If parents feel overwhelmed by the nappy changing, bottle washing and playtime scheduling that one child demands, spare a thought for those with twins, triplets or more. All of the above tasks are multiplied for these brave and tireless souls. Tess Lyons understands that. The first few years were a blur for Lyons after her triplets Jasper, Sela and Cary were born seven years ago. But that was not only because the logistics of cleaning and feeding were multiplied. Lyons had more serious problems. The children arrived 14 weeks early and doctors gave them only a one-in-three chance of survival. So Lyons and her husband Charles Caldwell spent most of those early days watching their babies battle a deadly fungal infection, heart problems, a brain haemorrhage and pneumonia. 'We felt most vulnerable when the triplets were first born. They were so small, they were so sick, we couldn't hold them. We couldn't do anything except pray for them,' says Lyons, who also has an older son, nine-year-old Sebastian. Now that her children are a little older, Lyons, who ran a custom scrapbook business before turning to writing, says parenting triplets involves controlling a different sort of chaos. 'Instead of organising feeding times and nap times, it is keeping track of library books, playdates and which day what child needs to bring their swim costume to school,' she says. Multiple births are increasing around the world and Hong Kong is no exception. According to the Health Department, twin births have increased by 70 per cent in the city since 1996, with 1,100 pairs of twins born here in 2009. The number of triplets more than doubled - from 18 sets in 2002 to 44 in 2007. There were even four cases of quadruplets or more born in 2007 and none in the five previous years. In part, doctors reckon the increase in multiple births is due to women having children when they are older, and the use of fertility pills and assisted reproduction procedures like in vitro fertilisation. But the idealised image of identical siblings gurgling contently together in a pram is far from the truth. Twins often have radically different personalities, despite having the same DNA. They will fight bitterly to maintain their independence. Indie music promoter Chris Bowers can bear that out. Her 4?year-old daughters may look the same but their temperaments could not be more distinct. Chloe is a tomboy whose favourite toys are Buzz Lightyear and Spiderman. Ashley adores pink and is in love with Dora and Barbie. 'They are really different and fight all the time,' Bowers says. 'I had to do a parental effectiveness training course - twice. The first time I mainly did it to stop them from biting each other - it was a three-year-old phase. These were severe bites with bruising. They were only biting each other, not other kids. But I was despairing about what to do about it. 'Because they didn't have the level of communication they needed, they would get frustrated. They also did a lot of things like pushing and whacking each other on the head with books.' Such scenes were among the reasons frazzled parents founded Hong Kong MoMs (Mothers of Multiples Organisation) during the late 1990s. The parents needed the support of others in the same boat. MoMs member Claudia Wanner was initially surprised that her twin daughters Emma and Helena were so unlike. 'In fact, that started in the womb. One would kick constantly and the other wouldn't. It got so worrying that that I went to the doctor to see if there was something wrong,' she says. 'You think as a parent you can influence your child. But you realise that quite a bit of their personality is pre-programmed.' Wanner reckons it is important that parents treat each child as an individual. That is why she and her husband, Jo Schmaltz, never put their twins in the same cot or dressed them the same. 'And we never call them twins,' she says. Bowers feels the same way. Chloe and Ashley attend the International Montessori School, where they are placed in separate classes to encourage their personal development. 'I think it's great, because they spend a lot of their time together outside the classroom anyway,' she says. 'They even share a bedroom. If they were in the same classroom, they would tend to rely on each other too much.' Although twins run in husband Shaun's family, Bowers says they were surprised to learn that they were having them. 'The funny thing is, I have always wanted twins, because I believed they would be friends for life,' she says. 'They are actually very close. And also you get two kids for one pregnancy.' A lot of parents have trouble deciding how to divide time between twins, Bowers says. 'They say; 'Okay, I've spent 15 minutes with this one, now I should do 15 minutes with the other',' she says. 'But it depends on the child's personality. Some kids are needier than others, so you should divide up your time accordingly. Chloe for instance, loves cuddles. Ashley does, too, but if I was to give her as many as Chloe she'd feel smothered.' MoMs co-president Jasja Kotterman, who has 18-month-old boys Laurens and Mortz, says it is easy for parents to suffer from 'twin comparison syndrome'. 'You have expectations that, because they came out at the same time, they should have the same rate of development. But then one will be smiling, and the other one won't be. So you think that something is wrong. That sort of thing happens a lot. You are always comparing,' says Kotterman, who works as an executive with Avon Cosmetics. 'One of the things I find hard to deal with is jealousy - pushing and hitting the other and crying. If I pick up one first, the other will cry, so I need to pick two up at the same time. I have developed good biceps. You hear about twins bonding but they are very jealous of the other.' The boys are poles apart in character. Laurens is tenacious, fearless and likes to play on his own, while Mortz is happy-go-lucky, wants to be around other kids and is determined. 'Mortz is physically bigger and can sometimes bully, or grab things faster than Laurens,' Kotterman says. Although the availability of domestic helpers in Hong Kong helps ease the load, the early years are tough on multiple birth parents. Some even turn to spreadsheets to help sort out their schedules. 'The first six months of raising them was a blur,' Bowers recalls. 'It was a lot of changing and no sleep. I was trying to be Super Mum and do everything. We only had one helper at that time. Then I got another helper, and things were better.' The babies were fed on demand for the first four months. Bowers was fortunate that they slept through the night from about eight months. But she still found it tough going. 'My husband was the one who convinced me to get a second helper,' Bowers says. Child care can be even more of a challenge when parents of multiples have older children. Franca Tobias already had Sofie, now aged seven, when twins Maxine and Felix came along 41/2 years ago. 'Nothing pointed in the direction of us having twins. They just popped up,' says Tobias, who is Dutch. When her husband's finance job brought them from the US to Hong Kong three years ago, she says, it was a relief to have a fulltime helper. 'I had most of the basics covered before I had the twins. Sofie could walk long distances, entertain herself and sleep. So she was a very easy child,' says Tobias. 'But it was a struggle to get out of the house with the twins and Sofie, who was still in diapers. But if you don't, you will get stuck in the house, and your world just becomes smaller and smaller. You need to make sure you meet other people, even if it's just for half an hour.' Fortunately, her youngsters are low maintenance and easy to deal with. So she says she never felt the need to get a second helper, especially as she wasn't working. Now with her youngest children attending preschool classes five days a week, Tobias has begun working as a part-time educational assistant in an ESF school. Their household ran to a fairly tight schedule in the early days with three children under the age of three, she recalls. 'Sometimes they would all be crying while I was cooking. So I had a traditional Dutch playpen for the twins and the television for Sofie. They sat together at the table to eat.' Tobias also notices strong personality differences between her twins. 'Felix is sensitive and quiet while Maxine has a strong outgoing personality,' she says. They will be separated in class next year because I think it's healthier for them. 'Of course they have a special bond, but in the end they are two very different people. They were just born on the same day.' 'In the beginning, it seemed more complicated. But now I think it's good because I only have two age groups to deal with, not three different age groups. In the long run it is easier. Even though my kids are older, the majority of the mothers who are members have twins under age of two. That's when you tend to need the most support.' Kotterman, too, reckons a strict schedule is a must because even though 'twins are double the happiness and fun, they are 11/2 times the work'. 'You can't just let them sleep and wake on demand, otherwise you won't get any sleep yourself,' she says. 'I had Excel spreadsheets for everything and very early on they were on the same schedule. At one stage I was holding a bottle under my chin and changing another. Then I got another helper.' For information about Hong Kong MoMs, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org . The group holds talks on different topics such as adult twins and speech development, and has a meeting every six months for new and pregnant mothers. Members also get together each month at an informal lunch or dinner.