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For the parents of the thousands of twins born in this country each year, advice from the real experts--mothers of twins. Information, advice, and on-target anecdotes cover common problems, from the complications of multiple births to coping with nursing and caring for two infants to organizing support systems.
"You're having twins"
Whether you find out months ahead of time or at the delivery, the news that "you're having twins" has to rate as one of life's more stressful events. The reactions we had when were presented with this news varies as much within each one of us as they did among us. A lot of plans go down the drain, leaving you with many questions and mixed emotions.
Learning about twins and the feelings that newly expectant mothers of twins can experience may help you to sort out your own feelings.
There are two types of twins: fraternal or dyzygotic (literally meaning two cells) and identical or monozygotic (one cell). Each is the result of a unique set of biological circumstances.
Fraternal Twins: Fraternal twins outnumber identical twins by more than 2 to 1. They occur when two separate eggs are fertilized by two different sperm. As a result, they are genetically no more alike than any set of siblings and can be two boys, two girls, or a boy and a girl.
During pregnancy, each fraternal twin grows within its own double-membraned bag of waters, the amniotic sac, and has his or her own placenta, although as pregnancy progresses, the placentas often grow together and appear to be one.
Identical Twins: Identical twins make up only about 30 percent of all twins. They are formed when one fertilized egg divides into two, resulting in two babies with identical genetic material; they are always the same sex and look alike. Developing in the uterus, each twin may have his or her own placenta and amniotic sac, just as fraternal twins do; but more often, they will share the placentaand the outer (chorion) membrane of the amniotic sac while still having their own inner (amnion) membrane. Very rarely, identical twins will share a placenta, chorion, and amnion. In this very unique situation, the developing twins lie skin-to-skin in the same oversized amniotic sac.
Predisposition to Having Twins: The occurrence of identical twinning is not well understood; it is considered to be a fluke of nature rather than the result of genetic predisposition or environmental factors. However, several factors are known to predispose women to having fraternal twins. The most common ones are: conceiving children after the age of thirty; conceiving with the help of fertility enhancing hormones or treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF); having a history of fraternal twins in the extended family; and having previously given birth to several other children, especially other sets of fraternal twins.
Those of us who gave birth to fraternal twins did fit at least one of the patterns of predisposition. Linda conceived both sets of her twins when she was over thirty. After having her first set of fraternals, she had an increased chance of having twins again, which she did three years later. Debra had three predisposing factors when she gave birth to her fraternal twins: She was over thirty years old, she had a history of twins in her family, and she had given birth to two other children before she got pregnant with her twins. For Debbie, who had another child and was also over thirty when she gave birth to her twins, the deciding factor was that she had conceived through IVF: Four fertilized eggs were implanted in her uterus.
Other Interesting Facts About Twins: Other factors may affect twinning. A woman's diet, quality of health, level of sexual activity, and timing of pregnancy following the cessation of birth control pill usage may influence the likelihood of her having fraternal twins.
Black women have the highest fraternal twin birth rate, followed next by Caucasian women, with Asian women having the lowest rate. On the other hand, identical twins are represented in equal percentages among all races and cultures.
Regardless of how twins are created, the discovery of a multiple pregnancy can come about in many different ways. Some signs and symptoms suggest the occurrence of twins, but an accurate medical diagnosis is needed to rule out other possibilities.
Florien had a history of twins in her family and because of this, she always believed that she would have twins: "I had every reason in the world to think it would happen to me. My mother is a fraternal twin. My father had fraternal twin sisters, and I am a Gemini, the astrological sign of the twins. As a child, I drew pictures of a mommy, a daddy, and twins, sometimes two sets!"
During her pregnancy, Debra also had an inkling that she was carrying twins. "In my previous pregnancies, I had been able to tap into some inner knowledge and know that each child was a boy. So far in this pregnancy I had been unable to get a fix on this baby, until one night, a thought bubbled to the surface. 'Maybe I was having a boy and a girl!'"
Perhaps these experiences seem a bit unusual, but when a pregnant woman has premonitions and dreams about having twins, she should not quickly dismiss them, especially if she has other symptoms of a twin pregnancy. Some common symptoms are: rapid weight gain not associated with overeating or retained water, uterus size which is larger than expected for the stage of pregnancy, and the awareness by the pregnant woman of fetal movement in several areas of her abdomen at the same time.
All of us had symptoms such as these. Debbie, who conceived by in vitro fertilization, was suspicious of a twin pregnancy early in her first trimester. "I got much bigger so much faster than I had in my first pregnancy that I just knew I must be pregnant with twins! By eight weeks, I already needed to wear loose-fitting skirts and maternity pants."
For the rest of us, our suspicions grew over a longer period of time. Linda remembers her first pregnancy: "After three months of morning sickness and weight loss, my waistline began to expand at an incredible rate and I gained weight rapidly. My doctor mentioned that twins were one explanation for these rapid changes, but he was also concerned that he had miscalculated my due date or that a medical condition was complicating my pregnancy. He scheduled an ultrasound during my fourth month to check on the condition of my 'baby.'"
When Florien was about five months pregnant, her midwife scheduled an ultrasound because Florien was feeling flutters of movement all over her abdomen and her uterus was consistently measuring 4 to 5 centimeters larger than expected. With similar symptoms at six and a half months into her pregnancy, Debra's midwife grew suspicious. During the examination, the midwife believed that she heard two heartbeats and that she felt two babies. To be sure, she scheduled Debra for an ultrasound.
Twins, however, were not on Sheri's mind when she went to her prenatal appointments. So, even though her uterus measured larger than was expected, she didn't think much of it. It was the alpha fetal protein (AFP) test that eventually led to the discovery of her twins.
The AFP is a simple blood test done on the mother in the sixteenth to eighteenth week of pregnancy. It measures levels of alpha fetal protein, which is produced by the developing baby. Levels that fall above and below a specific range may indicate a problem with the pregnancy. The most common reason for very high levels of the protein is simply that the pregnancy is beyond the eighteenth week. But not to be overlooked is the possibility that the mother is carrying twins or that her baby has particular medical problems. Sheri recalls her reaction when she got news that her AFP level was high: "It was late on a Friday. The receptionist at my doctor's office tried to reassure me by saying that I was probably just farther along than we had thought. Or maybe I was having twins. She wanted to schedule an ultrasound to be sure the baby was okay, but i