Multiples account for three percent of births in Canada. Ottawa twin parents share that while the challenges are there, parenting twins is twice as fun
When Sean Sisk and his wife learned that they were expecting twins during their 12-week ultrasound in August 2015, they were “pretty shocked and in disbelief.”
“It was our first ultrasound, and up until that point we hadn’t tried to hear any heartbeats and had no reason to suspect twins,” says Sisk, a commercial photographer in Ottawa. He and Erin Fraser, a web developer with the NRC, were happy and excited, but they were concerned as well. The babies were monochorionic diamniotic identical twins, meaning they shared a placenta in the womb. Fraser’s pregnancy was classified as a high-risk, and she was monitored by the high-risk team at the General Campus of The Ottawa Hospital.
Orléans mother of three Frencheska Bergeron had a lot of worries while she and her husband, Alexandre, were expecting their twins. “I had very long ultrasounds every two weeks for the majority of my pregnancy and that was stressful,” says the translation coordinator for The Ottawa Hospital. “I was constantly so tired I had to nap in the afternoon and go to bed very early at night, sleeping like 14 hours a day.
“Once I started feeling them move, I was worried I could only feel one move and would spend hours trying to figure out which baby had moved, and which one hadn’t,” recalls Bergeron, who was already a mother of a toddler. “One of my twins was smaller than the other, so I was afraid we were going to have complications with that. At the end of my pregnancy, I got high blood pressure because of all the worries. I had to be monitored closely near the end.”
Everything worked out for both couples. Sisk and Fraser are now parents to four-year-old MacKenzie and Theora – little sisters for their half-sister Kaylin, now 21 – and in January 2019, the Bergerons and big brother Felix welcomed twins Charlie and Martin.
It’s normal to be thrilled, yet scared, stressed and worried at the same time while expecting multiples, says Lynda Haddon, an Ottawa-based multiple birth educator and creator of multiples resource jumelle.ca and a baby tracking app on Facebook by the same name. Her website and Facebook page are frequented by parents of multiples. “I wanted to put everything that was in my head where others who needed connection, answers, pertinent information and research available to them, could be the best prepared parents they could,” she says.
According to Multiple Births Canada, challenges involving multiples often begin before the children are even born, as a woman expecting multiples is more likely to experience health problems than a woman expecting a singleton. These include extended bedrest, incompetent cervix, placenta problems, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, preterm labour, iron deficiency anemia and intrauterine growth restriction. There will be more doctor visits, as “the more fetuses being carried, the more risky the pregnancy,” says Haddon.
As a multiple birth educator, as well as the past-president and longtime member of both the Multiple Births Families Association (MBFA) and Multiple Births Canada (38 and 34 years respectively), Haddon teaches both parents of multiples – which accounts for three percent of births in Canada – and healthcare professionals.
Haddon walks parents through the possible scenarios for carrying their children and delivery; how to look for signs and symptoms of premature labour (the majority of multiples are born before 38 weeks); twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome for monozygotic babies; breastfeeding, preparing other children for their siblings’ arrivals; prioritizing what parents need to accomplish each day; taking care of their own relationship; and the possibility of loss.
She also has personal experience. Her third pregnancy, at the age of 38, was with twins. “There was not one scrap of information in Ottawa I could find which addressed any of my concerns or questions,” Haddon says. She was full of questions. “We also had a 22-month old when her sisters arrived. How do I prepare her for their births? How do I handle three toddlers at a time?… So I set about to create the information I wish I had when pregnant and living the experience.”
Before the twins were born, Sisk and Fraser took a twin parenting class offered by the MBFA, one of the one of the largest multiple births associations in the country, serving Ottawa-Gatineau and other parts of eastern Ontario and western Quebec. Sisk found that the challenges continued after the births. “They’re both at the same stage at the same time, so they have the same needs and wants at the same time,” he says. “When they were really little and needed to feed every three hours… you have two going through challenging phases at the same time… messy eating, potty training, tantrums, etc.”
Bergeron found that she was always struggling to give the twins enough attention. “Since I already had a toddler and was an experienced mom, I had a ridiculous amount of guilt because I knew I was never going to be able to offer them the same type of attention and love as my firstborn because they will always be competing for attention,” she says.
While tiring, having multiples is exciting, and full of upsides, says Haddon. The children get a “built-in playmate.”
Charlie and Martin began to play together at around 20 months, says Bergeron. “They are double the trouble but more than double the cuteness,” she says.
As MacKenzie and Theora grow up, they will always have a friend in each other, says Sisk. “Sure, they’ll squabble,” he notes, “but they’ll always have someone there for them at the same stage they are, so they have a buddy to play with. This has also been helpful with their social skills because they’ve always had this other person around to consider in everything they do. They’ve had to learn how to share early on and are overall pretty caring and empathetic little people. It’s pretty amazing to watch.”
Advice from parents of multiples
- Realize that life after multiples will never be the same. “Your house will be more cluttered, priorities change, some days you will not have time to get dressed or get a bathroom break unless you schedule it. Go with the flow. You need to eat to keep up your health, feed the babies, change the babies and some laundry each day. The rest doesn’t matter.” – Lynda Haddon, multiple birth educator and twin mom
- “Learn as much as you can ahead of time. Take a multiples’-based prenatal class because the experience is completely different. Take a breastfeeding twins lactation course.” – L.H.
- “Get a house cleaner for the first six weeks, or order in supper for a while. This does not mean you are a bad mother or incompetent. It is just how it is for the moment. We have all been there.” – L.H.
- “Find other twin parents. You need support of other people (experiencing) the same thing as you.” – Frencheska Bergeron, twin mom
- “Don’t try to carry them both in your arms when you are out and about. Use the stroller.” – F.S. That said, “Purchase a really good twin or triplet stroller. You will need it for a very long time, longer than if there was one baby.” – L.H.
- “Don’t be afraid to separate them for errands, maybe sleepovers with grandparents, different friends, sports preference, etc. Encouraging them to function apart from each other often strengths their bond. You get to know more about each child if you split them up from time to time.” – L.H.
- “Have tons of ready-made frozen meals that you just have to reheat, because in the beginning, there will be no time to cook, and when there is, you’ll be too tired to want to.” – Sean Sisk, twin dad
- “Ask for help or accept it when it is offered.” – F. B.
- “If you know someone expecting multiples, do little things to help them out. Bring them food, shovel their walk in the winter, pick up a few groceries, help put the dishes in the dishwasher, take their dog for a walk.” – S.S.
- “You got this. Anything worth it is hard work. Someone said to me, ‘just think, parents did this at a time with no electricity, running water, no toilets and no furnace…for me that seemed to just make it easier all of a sudden.” – S.S.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself. You do something right every day. Focus on what you did right. Trust yourselves. Tomorrow in another day with no mistakes in it. Talk things over with your partner. You cannot spoil a baby. You are building trust, reassurance, safety, reliability and love every time you pick them up. Take lots of pictures. It goes all so fast.” – Lynda Haddon