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Seeing double, the trials and tribulations of twins

BIG READ: Three Vancouver Island mothers share their experiences with multiple births
Kinley (left) and Tayten Doucette are four-year-old fraternal twins. Nicole Crescenzi/VICTORIA NEWS

Every year, more than 380,000 babies are born in Canada. Three per cent of those are twins.

This translates into roughly 6,000 sets of twins per year. While pregnancy and birth can always have complications, carrying twins definitely comes with more risk. The fetal death rate among multiple pregnancies is more than double that of single pregnancies, more than half of all twins are born weighing less than six pounds, and multiple birth pregnancies often result in a hospital stays that cost nearly five times that of a single baby.

While these complicated pregnancies can come with a lot of risks, they can also result in great rewards.

Three mothers to twins in Victoria, B.C., decided to share the stories of their experiences.

Giving two types of birth at the same time

Christina Smith is no novice to motherhood. She had two daughters, Lauren, aged 10 and Kynzleigh, age four, when she and her husband, Roger, decided to go for a third.

During her pregnancy, she noticed more headaches than her previous experiences, and a bigger baby bump. Smith thought this could mean she was carrying a baby boy, or even twins, but that something was different.

It wasn’t until they went in for the 20-week ultrasound to find out the gender of the baby they realized something was up.

“The technician looked at us, and we thought something was wrong,” Smith said. “He just stared and said ‘you know you’re having twins, right?’”

Smith and her family were elated, and overall her pregnancy went pretty well. Ten months ago, when she had reached 37 weeks, however, because Smith was carrying Monochorionic-Diamniotic twins– meaning they were sharing the same placenta– she had to be induced into labour.

“Doctors don’t want you to go past 37 weeks,” she explained. “At that point, that’s when placenta breaks down and nutrients aren’t enough to sustain two infants.”

Avery (left) and Brennley Smith are 10-month-old identical twins. File contributed/ Christina Smith

Both of Smith’s previous pregnancies resulted in natural births, so she knew what to expect. The first baby, a girl given the temporary title of “Baby A” came out naturally, but then Smith’s placenta began to tear off the uterine wall and cut off oxygen to Baby B. Smith was taken into an emergency C-section operation, but Baby B needed to be resuscitated when she was not breathing.

Miraculously, Baby B was revived and did not sustain any brain injuries from oxygen deprivation. Baby A was named Avery Isabelle, and Baby B was named Brennley Paige. While the hard part was over, it was still a long recovery for Smith.

“Having two different types of birth at the same time, the recovery for that was insane,” she said. Luckily, her husband Roger and eldest daughter Lauren, her mother-in-law and her church community were able to help.

While Smith knew what to do with a baby, having two at the same time proved to be a big challenge.

“There are so many questions, like about tandem nursing, or how do you sleep two babies in the same room?” Smith asked. “What do you do when they’re sick, should you separate them? How do you feed two babies out in public, you know, feeding and burping them… it takes some fine tuning.”

Luckily, there is a large community of multiple-birth moms in Victoria that she could reach out to, including A Victoria Twin Group and the Vancouver Island Multiple Births Association (VIMBA). This has opened up a whole new group of friends to the Smiths, who recently hosted a summer meet up in their front yard where 15 babies were in attendance.

The twins are now 10 months old, and Smith said that while each baby is different, it’s been fascinating for her to watch Avery and Brennley’s shared quirks, something often referred to as “twinisms.”

“They have these twin moments where they’ll maybe drink their bottles and lift their same arm and hold it the same way way, or reach out and hold each other’s hands,” Smith said. “They have a language that is getting a bit more obvious… they really know each other’s presence.”

First-time mom gets more than she expected

Tegan Grymaloski and her husband, Kelly, weren’t too sure about having kids; they had planned on packing up and travelling when they had a visit with a group of friends who joked about starting a trend: conception 2014.

Kelly had joked that their lives were really going to change, only to have Tegan later tell him she wanted to have a baby.

The two agreed they would try for a year, and if it didn’t work out they would travel instead. Before long, Tegan discovered she was pregnant.

“I’m not young, I’m 45,” Kelly said. “When I left work I said to my coworkers ‘with my luck, it’s gonna be twins.’”

Sure enough, he was right.

“We were in shock,” Tegan said. “Even when they were out of my belly, and they were on my couch I kept staring at them, it was hard for my brain to process.”

Paige (left) and Avery Grymaloski are four-year-old identical twins. File contributed/ Tegan Grymaloski

Tegan’s mother is a fraternal twin, one of two fertilized eggs in the same pregnancy. Fraternal twins are a result of a genetic trait carried by mothers, while identical twins are completely random.

Despite genetics that gave them a higher chance of fraternal twins, the Grymaloskis were pregnant with identical girls.

In an early ultrasound it was discovered that one of the babies only had two out of three vessels from her umbilical cord. This resulted in something known as Twin Transfer Syndrome, where one twin essentially begins to absorb the other. At one point, one baby was almost half the size of the other.

Tegan had to be very carefully monitored and was in the hospital very frequently.

One day, six weeks before her due date, her husband came home to find her in great distress. They rushed to the hospital, but doctors wanted to try to keep the babies in utero for another two weeks to mitigate the risks of an early birth, which is especially risky for twins.

Tegan was in hospital for two weeks, having contractions the whole time. Kelly said he had watched his wife become more and more ill, and begged the doctors to induce her. Eventually, they did try but Tegan did not respond.

Kelly was told to go home and rest, but was called back shortly after and told that his wife was unresponsive. He returned to the hospital to find Tegan moaning and unconscious, though doctors could not figure out why.

Tegan’s state resulted in an emergency C-section, and both girls came out healthy. They were named Avery and Paige Grymaloski.

Kelly found himself completely overwhelmed as a new father to two with his wife still unresponsive. He stayed as one of the only men in Mother and Baby ward, and had nurses show him how to change a diaper.

A few days later, Tegan woke up and Kelly told her she did such a good job delivering the babies. Tegan stared at him in shock.

“What babies?” she asked with a slur. It would be months before Tegan would remember most of the surrounding circumstances, or regain full speech. Doctors never were able to determine what caused Tegan’s condition.

Now fully healed, Tegan, Kelly, Avery and Paige are a thriving family. The twins are four years old.

The girls, Tegan explained are truly miraculous.

“They ended up being a bit behind in speech, because they could understand each other,” she said. “They know when the other one is hurt, even if they’re in another room… they’re very empathetic to one another.”

She said that having two babies in her first pregnancy was really a blessing.

“The lucky thing when you have multiples first is you don’t know any better. We didn’t know any different, we just had to keep them alive,” she laughed. “With twins you’ve got to make that decision when they’re running around and ask yourself ‘which one is in more danger?’”

The girls live up to their reputation; the first words they spoke ended up being “Double trouble!”

Discovering your IVF babies have siblings

Maria Doucette had always wanted to be a mom, she knew it since she was a kid. But as life unfolded, a good partner didn’t come along, so when she was 43 Doucette decided to take it into her own hands.

She tried 13 rounds of intrauterine insemination, and had been pregnant three times, suffering three miscarriages. Doucette then decided she’d try one more time, this time using in-vitro fertilization.

When she was 46, she went to a clinic in Barbados and used an egg donor from Barbados and a sperm donor from Georgia, and was implanted with two embryos.

“Four days later, I just knew it,” Doucette said. “I could feel it, my uterus felt full.”

She tested on the fifth day, and discovered she was pregnant.

Doucette had a healthy pregnancy, and gave birth via C-section to her daughter, Kinley and her son, Tayten, now both four years old.

Kinley (left) and Tayten Doucette are four-year-old fraternal twins. Nicole Crescenzi/VICTORIA NEWS

Egg donors remain anonymous, but Doucette had asked for a sperm donor with open ID so that some day her children could at least know who their biological father was. Seven weeks after giving birth, she went to the donor website to sign up to learn the father’s identity, and realized she could actually find out almost immediately.

“A week later I get an email from a girl who had just had a baby from the same donor,” Doucette said. “The last sentence of her email read ‘I live in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.’ I dropped my phone.”

Not only did this woman live five minutes away from Doucette, but she gave birth one day before Doucette did, in the same hospital.

“We were in the hospital, giving birth to brothers and sisters!”

Kinley, Tayten and their half-sister, Grace all look alike and play together regularly. They call each other brother and sister. Doucette is Grace’s Aunt, and Grace’s mother, Alisen Buchigani, is an aunt to Kinley and Tayten.

Doucette has joined a Facebook group for parents of children from the same donor, and cousins as well since his brother also donated. She also joined a separate group called Single Moms by Choice, for women who used a donor.

“We have such a beautiful community now,” Doucette said. “It’s neat because every time we have a get-together, we can look after each others’ kids.”

Doucette noted that she wants to normalize donor children, and has agreed to be in an upcoming documentary to try to do so.

“When you’re a single mom it’s hard, but when you’re a single mom with donor kids it’s even harder,” she said. “We want to make donor kids the norm, there are so many of them. When my kids go to school and other kids ask them ‘who’s your dad?’ they can say ‘I’ve got a donor dad,’ and that should be okay.”

Two babies means a whole new community

While twins may have had a harder journey in the womb, statistically speaking twins do not face any adverse affects in their adult lives from being part of a multiple birth. Some studies even conclude that twins may live longer than average, with speculation that it could be from having a constant source of support.

Additonally, while two tiny new family members can double a family’s size, they can also expand the community circle tenfold.

Over the past five years on Vancouver Island, an average of 93 multiple births happen every year, most of which are twins. Many multiple birth support groups and communities have formed to help parents learn about and celebrate their little duos, trios and more.

The Vancouver Island Multiple Births Association is a volunteer-run group that hosts meals, playgroups, a kids’ mega sale, and events for families with twins, triplets or more. There are dozens of public and private groups also available on Facebook.

Multiple Births Canada is a national group that has run for 35 years, and is the only national support organization for multiple-birth families in Canada.

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