I believe most of us would agree that if bystanders were to see a family with three singletons in the store versus a family with one singleton and twins, the comments, stares, and glares would be focused on the twin’s family.
As parents of twins can attest, onlookers feel compelled to ask inappropriate questions and make unkind comments when they see multiples. There seems to be a common thread through the litany of maternal complaints and laments about the inconsiderate and intrusive remarks made by spectators. Asking whether or not the babies are conceived naturally seems to have replaced the age old question about which child is older. The ‘double trouble’ comment or ‘better you than me’ retort belies disguised criticism. It can intimate that one’s motives or sanity about having more than one baby at a time are questionable.
Is it not paradoxical that the idealized attention and interest evoked by seeing twins can generate such unkind and thoughtless feelings in others? Trying to understand exactly why this happens is speculative on my part but, nonetheless, important to explore. I can only surmise that such hostile expressions evolve out of envy.
Perhaps people’s perceptions about twins being special and having a lifelong soul mate and best friend trigger their longings for such an intimate connection. In addition, I believe that some people feel that multiples represent an ‘embarrassment of riches’. They may harbor the belief that people with money to spare recklessly use IVF technology to produce an instant family.
The dichotomy in this situation is that while many people publicly idealize and envy the twin connection, they are completely unaware of the trials and tribulations imposed upon families behind closed doors. Notwithstanding possible complications with infertility and giving birth, most people have no knowledge about the difficulties involved in caring for two or more babies — physically, emotionally, and financially. They are not empathic about the overwhelming and taxing issues facing parents of newborn multiples: sleep deprivation; the physical magnitude required to manage two hungry, needy infants; the sense of isolation and depression which can temporarily overwhelm even the most masterful of mothers; the sense of guilt about not being able to bond individually with each baby because there are so few moments of alone time. The list goes on and can also vary depending on the age and stage of the multiples.
If more people were able to appreciate the magnitude of the caretaking tasks and responsibilities involved with multiples, perhaps they would not turn their idyllic imaginings into envious barbs. Instead of glaring and shaking their heads if there are two babies crying instead of one, and making mother feel more overwhelmed and judged than she already feels, a kind, enlightened person might offer a sympathetic smile and a warm knowing glance of understanding and compassion. A helping hand goes a long way, too!
It is very sad that this profound disconnect and misunderstanding between the idealized twin perceptions and the hardnosed brutal realities involved in managing young twins is not more readily recognized. If this were so, observers might feel more inclined to manage their personal feelings of envy, disdain, and criticism and offer congratulations and support on a job well done. That would be a double blessing for all of us.