What’s It Like Parenting Two Sets of Twins?

When Helene Gaither’s girl-boy twins, Cole and Isabella, were 21-months old, the Stockton, Calif. mom received some shocking news from her obstetrician. She was pregnant yet again with twins. Since Gaither and her husband had struggled initially with infertility, finally conceiving Cole and Isabella on their third IVF cycle, the idea that she was pregnant without any medical assistance, let alone being pregnant with twins, was a miracle. “We were definitely more surprised when we found out we were expecting another set of twins,” she says. “I walked out of the doctor’s office in a daze, just completely stunned. It took us a few weeks to really wrap our brains around the whole idea!” Yet nine months later, fraternal twin boys, Garrett and Landon, proved that a family can be doubly blessed—twice!

Jenny Walkowiak has a similar story. After a year and a half of dealing with infertility she tried IVF and got pregnant with fraternal twin girls, Audrey and Amelia, on her first round. But not more than three months after their birth, this West Allis, Wiscon. mom was expecting for a second time. “Just to find out I was pregnant again was a shock,” she says. But that was only half her surprise. When she went in for her initial ultrasound, she laid anxiously on the examining table as her husband Andrew watched the monitor. “His jaw dropped slightly and I heard the doctor say, ‘Uh-oh. They’re mono,’” she says. “Andrew started laughing. I was crying.” Not long after, identical twin girls, Alice and Abigail, were welcomed into the family.

“Everyone, the ultrasound technician included, assured me it was just one,” says Destany Dueweke of Davisburg, Mich. of the day she learned she was pregnant with her second set of fraternal twins, Gabriel and Sophia. (Big sisters, Adeline and Emelia, are just 15 months older.) “Everyone kept saying, ‘What are the odds?’”

Good question.

How Common are Multiple Multiples?

Although many factors influence twinning (family history, the age of the mother, medical intervention, and even race), your chances of having twins overall is about 1 in 33 pregnancies, or about 3 percent. (The odds are higher for spontaneous twins.) But what about the likelihood of having a second set of twins? We know that women who naturally conceive fraternal twins are about four times more likely to have another set in subsequent pregnancies than mothers who give birth to singletons, but what about women who have identical twins? And what about women who conceive multiples after Assisted Reproductive Technology like in-vitro fertilization? What are their chances?

It’s a little trickier to estimate these situations as many published statistics are anecdotal. Some reports, for instance, say that a mother of identical twins has a 1 in 70,000 chance of having identical twins again. If a woman undergoes IVF she also increases her chances of twinning especially if more than one embryo is transferred regardless of the number of past pregnancies. On the other hand, some couples who dealt with infertility in the past may become lenient with contraception after the birth of their twins thinking that it’s nearly impossible to get pregnant on their own. Yet many find that they spontaneously conceive twins just a few months later.

That’s exactly what happened to Kat Whiteley of Seattle, Wash. Her fraternal twin sons, Brenden and Trevin, were the result of IVF. “With the boys, it wasn’t a surprise we were pregnant with twins,” she says. “We had so much trouble getting pregnant the first time, that we didn’t take any precautions after that to prevent pregnancy.” But when her boys were just 18 months old, Whiteley found out she was pregnant with identical twin girls, Samantha and Jessica. “When I came home from the doctor’s office, my husband thought something was wrong with the pregnancy because, he said, I was white as a ghost.”

Is it Easier the Second Time Around?

Once the shock of expecting a second set of twins sinks in and the reality that two more are once again on their way, there’s no time to sit around. Parents of multiple multiples spring into action making plans. All used the lessons learned from the first go-around to better manage their growing families and hectic lives.

“We had a schedule ready before my second set even came home from the hospital,” explains Lisa Sain of Houston, Tex. and mother to four-year-old Jake and Emily, and 19-month-old Nate and Audrey. “We had everything planned out from how we’d get the laundry done to grocery shopping, what the feeding schedule would be, and who would do which feedings so we could both get enough sleep at night.” She says that all the planning was worth the effort as the critical first six months at home were more relaxed. To keep her household running smoothly, Jenny Walkowiak devised a message center. “We have part of our hallway dedicated to two dry erase boards, two dry erase calendars, and two corkboards,” she says. All her girls are color coded so Walkowiak can easily keep up with their appointments, school work, parties, and after-school activities. “In this hall we also have hooks for their back packs so that I can go through them and put stuff on the board right away.”

When her second set of twins came along, Nancy Behe of Ebensburg, Penn. still had her first set in diapers! She kept sane by maintaining a daily diary noting what and when her children ate, how long they slept, whose diaper was changed and when, and anything else that was important to each child. She also kept her kids on a consistent routine of eating, sleeping, and playing. “Now everyone is pretty much self-sufficient,” she says of four-year-old identical twin boys, Luke and Logan, and two-year-old identical twin girls, Lauren and Leah. “The children can dress themselves, feed themselves, get around on their own and play without being entertained by an adult. They also all sleep through the night!”

Teaching each child to be independent is a priority for Kat Whiteley, too. “I’ve learned to have the kids do as much as they can for themselves as soon as they are able,” she says. For instance, she has her children pick out their own clothes and dress themselves, eliminating the chore (not to mention many an argument) of doing it for them. She also has her kids pack their own lunches for school, a huge boon to anyone tired of making countless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches each week.

Keeping organized is a top priority for Susan Everingham, too. With five children including 17-year-old Eileen, 13-year-old fraternal twin girls, Emily and Natalie, and 10-year-old fraternal twin boys, Quinn and Blake, this Chesapeake, Virginia mom is a meticulous note taker, a huge help when dealing with school issues. “I keep files on each child and take notes at every meeting. I date the notes and write who was attending,” she says. “I write my questions before the meeting and write down their answers. This has saved me so many headaches as I often need to refer back to something.”

But these moms also recognize what the stress of twins, let alone two sets of them, can put on them personally, and that it’s important to take one day at a time or even, as one mom put it, one hour at a time.

“I knew multiples can be hard on a marriage,” Susan Everingham says, “and we’d have to work extra hard to be patient with each other and to communicate nicely.”

Helene Gaither plays on a local soccer league and takes evening walks with friends to reduce her stress and rejuvenate physically, mentally, and emotionally. “I also put reasonable expectations on myself, and for that reason, I don’t feel like I fail each day,” she adds.

Many of these moms reach out to others through online groups such as the one that Jenny Walkowiak started. (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MultipleMultiples) “We have different issues that arise from those parents with one set of twins,” she explains. “It’s been nice to vent with others who have been there.”

Multiple Money Matters

Although a second set of twins hasn’t put a crimp in these families’ lifestyles, it sure has cost a pretty penny. Their number one monthly expense? Groceries and diapers.

“When the youngest twins were born we had four kids in diapers,” says Lisa Swain. “That’s about $250 a week for diapers alone! At the peak of the babies’ formula consumption (I breastfed for four months) we spent an estimated $150 a week. Add to that number $100 a week in solid baby food and we were spending $2,000 a month on diapers and infant food.” Fortunately, she says, it was a short-term problem as kids got bigger and graduated to the potty and table food.

Many parents say that school supplies add up quickly as do after-school clubs, music lessons, and sports. Traveling and staying at hotels take careful planning, too, as families with more than one set of twins usually need two hotel rooms or a suite. But many moms employ savvy cost-cutting techniques such as learning to cut their kids’ hair, buying clothes at consignment shops or their twins’ clubs semi-annual clothing sales, buying food and cooking in bulk, and searching for all kinds of discount coupons online.

“We save a lot on baby expenses because I’m breastfeeding and using cloth diapers,” says Heather Eckstein of Augusta, Georgia. The mom to six-year-old Matthew, four-year-old Joshua, three-year-old identical twins Leila and Sarah, and eight-month-old identical twins Nathan and Ryan estimates that she’s saved $10,000 since having six kids in five years.

Instant Twin Celebrities

Parents of twins everywhere draw a lot of attention from curious strangers. So you can just imagine what it’s like for these families to go out in public. Even a simple trip to the supermarket can turn into star-stalking pandemonium. Many moms try to be polite only to find that it takes twice as long to get their errands done forcing them to employ other techniques such as avoiding eye contact, offering short and sweet answers, and leaving the quad stroller at home (apparently a dead give-away).

“We have had people take pictures of us everywhere from Niagara Falls to our local zoo and even in the produce section of the supermarket,” says Heather Eckstein. On a recent trip to Washington D.C., her family was stopped two dozen times while strolling along the National Mall. “It was very surreal,” she laughs.

For some families like Amy Rea’s of Atlanta, Georgia, having fraternal twins (four-year-old Jack and Nate, and three-year-old Ashley and Blake) helps to keep the comments at bay especially now that they are older. “They’re all different heights and I don’t dress them alike,” she says. “So we don’t get too many comments anymore.”

Yet as twins get older, many younger sets actually catch up in size to their older twin siblings setting off a whole host of different questions from onlookers.

Just ask Karen Lackey. On a recent outing, she took a child from each set of twins to mix things up a bit. Although a year-and-a-half apart, both children are close in size. “Someone asked me if they were twins, and I had to think about my answer,” she says. “I said that they both were but no to each other. The woman just looked at me like, ‘Huh?’”

Aside from the obvious inconveniences, all this celebrity status can be especially hard on singleton siblings. “My singleton, the oldest, is acutely aware of the attention her siblings get and our family as a whole. I know it has caused a lot of jealousy and a skewed view of her world,” explains Kris Powell. This Indianapolis, Ind. mother to five including seven-year-old Karen, five-year-old fraternal twin girls Brynne and Marissa, and three-year-old identical twin boys, Erik and Trent, encourages her single-born daughter to join social groups where she can shine on her own but sometimes it’s not easy. “She has expressed to me several times that she wishes she had a twin, so she would have a playmate and not feel so alone or different from her brothers and sisters,” she says.

A copy of the book Double Duty.

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