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Divorce, depression: The ugly side of twins

wins Julia and Makayla Mileta, 3, share a laugh.

Tyler Anderson/The Globe and Mail

The light at 4:22 a.m. is faint and blue. It's a strange time of day, quiet and discombobulating, especially when you are the mother of twins and you start awake, wondering if you have been derelict in your duties.

This happened in our house the other day. My wife, barely able to open her eyes, had to check to make sure sleep was, for this brief moment of early dawn, allowed.

"I'm not pumping, I'm not doing anything," she said, her sleep-starved brain not quite able to ascertain whether she was sleeping or snoozing in the midst of motherhood's endlessduties. "I just get to sleep now, right?"

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Yes - though not for long. In a few minutes, it was back onto the infant treadmill. Cry. Breastfeed. Bottle-feed. Burp. Breast pump. Diaper. Swaddle. Ninety minutes of baby maintenance, then 90 minutes of trying to stay on top of sleep and domestic chores, then repeat. And so on. Soon, the body and mind become parched for rest.

Having as many infants as hands can be a source of all sorts of joy. But multiple births place unique strains upon families, which experience higher rates of divorce, depression, financial pain and, perhaps worst of all, child abuse. The stress can be so great that parents of twins have more trouble bonding with their children.

It's the ugly side of twins, but as we find ourselves surrounded by greater numbers of double births, it's worth considering the difficulties they create - and asking whether Canada should perhaps follow the lead of other countries that provide additional supports to these rapidly-expanded families.

Because there is little doubt that it's tough. When Vancouver radio host Amy Beeman found out she was having twins, she started a blog. One entry stood out. It was entitled, simply, "Two is hard." It followed another entry documenting the 170 diapers her twins sullied in a single week. If you're keeping count, that's two more than the number of hours in that time.

So yes, two is hard. Take Erin Little. Her twin girls developed duelling cases of colic when they were six weeks old. It lasted for almost four months of "crying, like clockwork from 5 or 6 p.m. until 11 or 12," Ms. Little said.

She and her husband tried everything to gain a bit of respite. Almost nothing worked. "It was winter when they were born, and my husband would get frustrated with all the crying, so he'd bundle one up and go walking, at whatever time. Sometimes, it was 3 a.m. We live in Temagami [Ont.]and it was cold - -20 was the average night-time temperature."

That, oddly enough, seemed effective, at least temporarily.

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Even for those without colic, the sheer volume of caregiving takes a toll. Lindsey MacInnes is a mother of twins, and a registered clinical counsellor. In the first anger management group she ever ran, she had three parents of twins. Anger, she says, tends to emerge when people are tangled up in unmet needs and life stresses. "Multiples, I would imagine, contribute significantly to the limit that people can take in terms of stress. It doesn't give you much wiggle room," she says.

One obvious way to mitigate the stress is to have help. Many parents argue that it's impossible to raise twins alone. It takes two sets of hands to manage the many needs of two children who, because they are the same age, often need the same thing at the same time. My wife and I have been lucky: her mother has abandoned her own life in service of ours - and been an incredible help. Others have it harder. Take Christian Martin, who took a near year-long unpaid leave to spend helping his twins get a start in life. Ever since, Mr. Martin has fought to have Ottawa change a federal policy that sees families with back-to-back babies receive two rounds of year-long EI payments while parents of twins get just a year.

In other words, the government takes a discount on twins - a sort of buy-one-get-one-free deal on the very families most in need of help.

"What I disagree with is treating people unfairly for no good reason," Mr. Martin said.

That discount seems particularly galling since other countries do offer extra twin help, including the U.K., Ireland, Italy, France, Belgium, Spain, Sweden and even the Czech Republic

It's a situation that should be addressed. After all, when the light is blue and the hour is early, it's not just a sleepy mother in need. It's those who depend on her.

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This is the third in a series from the front lines of twindom.

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About the Author
Asia Bureau Chief

Nathan VanderKlippe is the Asia correspondent for The Globe and Mail. He was previously a print and television correspondent in Western Canada based in Calgary, Vancouver and Yellowknife, where he covered the energy industry, aboriginal issues and Canada’s north.He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award and a Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. More

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