I’ve had a lot of strangers say some terribly bizarre and borderline offensive things to me simply because I have twins. As someone regularly guilty of “word vomit,” where it just comes out and I’m left staring the horrifying verbal mess I’ve made, I usually try and give people the benefit of the doubt. I like to consider myself fairly laid back in my approach to being offended. 99% of the time I’m just mildly irritated and I move on quickly from most interactions with an internal eye roll. It took four years and a very ambitious offender, but someone finally managed to actually offend me. I’ll get to that in a minute.
People are fascinated with twins. I get that. While twins and multiple births are much more common than they used to be, they are still a bit of a rarity, so I came to expect some unwanted attention. When I was pregnant with the twins, I never voluntarily surrendered the information that I was carrying twins, mostly because I wanted to keep conversations with strangers as brief as possible. Also, I learned quickly that once that information was out there, the conversations got LONG and WEIRD.
Most people have really kind things to say or encouragement and awe for how difficult it must be to have two babies. Those comments, while lovely and well-received, aren’t nearly as entertaining as the more rare but thoughtless ones. Much like my own problem with “word-vomit,” I think people come down with “twin-speak.” This term usually refers to the “languages” that sets of twins come up with to communicate with only each other. In this case, I’m using it to reference the mind fog and verbal diarrhea that occasionally overcomes people when they are presented with a set of twins.
For the sake of general enlightenment and, hopefully, your reading pleasure, I’ve compiled a list of common comments made to mothers of multiples and ranked their offensiveness level based on my own subjective perceptions. Essentially, this list has no real factual or scientific value. Fasten your seat belts, it’s about to get a little snarky in here.
How far along are you? It’s pretty common for strangers to ask how far along you are when they notice you’re pregnant, whether with a singleton or multiples. This carries an offense level of 1, only because it always carries the risk that the person you’re asking is not actually pregnant. Should this be the case, and you’ve just asked a woman who is not pregnant how far along she is, it sky-rockets to a 10 and you should sprint away immediately. Tread cautiously with this one; Or just don’t try and engage strangers in conversations on their gestation at all.
Wow! You look ready to pop! Subsidiaries of this comment also include Whoa, are you due tomorrow?! Or Are you sure there’s only one in there?! I know none of you would ever say this to a friend or stranger, because you’re all respectable folks intelligent enough to realize that all of these comments have informed the pregnant recipient that you think she looks ginormous. This carries an offense level of 4. I’m moderately irritated with you, but can get over it quickly by making rude comments about the commenter’s appearance in own my head. Since I heard comments on my size quite regularly, this was typically when I would clarify that I was, in fact, carrying two babies.99% of the time, this was when the conversations got weird.
Oh, twins! Did you struggle with infertility? Annnnnnd it just got weird. Most of you would never dream of prying into someone’s personal and deeply private life in this way, but since I’ve been asked this about 7,965,875 times, I have to assume people are mostly well intentioned when inquiring. That being said, I’m not sure what kind of response people are looking for. You are a stranger and have just asked me about my reproductive health. Over the years I’ve mentally prepared a number of responses to this question, including “How was your last Pap smear? Oh, is that too personal? I thought maybe you could share some things about your vagina, since you just asked about mine.” Or “What’s the most difficult or emotionally devestating experience you’ve been through? Oh, you don’t wish to share that with me, the random pregnant person in line with you at Target? Well, neither do I.” Of course I’ve never actually used any of my cleverly crafted retorts in real life; I typically just change the subject for both our sakes. See, most people are just genuinely curious. However, being curious about something doesn’t make it appropriate for you to inquire about it. I don’t ask the amputee I see out in public if it still feels like his leg is there, or the testicular cancer survivor how everything “works” post-op. I’m curious, no doubt, but it’s none of my business. And honestly, if a stranger just started surrendering that information to you without you asking, it would be straight-up awkward. This is about a 5 on the offense scale for me. Not because you have offended me to the core of my being, but because you put me in a really uncomfortable situation simply because you are curious. Now run along and go be awkward elsewhere.
Are they natural? “No, they’re cyborgs that we genetically modified to have wolverine claws. We think that will really aid in self-feeding and independence. While they were cooking them up, we thought, go ahead and make two right away and shove ‘Em on up there!” So this question actually bothers me a bit. It’s really the same as the previous question, in that you are prying into my reproductive health, but you think that using the term “natural” somehow makes your intrusion more palatable. It’s not. You are still a creepy random stranger, only now you’ve implied that babies conceived through reproductive assistance or technology are somehow “unnatural.” Babies are babies and it doesn’t matter how they get here. Would you ask, “So how did you conceive? A good ol’ fashioned roll in the hay? Was it an accident? Do you know who the father is?” No. No one asks a mother carrying one baby how they conceived. Having two in my uterus doesn’t make it ok for you to ask me. Yes, twins are special. Whether they were spontaneous or conceived with reproductive assistance, they’re still special…and it’s still none of your business. This is an offense level 6, because what the heck is a “natural” baby anyway? I’m not mad at you, I just don’t want to talk to you anymore.
Are they identical? You’re right, this is not offensive in the slightest. The only reason I included it is because it becomes a level 2 on the offensive scale when you argue with my answer. If you ask me and I tell you, as their mother,that they are not identical, then you believe me. A random stranger with an opinion that my twins look so much alike, that they must be identical, is not going to convince me that such is the truth.
I’ll walk through this slowly. My twins are a boy and a girl. No matter how much you think they look alike (they don’t) they cannot be identical. (This isn’t entirely true, as b/g twins could technically and extremely rarely be identical if the female has Turner Syndrome, but unless you’re a geneticist you wouldn’t wander around the grocery store inquiring about this.) So when you ask a twin mom, “are they identical?” And she says, “No. They are a boy and a girl, so they are fraternal.” And you reply with “Are you sure? They look identical!” You reallllllly temp me to embarrass you by pointing out, “One has a penis, and one has a vagina. I’m certain they are not identical.” Especially if you’re a nurse at my children’s pediatrician’s office. And especially if you said “Are they identical or paternal?” Let’s all make sure we know what we’re talking about before we start, Mmkay?
Most people laugh at themselves after they get the answer on this one. ::Palm Slap:: “Duh. Of course they’re not identical! Silly me!” Then we both chuckle and move on with our lives. I encountered a gentleman at the pharmacy once, when I had my twin babies in tow. He started by questioning if they were identical. Since people were constantly mistaking my daughter for a boy, I clarified, “well they’re a girl and a boy so they’re fraternal.” And I gave him a polite “now let’s both run along so I can get my infant ibuprofen and you can go get your anti-itch ointment” smile. He wasn’t in a hurry, so he continued, “Are you sure they aren’t identical?! They look exactly the same!” I was in a hurry. In case you forgot, I’m the lady at the pharmacy with two babies in this scenario. So I patiently responded “No, they’re definitely fraternal. I don’t really have a hard time telling them apart.” Smile, turn slightly, signalling with body language that the conversation is coming to an end…He jumps right back in, “well how do you tell them apart?!?” Baffled I even had to answer this question for him, I replied, “I take their diapers off.” So this specific scenario counts as a level 2, since it required I discuss my infants’ genitals with a stranger.
I saved the best for last. As previously mentioned, it took a solid four years for someone to score a 10. We were having our furnace serviced and I was home with my three monkeys when the furnace fixer fellow arrived. “Are they all yours?!” He said as he saw my kids having a snack at the table. Thinking that maybe he had double vision or perhaps interpreted the noise of my house to mean more children than there actually were, I replied, “Well, it’s just the three, and yes there all mine.” It was clear to me we weren’t going to be BFFs. He followed up with “Three is quite a few! It’s a whole troop.” I worked through his annoying commentary on the number of children I chose to bring into the world and managed a forced smile and half-hearted chuckle. “They look real close together too.” He observed. It was true. We had three kids in 2.5 years, so I mentioned, “the older two are twins, so we got a two for one that time around.” I had played the twin card so I knew the conversation could go any number of directions at this point, but I never anticipated the direction he was heading. “Oh, twins! My wife always said she thought twins would be cool, but if she ever actually had them, she’d probably shoot herself.“
I’ll just let that marinate for a while.
Ok good. Let’s reflect. So this man, came into my home and told me, in front of my three children, twins included, that if his wife ever had twins, she’d kill herself. Apart from discussing the ending of one’s life violently with a firearm, which is never appropriate to discuss in front of toddlers, you informed both them and me that having twins would be the impetus for such a rash and horrific act. I simply didn’t respond to him because I was pinching myself to make sure this was real life. I’d never been made to feel like this before, by a stranger. Annoyed, irritated, befuddled, I’ve felt those things, but angry? This was a first! I was angry that he thought that was ok, to imply that having two beautiful children in the same gestation would be so horrible that I would end my life. I was angry that he implied that kids, especially more than one, were a hassle and irritation. Implying that I had not cried and begged and prayed for these children. Angry, that he said that in front of my children who clearly heard and understood what he was saying. Angry that he could make them feel anything less than wanted and dearly loved, simply because they arrived in this world at the same time. Angry that I couldn’t think of an appropriate way to communicate that to him, and angry that he still had to hang around and fix my furnace. Be gone, furnace man!
We should all slow clap for this guy, who managed to score a 10 on my offensive scale, a feat not to be taken lightly. His comment put all the slightly annoying questions into perspective and immediately downgraded them to a level 1.
So I’ll happily answer your questions and curiosities, all you future strangers brave enough to approach my loud crew in public. I can’t promise I won’t do a mental eye roll or two, but I recognize and appreciate that you think my twins are interesting, special, fascinating, a blessing. Because they absolutely are.