The nature of twinship and the bond between twins is held special by everyone – and for that reason valued as much by those who are not twins as much as those who are.
But for new parents, the arrival of not one but two simultaneous babies is bound to be doubly demanding. It’s not hard to imagine just what it means to have two babies needing to be soothed from crying, fed, washed, dressed, soothed from crying, fed, washed, dressed… and so on – all at the same time.
The Twins Club’s founders descibe the balance of the situation as ‘Double trouble, but double the cuddles’.
If you visit the Family Learning Centre at Park School in Oban on a Tuesday afternoon once a month you might find yourself doing a double take.
Amid the usual building blocks, crayons and soft toys, there are a lot of ‘double troubles’ to keep track of. The school is home to the recently established Twins Club, set up by local parents so that they can share experiences and a good cup of tea.
The pitter-patter of two pairs of tiny feet may be cause for a special celebration but it can bring distinct challenges too, from an increased risk of prematurity and some health and development issues, to the everyday logistics of just getting out and about.
‘Babies are very demanding in the early stages, and tackling two unhappy, crying babies on your own can be extremely stressful when in the public eye’, says Laura O’Donnell, who knows all about it – as mother to nine-month-olds, Evan and Grace.
‘The most challenging thing for me was that my babies’ sleeping and feeding routines were completely at odds’, says Diane Black, mother to one-year-old twins Euan and Mara, ‘I hardly slept for the first three to four months. It was utterly exhausting. As soon as one fell asleep, the other woke up.’
Though the early days can be particularly demanding, the twins’ families have been touched by local support – from organisations such as the charity Homestart, community groups and individuals. ‘The baby groups locally impress me so much’, says Laura, who lives in Appin. ‘Each time I go, mothers just rally around and help, it’s wonderful.’
Fiona Elder, from Lochgilphead, juggles her seven-month-old twins Seamus and Jock with the demands of a toddler big sister, Orla: ‘Very few shops or cafes are accessible with a double buggy’, she says, ‘but wherever we go, from church to Bookbug, to swimming and the Mainly Music group, there is someone willing to help. If it wasn’t for support from family and friends, so many things wouldn’t be possible.’
The club, which is free of charge, meets about once a month; is supported by Margaret Dalgleish, Early Years and Family Support Worker for Argyll and Bute Council; and benefits from access to Park School’s Early Learning and Childcare Centre & Family Learning Centre facilities, which provide a safe and well-equipped environment for the babies and their siblings.
While there is plenty of chat about toddler quirks and the best twin-friendly gadgets, swapping experiences is central – particularly as many twin families share traumatic early days. Almost half of twins born in the UK need some special hospital care.
‘My babies were eight weeks early and spent three weeks in special care’, says Leanne Stewart, mother to one year olds, Callum and Alyssa. ‘I had one baby home before the other which I was not prepared for at all. The guilt of leaving Callum still eats at me today.
Laura’s twins were also premature, arriving six weeks before their due date. They needed to be in the hospital’s special care unit initially, but an improvement in Grace’s condition meant they were separated.
‘Grace started coming on leaps and bounds, so she came up on the ward with me’, she says, ‘but Evan was still struggling with feeding. The hospital told me to leave with Grace the next day and I just about cried that whole day and night.
‘Amazingly Evan made such a huge improvement with his feeding that day and during the night that the doctors allowed him to leave with us, thank goodness.’
‘Getting told we could take them home on day 15 was amazing’, says Fiona, whose boys were born seven weeks early and spent the first week of their lives in incubators. ‘It meant the next chapter of the journey could begin.’
Alongside the challenges, twin mums and dads also share the excitement of their children’s interactions, whether it’s holding hands and giggling together for the first time, or swapping pieces of their dinners. ‘All the nice things, like smiles and cuddles, are doubled’, says Leanne.
Seona Laird, mum to Andrew and Alexander, agrees. ‘I feel so lucky to have two’, she says. ‘There are enough cuddles for everyone. It’s double the joy when you watch one smile and then after a while the other one smiles too.’
The fact that many of the twins at the club had fragile starts to their their lives, makes the celebration of each first step all the happier. ‘The best thing about being a twin mum is knowing I’ve raised two healthy babies’, says Laura. ‘We had these teeny newborns in incubators with tubes and wires and now I have two strong, happy little people – its such an amazing feeling.’
All parents and expectant parents of twins or multiples are welcome at the club. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org