Sunday, September 27, 2009

Smells Like Twin Spirit

Late last night I found myself on Lemondrop after following a link from Go Fug Yourself. Before I could say, "Shut Down Now," I had happened upon an article about a woman in Arkansas who got pregnant when she was already with child. In it, there's this gem: "She and her husband are now expecting two children, but they aren't twins. It's called superfetation, and it's incredibly rare. Fortunately, the difference in the two fetuses' ages is so small that there shouldn't be any developmental problems if the first one is carried to term." (Emphasis mine.)

OK. So. There are these two babies in the same uterus at the same time and the difference in their gestational ages in negligible, but they "aren't twins?" What gives? I know the line is mostly just gee-gosh -darn isn't that weird and cool. But also I'd suggest that saying these kids who will pass through their lives in developmental lock step aren't really twins speaks to some deep-seated notion of authenticity in child bearing. That is, there's this smell of something in our culture and in this time of scientific meddling with reproduction that suggests there is some greater reality in childbirth. If you've been meddled with, your conception is less than real. If your twins aren't conceived at the same time, well, then they're not really twins.

I know blogging about this is defensive on my part. After all when my twins (who measured three days apart in gestational age for the first 11 weeks of my pregnancy and who were probably conceived at different times -- one in a laboratory and one, shall we say, spontaneously) were three months old a visitor came over and said, "So, are you going to tell them that they're not really twins?"

Why are people so eager to assign a category to what makes one thing really real? What are the criteria for being real twins anyway? What makes any conception, pregnancy, birth authentic? As little medical meddling as possible in conception and birth? A certain kind of timing when it comes to twins?

What could make two children who have been together since the womb less than twins? My pregnancy was sure treated as a twin pregnancy and so will that of this woman in Arkansas. When I nursed, I have two brand new infants clamoring for my breasts -- so will she. And when we had to get our kids to sleep, there were two with two very different temperaments to try to teach at the same time. I bet if I were to talk to that Arkansas couple in a year, we'll be able to bond on that one.

All this to say I just wish we could get over the whole really real thing about making babies and families. Once the babies show up, they're pretty darn real.


Carolyn said...

Robin, the story of your twins conception and arrival still makes me a little teary eyed to think of. It is so moving and so truly beautiful. I remember when I was pumping you for info re all things twin related over a quiche across the Schuykill, and it was the most poignant part of our conversation...that aside, I completely agree with your post..the tendancy to label (and rank?) these things is a shame.

Robin Aronson said...

Thanks, Carolyn. It's all still a little amazing to me, even now that they're almost five. (Do you believe it?) I guess whether or not any ranking is implied could have as much to do with interpretation as the intention of the labeler...for the most part....

Carolyn said...

i understand what you mean by ranking/interpretation...i mean, once people heard i was having twins, it was astonishing how often people asked me if 'it was natural'. it seemed like a shockingly invasive question, and on more than one occasion i got a 'good for you' in response. i don't think that a comment like this was not meant badly, but the fact that the conversation occurred in the first place always bothered me. the weird thing was that a couple years prior i had heard my college roomate ask another friend the same question and at the time it didn't seem nearly as strange as when i was asked myself. a complete shift in perspective...and i'll have to take it that people are just clueless, or that i became defensive for some reason?

Robin Aronson said...

I believe that people have a deep suspicion of reproductive technology--maybe it's unconscious, I don't know. I know that when my kids were babies I was much more defensive about the "natural" question (I wrote about that on literary mama); and I realized when I responded to you that I my feelings about it had shifted considerably making me wonder if the fear/discomfort people might experience in relation to conception/birth might be just that and the judgment piece -- the ranking -- might be my own stuff. That said, I think the whole "Good on you" response to your twins does speak to a feeling that a lot of people have that it's "better" somehow. Then again, I also wonder if people are just curious--as you describe your younger/pre-motherhood self as not feeling like the question of "natural" twins was odd, once you're a parent, the question becomes laden with so much more than curiosity -- but is that for the listener or the questioner and does it matter if the questioner is herself a parent. I wonder if there's some almost evolutionary competition in reproduction.....Look at me -- I'm back and forth and back and forth on this one, which is telling in itself.