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Double the Trouble

By Pat Albertson

Tim Marshall is a father with a busy life these days. It seems a long time ago since he and Jenny, his wife of twelve years, could do anything really reckless like going out for a coffee or daring to sleep in past 7:00am. Tim and Jenny have twins, now 2-and-a-half years old, as well as a 7-year old son.

Tim remembers his surprise when they heard they managed to produce two in one go this time:

“The presence of the twins was first revealed at the 18-week scan.”, says Tim. “We were sitting there with Elliot, our eldest boy, (Jenny was lying down of course, but did manage to sit bolt upright at the revelation) and I remember looking up at the monitor when the image first appeared.

Two circular patterns were displayed and before the sonographer said anything by way of interpretation, I thought ‘gosh – that looks like one more than I was expecting’.

Our operator then made several passes with her magic sensor and the screen showed what I took to be scenes from the movie “Aliens” – lashings of backbones et al.

The learned one then declared the obvious – ‘you are going to have twins’!

“What occurred then was a bit of a blur in slow motion which I took to mean that my emotions were doing their best to firstly work out how I was feeling, and secondly to muster up some form of calm exterior to present to the enquiring world. Most words containing four letters would’ve summed things up about right.”

Like many multiples, Lewis and Olivia were in a bit of a rush to escape the narrow confines of half a womb.

Being one month premature, they had to stay at the intermediate nursery of Christchurch Women’s Hospital for the first week. They were “quite small, but made good progress”, Tim says. And: “The week was a nice transition for us as Jenny could get her strength back and I could swan around home with Elliot. Bachelor boys together.”

Bachelorhood was not to last long, of course: “Storm clouds were gathering but I thought, naively, that they might pass over without causalities. Wrong! It was all about to hit the fan. The twins were discharged Christmas Eve 1999.

Forget the millennium bug! We now had two of them and they came a week early.

“The next day featured two parents with an hours sleep between them trying to do their “ho ho ho” best for the sake of the eldest. We ended up packing him off to his grandparents to put us out of our misery.”

Neither did the new millennium bring any relief: “While the world was hoping to catch the new dawn or the Y2K bug or indulge in a fireworks extravaganza, I was trying to persuade some well-meaning friends that I would far rather spend the next thousand years in bed.

I think we compromised by watching some of the celebrations on the 14” TV.

“We had no precon-ceptions about what it would be like to manage twins.”, Tim reflects, now two years on from those days. “In fact, we were still rebuilding our shattered family life caused by a rather difficult and colicky child number one fours years previously.

Everybody else seemed to have got easily manageable vegetables for their first and were dreamily hoping to add a second to their patch. I think we just got a dose of amnesia that seared our earliest memories of walking zombie-like in the small hours of the morning with an unsettled child.

Anyway, the second can’t be that bad…. could it??? You bet your life! (do I detect negativity?).

Many of the parent articles in the Multiple Birth Club newsletters spoke of joy and contentment. Quite frankly, I could not relate and have only now found it a miracle that I can say anything positive!”

‘Hanging in there’ seemed to describe Tim’s and Jenny’s situation best over the next months. “I think we coped in the first year by accepting that life would have to go on hold, and that if we were to see any other living forms, then they would have to come to us.

This was to be the rule of thumb over the next two years and it has only been the last eight months that the hibernation has eased. Everything was difficult.

Twins are double the work and we had an active son as well. Try breastfeeding two infants (one who continually fussed) for half an hour using all manner of pillows for support while at the same time being subjected to the attention-seeking antics of a jealous pre-schooler.

The twins, too, seemed to work it out between themselves; a roster that would ensure their parents got no respite. One of them always needed to be attended to; in fact, our new universal answer for all enquires was ‘one is'”.

Jenny and Tim found that the traditional one-breadwinner/one-caregiver model simply doesn’t work with twins. Both of them work shifts to bring home the bacon, which “has also meant that we see our children for large chunks of the day rather than just the raggedy bits at each end”, says Tim.

“Chores tend to be split between us although I am first to admit that Jenny does the lion’s share.”

There are still “blue jobs” that only yours truly can be called upon – any crawling creatures (excluding babies), tight lids etc. As far as twin rearing goes, we developed a well-oiled production line that would make Henry Ford proud.

Scenario: 1am Saturday. Twins in cot in our room. Tim crawls out of bed, kicks cot leg on the way to attend twin one.

Jenny props self up in bed using all available pillows. Twin one brought to mother. Twin two woken (if not already) and also brought to mother. Jenny performs juggling act to ensure feeding successful, a little bit like running for the try line with a ball under each arm.

Tim meanwhile preparing top-up bottles in kitchen for those that struggling to make headway. Bottles are given, nappies changed and everyone in bed one hour later. One hour five mins: Twin one decides that insufficient wind expelled and demands that dad walk him around house for a further 40 mins.


Repeat the above on a regular rotation.

Some help is available for parents with multiples, such as government-sponsored home help, which Tim and Jenny used and which turned out to be something of a lifeline: “Through this we made contact with a wonderful woman who swept in with no fuss and with minimal supervision or direction, seeming to anticipate our family’s needs.

Both of us have family in town and they have continued to provide enormous support. It is difficult to know just what extra could have been done because in the end you have to just shoulder the work and get on with it.”

It’s not all bad, though. Unlike single children, twins can entertain each other and, unless they are fighting, give mum and dad a break. “We often find ourselves eavesdropping on their play and seeing just how they work things out.” says Tim.

“They do get on really well and are usually pleased to see one another if they have been apart for part of the day. It is not unusual to spy them in the rear view window while returning from playgroup holding hands and singing “ring-a-ring a roses” or trying to remove one another’s sock or similar.”

“Of course they still fight over toys and it is interesting on how the value of a toy can appreciate depending on who has it and who wants it.”

With all the attention on the two babies, someone was bound to miss out: 7 year old Elliot. “He has struggled over just where he fits into the alliance and often we have to remind him that his no longer 2 years old.

We make an effort to do special things with him also but there are times that we have to concede to the majority view and tell him that’s life and that he will have to get used to it as we all do.

I feel for him having had four years on the throne and now having to share his kingdom – it’s taken me long enough to accept the challenge of children – I never realised just how selfish I was.”

Keeping it all together is the biggest challenge of having twins, according to Tim, and the parents’ attitudes to the challenge makes all the difference: “Bringing up twins will certainly give you an insight into yourself and in your ability to cope.

Everyone will be different in his or her experience, but a lot of our early expectations were linked to our initial acceptance of the first news of twins. There is much that you cannot change regarding the circumstances of parenting children and the sooner this is accepted the better.

What can be worked on is your own attitude and this has been the biggest challenge, for the attitude of the parents tends to set the tone for the family.

Remember also that nature has a way of giving one amnesia regarding the trauma experienced in the first month and there is this temptation to respond positively to the suggestion of further procreation…now where was I…that’s right, off to the vets!”

Next: I Hate You!

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