Seeing Double: The Twin Feature

By Olivia Pitkenthly
Seeing Double

As outsiders looking in, twins are intriguing and fascinating. For parents, they are a blessing and provide a double dose of love, hugs and sleepless nights. And for each other, they are each other’s comfort zone, best friend, partner in crime and sometimes, a mirror image of themselves.

For mom Laurie Denny, the best parts of having identical twins are watching her twin daughters be each other’s best friend, the endless entertainment they provide and discovering how two people who can be so similar at times can also be so different. But, she also admits to breaking many of her “mommy rules” during the 10 years since identical twins Lilly and Lyndsey entered her world. “It was having twins that taught me to ‘never say never’ and to ‘do what you have to,’” said Denny. Some of her “nevers” that she admits to breaking early on were never letting her children sit in front of the television and never feeding them frozen chicken nuggets and mac & cheese from a box.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics reported that in 2014, twin births were at an all time high in the United States. CNN reported that in the same year there were 33.9 twin births for every 1,000. That is a lot of seeing double. Whether they are identical twins — twins that occur when one egg is fertilized by a single sperm, but then the zygote divides into two separate embryos — or fraternal twins (the non-identical kind), which occur when two eggs are fertilized by two different sperm — there is an undeniably special bond that happens between children who share the womb.

It’s a twin thing

Some twins create their own secret language, some can experience each other’s pain and others exhibit what parents of twins know as “twin escalation syndrome.” Elizabeth Russell, mom to 5-year-old identical twin sons Maxwell and Wyatt, thought twin escalation was made up, but now that her boys are older she said that they feed off each other and escalate fun moments into a whirlwind adventure. A situation may start innocently enough with one blowing bubbles into a cup, but it will end with two wet, giggly twins.

As babies, Russell noted that the two would scoot across the floor to hold hands, but notes one incident in particular that was the “strangest twin moment” to date. “When the boys were 2 years old, I was standing in the kitchen and Wyatt walked in sort of half burping/half hiccupping. He looked like he was going to cry. He said, ‘Mama, up!’ I asked him if he was OK and if he was going to throw up. He said ‘yes,’ and then on the other side of the room, Max threw up all over the floor. Wyatt never did throw up.”

Kelli Winkle, whose fraternal twin boys are 8 months old, has witnessed them try to soothe each other. “If one is really upset, the other wants to make him feel better, and often the other twin gets upset, too. They reach to hug or touch, often holding hands,” she said.

Mallory and Macey, 17-year-old identical twins, share a very close bond. When they graduate next year they plan on rooming together at the same college. But, beyond that, their mother said that the two have acted just as you would expect from identical twins since the day they were born. “They both spent four weeks in the NICU at Shands after they were born, had colic and oral aversion as infants, and had tubes placed in their ears as toddlers. Those tiny tubes in their ears … they each had one fall out on the same day, just opposite ears. Macey and Mallory also tell stories collectively; one starts it, and then they interject without interrupting the other until they’ve finished the story, without any thought to it. They simultaneously answer questions with the same answer. They get the same grades on tests in school, even standardized tests.”

The bond between twins is undeniably strong. Sarah Sawyer, mom to 8-year-old identical twins Phoebe and Piper shared that her girls can sense anxiety in each other and have trouble sleeping apart when separated over night. When loading her kiddos in the car (all four of them), she often finds one of the twins waiting by the door. “When I ask her why she is not getting in the car, she always responds, ‘I’m waiting for Phoebe,’” Sawyer said.

The bond between fraternal twins Sophia and Hannah is much the same. Their father said that they love each other very much and always want to know the other one’s choices and whereabouts.

Lilly & Lyndsey

Twelve-year-old identical monoamniotic-monochorionic twins Lilly and Lyndsey Denny are both artistic, adventurous and like to keep their mom on her toes. With a constant partner in crime, this dynamic duo enjoys a special and unique bond. Their mom’s must-have when they were babies… a Sam’s Club membership!

Max & Wyatt

Monochorionic-diamniotic identical 5-year old-twins Maxwell and Wyatt Russell are the best of friends, and even though they share the same interests, they are very much individuals and react very differently to things. Their mom Elizabeth said that this has been very interesting to watch!

Robert and Linda Davidson also see the special bond between their fraternal four-year-old twins Miles and Sophie, even though their personalities are very different. “From day one, Miles and Sophie have done everything together. They sleep, eat and play together,” said Linda. Their differences are quite apparent, too. Linda said that where Sophie is very inquisitive, impatient with figuring out new toys and asks many questions, Miles analyzes everything and is a problem solver.

Appreciate the individual

Even when twins showcase difference, it can be very easy to place twins in the same class, same sports and same outfits early on. However, recognizing and appreciating their differences can make a huge impact on how they view themselves and their twin. Celebrating each twin’s individuality and separate accomplishments can have a huge impact on their self esteem and the way they see themselves.

Having someone who is always there and whom you are constantly compared to can weigh heavily on someone who is a twin, which is something Macey and Mallory’s mother has learned is one of the more difficult parts about having twins. Constantly comparing them inevitably causes one of the twins to feel self-conscious. Lilly and Lyndsey’s mom has experienced the same difficulties with raising twin girls. She said that one of the hardest parts about having twins is maintaining individuality while also creating a fair and equal balance between the girls.

Growing two

But, as hard as it is raising twins, being pregnant and carrying two babies in one body can present an even bigger challenge, both mentally and physically. According to the American Pregnancy Association, nearly 60 percent of twin births are delivered preterm (less than 37 weeks gestation). Maria Jorrin is a registered nurse who worked in a neonatal intensive care unit for more than 10 years. She stated the most common reason for twins to be admitted to the NICU is prematurity, which is often accompanied by low birth weight and premature organs.

“If mothers get prenatal steroids before delivery, the babies’ lungs are in better shape, but sometimes that is not an option,” she said. “We usually tell parents to anticipate discharge by their due date of 40 weeks, but if they do well, they could leave sooner.”

Jorrin explained that the reason for the longer stay is due to the babies’ bodies not being ready to function outside the mother’s body. “We are asking these babies to breathe and digest food, which the baby wouldn’t have to do if he or she was still in the womb.”

Bryce & Cole

Eight-month-old fraternal twins Bryce and Cole Winkel love watching their big brother Blake play, which is a constant source of smiles and giggles.“It’s so fun to watch them develop individually,” said mom Kelli. What was Kelli’s No. 1 pregnancy craving with the twins? Lemons!

Hannah & Sophia

Hannah and Sophia Murphy are 4-year-old fraternal twins that look very much alike, so much so, that people often ask their mom Jessica if she is sure they aren’t identical. Of course, she can tell them apart. “My girls have a very unique bond. They are very close to each other. They are mostly inseparable!” said Jessica.

Macey & Mallory

Mallory and Macey Donelenko, 17-year-old identical twins, share a very special connection. They not only finish each other’s sentences seamlessly, but are also both outgoing and talkative. They share the same interests in music and books and have “shared” best friends.

Sienna & Skylar

Sienna & Skylar Snell, 3-year-old fraternal twins are very close but also very different, according to their mother Kim. “Skylar is very curious and always getting into things, while Sienna is the rule-follower and will tell me if it’s something they really shouldn’t be doing. I love how they have a built-in best friend and that they are always there for each other,” said Snell.

take two… The Snell family welcomed not one, but two sets of fraternal twins into their family.

Kaleb & Madison

Kaleb and Madison Snell, 11-yearold fraternal twins, are actually the older siblings to Sienna and Skylar, who are also fraternal twins. Today, Kaleb and Madison still have the special bond that they had when they were younger. “The bond is something I can’t explain. As babies, they had to learn how to share very early on. They are very giving and talk things out very easily. They are so supportive of each other. They are protective of each other. They celebrate with each other. They grieve with each other. They pray together. They are inseparable,” said mom, Kim.

Dealing with the comments

Giving birth to twins and being a witness to their special bond and personalities is an amazing gift. So amazing, that many outsiders want to be part of the experience too. Many times though, their unsolicited advice and comments can come off as “rude” or “insensitive” mostly because they just don’t understand.

Elizabeth Russell said that she didn’t expect the number of people who would ask her personal questions or make comments, especially when her kids were babies. “I have had people ask to take pictures of the boys, ask me personal questions about how they were conceived and ask just generally ridiculous questions like, ‘Which one is the girl?’”

So, how did she deal with these strangers’ comments? “I try to take these comments with a grain of salt because I know twins are interesting genetically,” Russell said. “But I would love to encourage readers to think about their comments before making them. One of the most popular comments all twin moms hear is, ‘Double Trouble.’ The boys are my children, and while they can be a handful, I’d never consider them ‘trouble.’ I hate when people say this and the boys hear it, and I always try to quickly correct the word ‘trouble’ to ‘blessing.’”

Expert advice

The experience of raising twins is like no other. While magical and exciting, it can also be exhausting and not for the faint of heart. Advice from parents who have been there and done that is certainly reassuring that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Linda Davidson, mom of now 4-year-old fraternal twins, recommended that parents of twins accept all the help they can get. “Don’t feel awkward when someone offers help — they’re not offering because they feel obligated to, they’re offering because they want to. Get sleep!”

Lisa Sanchez, whose fraternal twin boys are now 5 years old, advises to parent with humor. “If there are days when you are in your pajamas all day, haven’t showered or cleaned and all you literally have done is change, feed, change, feed those babies — it is OK! I promise.”

Although two babies can be overwhelming, it’s important that you give yourself a break from time to time. “You can’t do everything for both babies at the same time, and sometimes a baby will have to lie there and cry for a bit before you can get to them, because you’re doing something for the other baby,” said Russell.

Kim Snell, mom to two sets of twins said to “Keep a ‘twin diary’ once you bring them home to keep track of feedings, diaper changes, medicine administered, etc. You’ll be exhausted and may have a hard time remembering these things off of the top of your head when your pediatrician asks questions.”

One in 30 babies born in the United States is a twin. Whether fraternal, identical, boy/girl, girl/girl or boy/boy, they bring something special to a family. If you are lucky enough to have a set or two in your family, celebrate their differences, and enjoy their similarities.

Piper & Phoebe

Piper and Phoebe Sawyer, 8-year-old identical twins, are so identical, that their very own 11-year-old sister still can’t tell them apart. According to mom Sarah, “She calls them ‘This Twin’ and ‘That Twin.’” The girls even sleep in the same position at night and can sense each other’s anxieties.

Joey & Ray

Fraternal twins 6-year-old Ray and Joey Sanchez’s mom notes that “my boys play beautifully together. When reading, watching TV, playing with toys or games, either feet are intertwined or they sit so close they are practically on each others laps.”

Miles & Sophie

Miles and Sophie, fraternal 4-year-old twins, are always protective of each other, and according to their mom, “tend to stick together and dislike being apart. When they are apart and see each other, they get so excited to see one another again. They love hugging.”

Photos by Patricia Bishop Photography | Photographed at Coon Hollo Farm