When expectant couples are first told they are expecting multiple babies, a common reaction is shock. Because, even though they may have suspected it or been told that multiples were a possibility, the reality of finding out can be very different.
The most common way to have a multiple pregnancy confirmed is via ultrasound. This is often done in the first trimester, especially if a pregnant mother has been experiencing exaggerated pregnancy symptoms such as extreme nausea. Seeing more than one little heartbeat on a screen does help to bring it all home, but it can still take days and even weeks for the full realisation to sink in.
Don't be concerned if your initial response is far from utter delight. The practical aspects of coping with more than one baby - financial costs, housing limitations and acceptance of how to realistically manage more than 1 baby at a time - can really eclipse initial feelings of glee. Try not to worry or feel guilty that your babies will "sense" your concerns. Nature is perfectly designed to insulate the embryos from maternal emotions at this early stage, and they will just get on with growing and developing regardless.
As long as expectant mothers are looking after their own health, avoiding toxic substances, and taking folate supplements, the embryos will grow and mature.
But why us?
If you or your partner have come from a family where multiple births feature, then you are unlikely to be as surprised as those whose families have never had a multiple birth before. Feeling like the "special" ones can take a bit of adjustment. Once you've made the decision to share your multiple birth news with family and friends, the reality will really start to dawn on you. Sometimes saying it out loud makes it more real. But you may not feel like talking about your multiple birth pregnancy and are waiting to process it yourself first. Take your time and do what feels right for you. There is no one right way when it comes to sharing pregnancy news.
Knowing that your partner is with you and is supportive will make an enormous difference in how you view your multiple pregnancy. It can be a common experience for one partner to feel more delighted than the other. Often it is the mother who focuses on the practical aspects of having more than one baby to care for and she will start visualising and planning for the babies long before they are due.
This is intrinsically linked with her nesting tendencies, especially important if there are older children at home. Interestingly, some fathers view their partner's multiple pregnancy as a sign of their masculinity. . Perhaps forgetting that conception actually takes two individuals and is not a one sided equation.
If you are already parents then you'll have some clearer ideas of what you are in for. You're likely to be able to recycle some nursery furniture and clothing so the financial costs won't be so steep. Develop a mind-set of grateful acceptance when it comes to offers from family and friends. You'll be surprised about what you'll be lent and given; most experienced parents are well aware of the costs of having 1 baby let alone multiples.
Common concerns of multiple birth parents
The financial cost of having more than one baby. Will the medical aid cover the health-related costs of care, especially if the babies are premature or unwell?
Where to have the babies? Having a multiple pregnancy automatically places a mother in a high risk pregnancy category. If living in a rural or regional area, she may need to commute to a town where higher-level maternity services are available.
How will we cope? In practical, financial, housing and employment terms – this is especially the case for partners who will need to plan time off work to allow for support after birth.
Long-term concerns often relate to caring for, educating, and raising more than one baby at a time up to adulthood.
How to manage older children – especially the emotional support they’ll need as they adapt to being the older sibling/s of multiple birth babies.
Concern around the health of the mother. What if something happens? What if the babies are very premature or sick? How will we manage this if it happens?
Concern about the unknown. Lack of control over what happens can really have an impact on multiple birth parents.
A possible change in long-term plans that a couple may have had for their home, future travel, or what they envisaged for a smaller number of children in their family.
Many parents silently wonder how they will love more than 1 baby at a time. But nature has designed us to fall in love with our babies and for them to help us to do exactly this.
Where can we go for help?
You have a number of options so don't feel utterly alone. Be sure that many, many couples have experienced the same concerns and worries that you are living right now. Even if you don't have an extended network of family or friends, you are sure to find an extensive level of support through the multiple birth association in your local area.
It is important to start planning for your multiple birth as early as you can. Many women experience exaggerated levels of pregnancy symptoms when they are pregnant with multiples. This could mean you are not feeling very energetic, especially in your first trimester. But, although you may not feel like moving very far from the bathroom, you will still have the opportunity to think about what you need for the babies. Start early, make lists and ask for help.
If you are struggling to get out of the house, the internet can be your best friend. Blogs, forums and chat rooms can help you to establish "virtual" friendships for emotional support. In the early days of caring for the babies, internet services can also make a real difference to running a household. Outsource what you can and, when you are pregnant, make a list of favourites on your computer that will help your life run more smoothly. Ask other multiple birth parents what worked for them; a top three list of "must haves" ideas from other couples will save you heaps of time and effort.
The South African Multiple Birth Association: SAMBA:www.samultiplebirth.co.za/