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Mothers of twins have double the challenges – and double the joys

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, May 11, 2013, at 6:46 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, May 12, 2013, at 7:07 a.m.

Most people are born one by one.

But some come two by two.

Sunday is Mother’s Day.

And for this day, The Eagle spoke with mothers of twins.

They said they are no more special than other mothers. No more special than anyone.

But they said they’ve seen little people sleep in pairs.

Little foreheads touching little foreheads.

Little hands holding little hands.

And they know: Love and terror come in twos.

• • • 

Someday, when her twins grow old enough to understand, perhaps Joni Gay will tell Bianca and Jackson about March 12, 2012, when Jackson stopped breathing and Jacob, their dad, called 911 while Mommy cleared Jackson’s throat.

The ambulance came, and they got him breathing again; after that, Joni could not sleep, scared she would see Jackson’s little feet kicking from lack of air. He had a problem with the muscle in his abdomen not pushing food through. Reflux, the doctors called it. It nearly took his life.

So Joni lay on the floor beside his crib. But she lay there with guilt, for paying more attention to one twin is a no-no in a house of twins. However, Bianca forgave her – or so she hoped.

Jackson got better, and he and Bianca began doing funny things in pairs.

At church, they played with no other kids, only with each other. And if one got sick and needed attention, it was as though the other twin knew … and did not fuss.

They are 18 months old now.

They avoided talking at first, but began to sign. Two fists tapped together meant “more food.” Two hands waggled in the air meant “no more, we are full.”

“What sound does an elephant make?” Joni asks. Two pairs of hands fly into the air, and the twins yell “AUGH!” like an elephant

In that first six months, Joni did not remember whether she slept or ate. But she knew that her children kissed in pairs, “hugs and kisses even when you’re at wit’s end.”

And when she reads to them, it’s from one book, with two pairs of eyes following along.

And when they dance (and they dance a lot), they dance two by two.

• • • 

Birthing twins is dangerous. If Rhnae Steddum, the manager of labor and delivery at Wesley Medical Center, could set up an ideal world, no mother would have twins – the dangers are numerous. “But when people are trying to have babies, some things are not in their control,” she said.

A mother’s blood supply increases by 50 percent to carry one baby; it goes up a lot more for twins, Steddum said. The increased blood supply strains the heart and creates the risk of hypertension, anemia, miscarriage and hemorrhaging. In the womb, where twins tussle for room, one gets twisted around the other, creating the danger of a breech birth.

With identicals sharing a placenta, one baby could siphon off the blood of the other, she said. One thrives, the other grows small.

In March, Steddum said, there were 489 total deliveries at Wesley in Wichita, including 17 sets of twins. Wesley delivers about 6,000 babies a year, averaging 122 sets of twins and three sets of triplets, said spokeswoman Susan Burchill.

Via Christi hospitals in Wichita delivered 2,833 babies last year, including 47 sets of multiple births, said spokeswoman Maria Loving.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a report for 2010, said the national twin birth rate is 33.1 twin births per thousand.

• • • 

Stacie White is general manager at All Star Sports (West). She said she works 45 to 50 hours a week. Her priority is to work as though she owns the company, as if it’s all on her.

She feels like she owes the company big-time. But she worries.

At home she has a 3-year-old daughter, Emma, and 4-month-old twins, Gannon and Cora, and there are days when burdens get heavy.

There are companies not as good as hers, she said, who don’t get how hard it is. Like when the kids get sick.

She said she always shows up, no matter how sick anybody is. But it’s not enough; once in a while, her boss asks her if she remembered to do something and she tells him she forgot. And then she wonders: What do they think? They took good care of her during maternity leave, she said.

Her life works well only because her mother, Deneise King-Mock, watches the children and because her husband, Jonathan, is good at helping, and “because I work for a really great company.”

She wonders how other mothers survive work without their own Deneises and Jonathans.

But at home, Gannon and Cora sleep holding hands, and Stacie feels joy. She taught herself to breast-feed two at a time; Jonathan is indispensible with the twins or when he takes Emma swimming, to the park or to the hardware store, she said.

She and Jonathan feel exhausted. Their sex life is challenging from being tired and from having twins sleep in their bedroom.

She breast-feeds the twins. On Saturdays when she works, Jonathan parents the kids by himself, and this led to one of their funnier moments.

He met her at the door one day, stressed out.

“You don’t understand what it’s like,” he said. “I don’t have boobs, so I don’t know what to do when they both cry.”

• • • 

In the weeks after Harper and Hudson Vancil were born on Oct. 16, 2011, their mother, Tara Vancil, worked so hard at nursing both at the same time that she had to see a chiropractor for her stiff neck. Two hands are not enough, so she and Aaron, her husband, work as a team. He burps one twin while she breast-feeds the other.

How do working moms manage even one child, she thought. Or go out to buy milk? Her older daughter McKenna has helped. But one day Tara saw McKenna giving the twins a timeout for being loud. “Timeouts are my job,” she told the 4-year-old.

The twins flourished.

And began to talk.

And to conspire.

One day, Tara watched as they went into the bathroom to brush their teeth.

They broke one of Mommy’s rules about safety.

They did it together, a conspiracy hatched by 18-month-olds.

One twin climbed the bathroom cabinet.

The other twin stood at the door and watched.

As the lookout.

• • • 

After twins Vince and Toby were born two years ago, Jennifer Burtch, after maternity leave, was laid off. She has wondered whether the leave and layoff were related.

It was a tough time – laid-off and learning how to breast-feed two at a time.

“But when you have two babies and only two hands, you learn how to do just about anything.”

She is an accountant for Newman University now, and the school treats her great, she said.

There are two reasons she can work. Her own mother, Kathy Keiter, takes care of the twins and their 3-month-old brother, Sam, while the parents work.

And Dan, her husband, also an accountant, gets up at night to help her. He also gardens with the twins. “I don’t know how much actual gardening gets done,” she said. “But they have a blast.”

Vince and Toby, identical twins, are close. At the doctor’s office, Toby had blood drawn. It hurt.

When it was Vince’s turn, Toby held his hand and shook his head, wordlessly telling the nurse, “Do not hurt my brother.”

They high-five each other when they do well, Jennifer said.

“Successful potty training? High-five!”

• • • 

Liam and Corbin Padua are identical twins, 15 months old, and can say “Mom.” “Dad.” “Dog.” “Bat.” “Thank you.”

But several months ago, the boys began talking to each other. It sounded like babble. But their mother, Megan, noticed that “one will talk, and the other listens, then the other one talks.”

It sounds like no language she has heard, but she thinks they are expressing complex thoughts, “and they completely understand each other.”

“My doctor said twins will sometimes develop their own language, not English. It’s twin language.”

She’d love to know what they are saying, she said.

“But they stop talking when I walk in. They look at me. Like, uh, ‘No, Mom.’ ”

• • • 

Shanna Dempsey can tell Isabella and Logan someday that she nearly died weeks before they were born.

“I lost over 2 liters of blood,” she said. “I had blood transfusions.”

It was touch and go for a while. Her doctor was out of town. “Another doctor, Valerie Drake Albert … stayed with me while I was in the operating room. … We cried together, and she always came to check on me when she was at the hospital, even though I wasn’t her patient.”

Shanna survived. And so did Isabella and Logan.

She is a civilian managing housing and dorms at McConnell Air Force Base. She lost so much work time from her pregnancy complications that it would have caused severe money problems at home, but the Air Force put out the word, and people donated leave-time while she recovered.

At kindergarten, Isabella won’t play with other kids unless the kids let Logan play also. She led the cupcake conspiracy, concocted by twins not yet 6.

“Logan brought cupcakes to school because it was his scheduled day to bring a snack for the class” Shanna wrote in an e-mail.

“When I got home that day and went through his and Isabella’s school bag, there were birthday hats with their names on them.”

She questioned the twins, who admitted they had scammed the teacher into giving them a birthday party.

“I asked Logan why he had them because their birthday was not until June. He said that Isabella told the teacher that they were celebrating their birthday early, and he said that Isabella made him go along with it.

“So he did.”

• • • 

Heather Shade and her husband faced the disappointment of knowing they couldn’t have children the natural way. So they submitted to all that goes with in vitro fertilization, with only a 40 percent chance of success.

Now they wish they had three hands apiece.

Their oldest daughter, Acadia, was born in 2009. Addyson and Taylor, twin sisters, followed on Sept. 30, 2011.

Like Stacie White and Jennifer Burtch, Heather goes to work every day. It’s hard.

At home, “sometimes your arms feel like rubber arms from carrying” two kids, two car seats, two of everything. When she and her husband, Chad, go to movies, she goes to the 5 o’clock show; he goes later. They were so busy that Acadia pretty much potty-trained herself.

Like other mothers with a third child, Heather nudges other people to pay attention to Acadia. “Twins are so demanding, I don’t want her left in the dust.”

At work, she pumps breast milk, finding discreet places to do so, and sometimes reads a book while so engaged. “You lose the whole modesty part of things.” When she had her first child, her body produced enough milk; when she had twins, her body produced enough. God is good, she said.

One day Heather fell – not a bad fall, only to her knees. Addyson, whom she was holding, was surprised but not upset, but Taylor, watching, worried that Mom and her twin might be hurt. She cried.

• • • 

Someday, when her twins grow old enough, Kristi Porter might tell them the joys and sorrows of their beginnings.

Andrew and Gavin are identicals, age 4. Sometimes when they sleep, she sees mirror images in how they lie in bed, even turning at the same time in the same way. That is joy.

But she also sees their differences: Gavin is left-handed, Andrew is not. Gavin is quiet, Andrew is not. The differences give joy, too.

She likes watching Thomas, her 7-year-old, butt into conversations. When they go out, everybody coos over the twins, leaving Thomas alone.

Thomas interrupts.

“And I am the big brother.”

That is joy.

Life is not always joy.

Kristi and the children’s father are divorcing after 10 years of marriage.

But there is Thomas. And Andrew. And Gavin.

And they are good.

• • • 

Linda Aquino’s twins aren’t due until September.

The doctor said last week that her twins are a boy and a girl, and Linda knows how that works. She has a twin brother, Joshua.

So she knows that her little girl will grow up with someone who knows what she is like – “like nobody else can possibly know.”

She knows her girl and boy will argue sometimes.

They will glare if someone else implies that one or the other is smarter, cuter, better.

She knows her little girl will probably be hurt by something her little boy says.

But she knows, too, that if someone picks on her little girl in second grade, her little boy will do what Joshua did.

Someone at school one day tried to hurt Joshua’s little sister. Joshua ran to her side.

“He stood up for me.”

Linda also knows there are a thousand decisions to be made.

“Cloth or disposable diapers? Two cribs or one?”

She knows how hard the work will be. But she also knows, including today, on Mother’s Day, that there will be one other mother to help.

Her husband, Jose, has a mother, Rosa.

She lives with Jose and Linda.

Linda says Rosa can handle anything.

Why?

“Because she had 13 kids.”

Roy Wenzl is the grandfather of Charlotte and Natalie Roths, 8-month-old identical twins. Reach Roy at 316 268-6218 or rwenzl@wichitaeagle.com.

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