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Our new twins are pulling us into a life we never expected

Marcus (left) and Callum.

Nathan VanderKlippe

To a new generation of parents, I'd like to offer a new refrain: We're having twins. And we are not unique.

At least, not any more. Twins, for better or worse, are all around us. We are collectively doubling down on babies - or, in the words of a hospital nurse I met last week, we're entering the age of the honeyguesswhats. As in: "Honey, guess what? We're going to empty our wallets buying twice as many vibrating things and twice as many batteries to power them."

In Canada, multiple births increased about 55 per cent between 1991 and 2008 after rising 35 per cent from 1974 to 1990. The latest Statistics Canada figures show that twins, triplets and even more crowded wombs now make up just over 3 per cent of all births.

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Nancy Segal, an author and researcher who is herself a twin and considered a leading authority on the subject, estimates that the world is home to some 146 million twins. There are more in some places, like Nigeria's Yoruba tribe, where the twin rate is one in 11, and less in others, such as some Asian populations, where it is one in 330.

In North America, twins are on the rise because parents are aging - about a third of the growth is attributable to older mothers, who twin more frequently - and because multiple births tend to emerge from fertility treatments that are increasingly more common.

Or, if you're us, you can be left just scratching your head. Last week, my wife gave birth to what the medical community calls "spontaneous" twins. We took no fertility treatments, and have no hereditary instigators. As best we can tell, ours are related to my wife's height - tall women tend to be twin magnets - and because, oddly enough, we're both lefties, who also seem to produce more doubles.

Not that it matters. Our boys - Marcus and Callum, we named them - are now reaching out those tiny little hands and pulling us into a life we never expected.

It is, we are discovering, equal parts terrifying and fascinating. When I asked Ms. Segal what sort of impact twins are having on society, she pointed to increasingly strained medical facilities from premature births - far more common with multiples - and to studies showing elevated rates of child abuse among families with multiples. Having two wailing beings descend at once can produce substantial financial and emotional distress.

Wailing in stereo, in other words, doesn't always sound like sweet music.

But twins also have a lot to teach us about ourselves. Twin studies have been foundational in helping us discern just how greatly our personalities, tastes and abilities are a product of our genetic codes. And it's almost impossible not to be curious about such tightly-knit siblings. According to Ms. Segal, identical twins in particular, "are like mini inbred societies."

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As for our Double Dutch duo, we don't know if they're identical yet - that will have to wait for some testing. What I do know is this: For the last few nights I've been up in the wee hours with not one, but two newborns snug against my chest. Two hearts beating. A pair of brand new sets of vocal chords whimpering and murmuring. Four hands and four feet grasping and kicking with infant dreams - and yes, gas - in the darkness. That may not be a unique experience. But it sure is amazing.

Over the next month Nathan Vanderklippe will be reporting from the front line.

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About the Author
Asia Bureau Chief

Nathan VanderKlippe is the Asia correspondent for The Globe and Mail. He was previously a print and television correspondent in Western Canada based in Calgary, Vancouver and Yellowknife, where he covered the energy industry, aboriginal issues and Canada’s north.He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award and a Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. More

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