conducting projects and research regarding multiple birth development, care, and education, disseminating information and results of ICOMBO research projects and recruiting multiple-birth organizations worldwide" (icombo.org/media package). Some of the organizations associated with the organization include the National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs (NOMOTC) and Mothers of Super Twins (MOST).
The purpose of the awareness week is to promote a newly revised document by the organization that includes a Statement of Rights and Declaration of Need for twins and higher order multiples. There are 7 declarations of right and 10 statements of need meant to bring attention to the issues surrounding multiple births. "These statements [in the document] identify such issues as culturally sanctioned banishment and/or infanticide of twins, lack of proper prenatal care for mothers and their fetuses, a need for breastfeeding support, the importance of placing multiples together in adoptive environments, addressing the multiple bond when making classroom placement decisions, the balancing of individuality within the co-multiple relationship, and ongoing myths and practices that endanger the lives of twins and higher order multiples" (icombo.org/media package).
This document is very thorough, addressing every aspect of multiples from conception to parenting. I just want to take a look at a couple declarations from the document and pose my self-educated (and therefore decidedly non-scientific), twin-mom take as a springboard for discussion.
Item #1 says that families of multiples (as well as all individuals) have a right to freedom from discrimination of any kind. The document mentions that in some cultures, there is superstition about the origin of multiples which can lead to the "culturally sanctioned banishment and/or infanticide" mentioned above.
I didn't know this even existed. I discovered that this was a practice in parts of Africa, but research as far back as 2000 indicates that this practice has diminished and twins are now revered in these cultures. Perhaps this is similar to the judgment that families whose multiples are the result of infertility treatments have endured since the practice began. Years ago, when my twins were babies, there was much talk among mothers of twins about how in vitro twins were not "real" twins. I can't tell you how much backlash to these comments I read about in twins magazines. I felt it myself even. The blatant question, "did you use fertility treatments?" or even the more subtle, "do twins run in your family?" I received more often than not as a thinly veiled digging on the part of the ask-er as to the legitimacy of my twins. Like having twins naturally (especially identical twins) was some kind of badge of honor, and that twins like mine, conceived with assistance, were the lucky result of a sometimes speculative practice (among unscrupulous doctors, i.e. Octomom...). But that mentality has changed, I think, as the numbers of multiples overall are more commonly from fertility interventions than not. (Googled statistics I found show that 1 in 38 fertility births are twins, and 1 in 90 are naturally occurring). Still, that tone of voice when those questions are asked is harsh.
Item #2 says people in fertility situations have a right to information about the risks of multiple pregnancies and the risks associated with multiple pregnancies as a result of treatment.
I was 39 when I got pregnant with the twins. I was so focused on getting pregnant at all as we had tried for a long time with no pregnancies, that it didn't even occur to me that twins were a possibility. I don't remember having any consultation as to the probability of twins. I remember the day we had the insemination (we conceived with IUI) and the doctor said, "There are four follicles." I didn't even wrap my head around the fact that had they all been fertilized, we would be living a much different life right now. It wasn't until after we heard those two little heartbeats that I started researching how very different my pregnancy would be compared to my friends who were pregnant with singletons. I was going to be the exception to the all too common bed rest and prematurity and C-section. But, of course, I wasn't.
Item #6 is about how the bond of co-multiples is essential to their development and that keeping multiples together in foster care, adoption, custody, and education settings is a right.
T1 and T2 absolutely share a bond that is strong. I share a similar bond to my own sister and we're not twins, so I know that this is not exclusively a twin thing, but a deep investment in the well-being of the other definitely seems to be the case among the twins that I know. Controversy as to the placement of twins in educational settings has resulted in legislation in some states. Some school districts have historically insisted that twins be separated to foster their individuation, but more recently, parental voices are having more of a say in this decision. I always thought that I would separate the twins in class because they were so different, and I was right in the case of T1 who really came into his own when out of the shadow of his sister. But now, I am so glad to have the right to decide if I should put them together in class. As an educator, I see a huge value in collaborative learning that we could do if they were practicing the same curriculum in their homework. I have another twin mom friend who, after a couple years of having her twins separated, decided to put them together. It was a much easier and more comfortable environment for her very shy girl when she had the support of her much more self assured brother in the same class. DG and I, too, are considering putting our kids in the same class for the upper grades of elementary school. The risk, of course, is that they'll be compared by the teacher or treated as a unit, but this is a risk of any child in any class, I presume. We'll see. Jury's still out on this one. And speaking of individuation,
Item #7 says that twins have a right to be treated as individuals as any human being does.
This was always a no brainer for us as T1 and T2 are extraordinarily different, and they're different genders, also an easy way to differentiate individuals. I'm not so sure this is the case for multiples of the same gender and more so for identical twins. It's been my experience, though, that as one gets to know people, one is more inclined to notice the nuances that create individuals. That's certainly been the case for my kids in their comings and goings in the world, and I hope it continues. I'd be interested to hear the take of this from parents of identical twins.
With the prevalence of multiples in society today, I suspect that the anomaly of twinship that I grew up with will be diminished as my children grow up and interact in the world. I am happy, however, to recognize International Multiple Birth Awareness Week and practice these rights and provide for these needs for my little multiples in honor of their inclusion in a special group that is (as of now) still kind of a cool thing for them. And, as you all know, I am extraordinarily grateful for them.