If you're a man with twins on the way, you may want to consider the merits of being laid off. Finding yourself unemployed is, it turns out, a surprisingly serendipitous way to welcome two new entrants to the world.
That, at least, is how it was for Eric Novak, 41, of Ajax, Ont. He lost his job as a marketing and sales specialist for a health-management company a few weeks before his twin sons arrived in 2004. At first, it seemed like a cruel joke: Just as his family-income requirements were leaping, he was suddenly without income. "I'm just about to increase the size of my family by multiple increments and then here's my pink slip," he says. "I thought: 'This is absolutely crazy. What are we going to do?' "
Looking back, Mr. Novak and his wife, Karen, did just fine. With a buyout and employment insurance, he was able stay above water – and stay off work for several months. That afforded him time that was "invaluable" in raising twins, which, for better or worse, needs a lot of hands.
"Had the situation not been forced upon me, I don't think I would have taken that block of time off. But by having no employment to go to, I was home during those critical first days and weeks. The ability to be there and to lend a hand – that's something that was a huge bonus," says Mr. Novak, who now works as a media consultant and global-warming speaker who runs envirodad.com, a website that is part daddy blog, part resource for environmentally minded fathers.
Men don't tend to be prominent players in the conversation on babies, and the same is true in the world of double births. Support groups for people with twins are overwhelmingly populated by women. In the U.S., many are actually called Mothers of Twins Clubs. My own attempt to join a local organization met resistance: Membership, I was told, typically belongs to mothers. Which may make some sense: In the year that Mr. Novak has maintained a fathers' support e-mail address for Multiple Births Canada, a national support and advocacy organization, he has received exactly one inquiry.
But perhaps it's worth a moment to consider the plight of the twin dad – especially as the number of twin births is rising. Fatherhood is, of course, fatherhood, no matter how many children show up at once. But if parenting is like driving, fathers of twins use a stick shift; those of singletons, an automatic. Both are making their way through rush hour, but one tends to be more involved.
If that's true, going beyond twins may be more like pushing the car. Or maybe there's a better analogy: "Fathering triplets is very much like being a Leaf – outnumbered and always on the penalty kill," jokes Todd Ohman, a diehard Toronto Maple Leafs fan who sits on the executive of Multiple Births Canada. "I do think it is a different experience," he says of raising multiple-birth children.
Measuring paternal engagement with multiples is tough. For example, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada has no numbers comparing percentages of fathers of twins or triplets who take parental leave against broader averages.
But multiple-birth children present enough demands that it's tough for mothers to do it alone. So fathers, biologically limited though they may be, are given expanded roles. Mr. Novak, for example, remembers crashing on the floor during nighttime feedings of his children. His wife needed him there in case one baby fell off the breast and needed help getting back on.
"If one broke the latch, she kicked me," he remembers. "It was Pavlovian. She'd kick me. I'd readjust the baby, then fall back asleep."
Plus, there's all kinds of reasons to get more involved. Two lives are at stake – and they often start out more fragile. Twin pregnancies tend to be classified as high-risk. That means a lot more prenatal doctor's appointments and a lot more ultrasounds.
Colin Carmichael, 36, of Cambridge, Ont., communications officer for the Presbyterian Church in Canada, already had children, but when he discovered that he had twins on the way a few years ago, he says, "I was more aware of all the minutiae – the day-to-day and hour-to-hour progress of the pregnancy – than I was with the first two girls."
And twins are a chance to venture into unexpected territory. There's the double stroller that, my friends pointed out, cost more than some of their cars. Or there's the breast pump. It's practically a requirement for parents of multiples – and oddly enough, it seems to be a male domain, at least in the acquisition stage. We bought ours from a woman who fielded nothing but male inquiries after posting it online. Men, it appears, are fascinated by these devices – perhaps because they occupy a strangely appealing sweet spot between gadget and boob.
And yes, post-pregnancy, it's impossible to ignore your involvement in twice the drudgery – diapers, bottles, baths, burps, puke stains.
But then you realize you are also presented with twice the things that make fatherhood hilarious and engaging: Twice as many raucous gulps from twice as many hungry mouths. Twice as much shameless flatulence. Twice as many milk-drunk whimpers and twice as many bright blue eyes quietly absorbing the world.
When I first found out that twins were in my future, I panicked: The health risks were elevated, as were the financial consequences. It felt like a curse. Now, only four weeks in, it's becoming clear that I was wrong. Between the mad waking hours and occasional howling, I've begun to discover that we've actually been doubly blessed.