Probably in every culture there’s some myth or other about twins. In mythology and legends, twins often appear as a pair of gods or legendary figures, such as Apollo (the sun god) and Artemis (the moon goddess), Romulus and Remus (the founders of Rome), and the Egyptian gods Nut (male element, sky) and Geb (female element, personifying Earth). There are also the twins represented by the deity Nummo among the African Dogon, a god who represents the perfect wholeness, i.e., male and female elements. Twins were clearly thought of as exceptional, and as twins may represent the male and female elements, as among the Dogon, they may symbolise unity and perfection or even the creation of new life and birth.
The conception of twins and their subsequent birth is therefore an extraordinary event. In many cultures, if the midwife finds out that a woman is expecting twins, big celebrations are organised. There are magical rituals calling for a smooth birth, protection of the mother and their overall well-being and happiness. Traditional shamans and medicine men have tried their best to protect a pregnant woman with twins from misfortune and bad forces.
From studying anthropology, I had become even more disillusioned with Western medical practices. When a woman learns she is expecting twins, instead of positive prayers she is subjected to ‘rituals of fear’, presented with terrifying statistics and incredibly strong psychological pressure: the message is being pregnant with twins is risky. That’s the magic formula and premise of today’s doctors. At the very first ultrasound, if the doctor finds any minor abnormality (and he probably will, since every person is unique and does not fit into general statistics), you will hear, unsolicited, about different ways your pregnancy with twins might proceed.
In this article, I will share with you my personal experience of how my ‘risky twin pregnancy’ went, at Eastbourne Midwifery Unit (EMU), the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton and the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, Harris Birthright Research Centre for Fetal Medicine at Kings College Hospital in London and finally a private ultrasound clinic in London.
It all started just before my 37th birthday when I happily ran out of the bathroom to tell my husband I was pregnant. The happiness was mixed with a little nervousness at times, as we already had a two-year-old son Lucas, and the small worry of whether I would be able to take care of two small children and divide my time between two of them fairly (this is funny to look back on now, following the birth of our twins!). However, my pregnancy was planned, the baby was wanted and my husband and I were sure that we wanted our son to grow up with a sibling or siblings.
By the time we had returned from our summer holidays on Dartmoor, I was noticing that this pregnancy was very different to my first but at the time I didn’t have any clue why. Everything was more intense: the literally paralysing fatigue and weakness was such that I fell into bed around six in the evening and struggled to get up; the loss of appetite and morning sickness were so intense that there were only a few types of foods I could eat. Practically, I couldn’t eat anything at all at certain points! Also, everything smelt so different…
My friends and family comforted and encouraged me that it would settle down soon and that it was likely I was having a baby girl, which would explain the extreme nausea and fatigue. My husband would look at me languishing in bed, not comprehending why I couldn’t get up. He started to spend more time with our son Lucas.
We made an appointment for the first ultrasound. As with my first pregnancy, I used the self-referral form and applied to the Eastbourne Midwifery Unit. After my first natural birth at UCL Hospital in London, I wished to give birth naturally again at the nearest birthing centre to our house in West Sussex. At that point there was no reason why that shouldn’t be possible. I still remember the enthusiasm with which we went to the hospital for our first ultrasound.
Soon I was lying on the bed at Eastbourne District General Hospital waiting for the first time we’d see our baby. The Sonographer silently scanned my pregnant belly and, on the screen there were two gestational sacs and TWO babies?! What…?! Since I had never dreamed I was expecting twins, at first I thought it must be some different type of ultrasound, but after a while Sonographer Ida turned to me and asked me: ‘Do twins run in your family?’ My husband and I turned to each other and froze in huge surprise but before long we burst out laughing. ‘No, I don’t think so… What about in your family, Jacob?’ We started laughing again.
Sonographer Ida printed a few of the scans and showed us that one of the twins was smaller than the other. But she kindly assured us that we didn’t have to worry about anything, that it often happens with twins, and that she would arrange another appointment for a more detailed scan. I left the ultrasound room staring at the photos of the ultrasound, of two tiny babies. Twins, WE ARE HAVING TWINS! I looked at the two babies literally enchanted and did not believe that such a wonderful thing could happen to us! (Only later I realised that there really are twins in our family, but more distantly on my grandmother’s side.) I had looked for reasons on the Internet for the severe nausea and among the many explanations I had read it could be a multiple pregnancy – but I hadn’t paid this much attention.
From the first ultrasound I had so many questions like: What will they look like when they are born? How should I prepare for the birth of twins? Is a water birth even possible with twins? And where do we put all the gear? Joy alternated with small worries, but the desire to hold both babies was so strong that any doubts disappeared.
The amazing thing about it all was that I had always imagined life with three children (even though my first natural birth took 12 hours!). I’ve always like the dynamics of larger families, probably because I’m an only child and have missed the presence of a sibling. So I knew that I was extremely lucky to be expecting these two babies at the same time! And I was also sure from that first moment that I WOULD BE THE TWIN-MUM and I stuck these words in my head without knowing how difficult it would be to withstand the medical pressure and how much energy it would cost my husband and I to maintain the positive and joyful feelings.
It was from the next ultrasound that the negative cycle of intensive examinations and a crazy medical appointment began…
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