Up close and personal: twin peeks
"There is baby number one and there is baby number two."
That's how the doctor told me I was expecting twin boys in September 2002. My mother, who was visiting me to celebrate my daughter's second birthday, was called in so the doctor could break the news to both of us at the same time. She cried with happiness. I was in a state of shock, as was my husband when I phoned to tell him. He was sent home as he could no longer function in the office.
I was 41, so the pregnancy was difficult at times. One boy was so low I made many trips to the bathroom overnight, and the other so high that when I did return to bed I had to sleep sitting up due to heartburn. The twins were born a month early as Connor was taking all the food from both his brother James and me. At nine, he still has a healthy appetite.
My then little daughter Ashling, who was ambivalent on hearing the news she was going to have two brothers, on seeing them for the second time in the hospital asked if we could "send them back and get a dog". The relationship has not changed much since then.
While pregnant with the twins, I remember trying to think of the logistics of getting around with three children under three without a car. A double stroller was called for, but not the side by side ones as Hong Kong pavements are mostly too narrow.
Although I already had one child, bringing up twins was entirely different. For me, sleep was a thing of the past. Sometimes they would both wake up at the same time during the night to be fed. Other times I would just get one fed, changed and settled, and crawl back into bed for five minutes, only to hear the other one crying through the monitor. In the end, I stayed up until 3.30am, when my domestic helper kindly got up and took over so I could go back to bed for about four hours and then get up and go to work.
Keeping a feeding chart was essential so we knew whether the twins were waking up and crying to be fed or just waking up and crying.
Sundays with no domestic helper were a challenge for the first 10 months. My husband, Dave, and I each carried a twin in a sling, with Ashling in a lightweight buggy. When they became too heavy we went out using one double buggy and one single. Taking all three out for the day was a logistical nightmare - two buggies, endless nappies, bottles, changes of clothes, toys and so on. We had to plan any journey to avoid slopes, steps, narrow pavements and crowded areas.
Seeing the twins grow up is certainly different to bringing up one child. Although not genetically identical, they do look alike, down to each having a mole in the same place on the same side of their face. James has a small birthmark on the top of his head, which was the only sure way to tell them apart when they were babies. Nine years on, when they come to me first thing in the morning dressed the same, I can still get it wrong.
They have a very close relationship and are at their happiest when together. We never have to worry about keeping them entertained as they enjoy playing together, to the exclusion of their sister. Although closely connected, it has been interesting to watch their different personalities and likes and dislikes develop. Connor (the oldest) is more assertive, stubborn and fiercely protective of his brother; James is sensitive and the peacemaker - should an argument develop he is usually the first to give way. James is more adventurous with food. When one twin is off sick from school, the other will be very quiet; each one being attentive to the one who is unwell.
Separate classes were a good idea from the start as they had a tendency to sit together and talk rather than make new friends. Although they do have separate friends, they usually rush to meet each other during playtimes at school. If they go to separate parties or activities, they will always want to tell their twin rather than their parents what they have been doing. They like the same films, have different favourite colours (helpful for clothes), both like playing football, James is more academic, Connor is more into sports, they both like to have their hair cut differently. Despite bunk beds, they always end up in the same bed.
The close bond can be a blessing and a curse. They will happily play together and entertain themselves, but an overnight school trip was a disaster. The school decided to foster their "independence" by sending them separately, despite my reservations. Connor, who went first, became stressed and vomited, and James cried himself to sleep. Big hugs when they met.
Bringing up twins has been a roller-coaster of emotions - from shock at hearing the news, worry about how I would cope (at times I admit not well, especially during the first 10 months), to amazement as their individual personalities and traits emerged and pride in how they are maturing individually and as part of the family. Oh, and nine years on I can still be heard yelling: "Which ever one of you is doing that, stop it."
Fiona Bishop is a working mother of three