More twins are being born now than ever before.
In the U.S., 1 out every 30 babies is a twin. The twin birth rate is up 76 percent since 1980. That’s partly due to modern science — fertility treatments — and that women are having babies at an older age (hence, more potential mothers needing help to conceive). As you may know, these treatments increase a woman’s chance of having twins, triplets, or more multiple births (hence, OctoMom).
Jane Roper is a Massachusetts writer who knows twins. In her mid-30s, she had trouble conceiving and started fertility treatments. Then she got pregnant … wait for it … with twins.
Roper looked for a book that would speak to her, and help her through the roller coaster ride, but all the manuals about raising twins were more “how-to” than “how-it-is.” So she wrote one herself.
Last week, her book, Double Time: How I Survived ― and Mostly Thrived ― Through the First Three Years Mothering Twins (St. Martin’s Press) arrived all fresh and squeaky clean on the marketplace. Forgive the metaphor, but us writers know that writing books can be like birthing our own babies.
Double Time is Roper’s memoir of her first three years raising twin daughters, yet the story it recounts is not always all joyful moments. The emotions she evokes, from both the pregnancy and during the early years raising her twin girls, run the gamut from elated, overwhelmed and confused, to thrilled, frustrated and exhausted. I’ve heard Jane read from her book and I can attest it’s smart, hilarious, serious, intimate and above all, candid. At one point she writes, “Let’s talk about my boobs.”
Her memoir is also gutsy: Roper bravely describes her battle with depression and how that got complicated when she added twins to her life. As the depression sank its claws into her psyche, she writes, “My veins, it seemed, ran with dread. Just being hurt. … I crawled onto bed, curling myself into a fetal position.”
Jane Roper writes the Baby Squared blog on Babble.com and has another book under her belt, the novel Eden Lake. She also has written for Poets & Writers, Salon, Slate, and The Rumpus, and holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. With her husband, the singer-songwriter Alastair Moock, and their twin daughters, Clio and Elsa, Jane makes her home in the Boston area. Visit her virtually at janeroper.com.
I recently had the chance to ask Jane a few questions about Double Time, whether technology can help parenting, and why our culture might have a weird obsession with twins. (Disclosure: Jane and I know each other and we often work at the same cafe in Somerville, Massachusetts.)
Gilsdorf: Congratulations on Double Time. Tell me why you wrote the book.
Roper: When I found out I was pregnant with twins I was, one, terrified and therefore, two, dying to read a memoir of someone’s personal experience, but I only found books with practical information and tips. So I basically wrote the book I wished I’d had.
Gilsdorf: How on earth did you find time to write this?
Roper: Ha! Well, I am fortunate enough to have a somewhat flexible schedule, as a freelance advertising copywriter. So I was able to squeeze in an hour or two of writing here and there — it’s amazing what a deadline can do — and I also spent a week at a writer’s retreat where I was able to pound out over fifty pages.
Gilsdorf: What are the biggest challenges raising twins?
Roper: You feel constantly pulled in two directions, trying to simultaneously meet the needs of two kids at very similar developmental stages. Also, it’s insanely loud. Our girls are always talking over each other as they vie for our attention.
Gilsdorf: Do you dress them identically?
Roper: No! Only if there’s an item — like shoes, or coats — where it’s just easier and more practical to get two of the same.
Gilsdorf: Whew. I never got that making twins even more identical thing. Why do you think parents do that to twins? Is this practice changing?
Roper: I don’t know why people do it — it’s cute, maybe? — but I think it really undermines twins’ sense of individuality. People seem to be doing it less these days, though.
Gilsdorf: Is there discrimination against twins or a weird fascination with them and if so, how do you shield your kids from that, if you do at all? Or do you embrace their “twin-ness”?
Roper: There’s definitely a weird fascination — people ask me all kinds of questions about them, including how they were conceived. I find the attention annoying at times. It’s the same questions over and over again. But I try very hard not to bite anyone’s head off. As for my girls, they care much less about the fact that they’re twins than anyone else does.
Gilsdorf: I see you on the computer all the time at the cafe where we work. Me too. I mean, who isn’t on their computer? But I wonder about how parents’ technology habits influence their kids.
Roper: Both my husband and I are self-employed and work from home. So we’re constantly on our laptops, and probably aren’t setting a very good “screen time” example for our kids. So far, though, they don’t show any serious signs of techoholicism. They do like funny cat videos on YouTube, though.
Gilsdorf: How does technology help parenting? How can it be used well?
Roper: When our girls were infants and we were basically housebound, just feeding and diapering and rocking them day and night, our computers — email and the web, specifically — felt like our lifeline to the outside world. These days, we sometimes let the girls play educational games on our computers, which seems like a decent use of technology. And games on my iPhone can be a lifesaver on long car trips when all else fails.
Gilsdorf: How have you seen technology not used well in parenting?
Roper: I once saw a three-year-old — yes, three — clicking around on his dad’s iPhone like a pro, playing some sort of game. The dad said that his son played games on it all the time. To me, that’s just sad. Kids need to learn how to entertain themselves — with books or toys or kitchen utensils or whatever — to develop their creativity and independence. There’s plenty of time for tech addiction later.
Gilsdorf: I thought you were brave to talk about your depression in Double Time. It seems a taboo subject to discuss being a parent and suffering from clinical depression. And the depression itself sounds awful. As a parent of twins, you must have felt bad as well as feeling bad for feeling bad, if that makes sense.
Roper: You hit the nail on the head. In addition to feeling lousy and lethargic, I felt terribly guilty and sometimes downright sad about being in the state I was in. I was missing out on my kids, and not being the kind of parent I wanted to be. I felt especially bad about making things harder for my husband. It was such a relief when I finally got back on track, with help from medication and some life/work changes.
Gilsdorf: Talk about some of the myths about twins — one is mean and the other is nice, or what have you. How do twins become different people?
Roper: A lot of people seem to assume that twins are “opposites” in some way: one shy, the other outgoing; one rational, the other creative. This is, of course, total crap. Resisting the inclination to compare or contrast twins this way is, as far as I can tell, the best way to help them feel more individual.
Gilsdorf: Are there other myths or ideas about twins out there you’d like to debunk?
Roper: Everyone told us the first year with twins was the hardest. It sure felt hard at the time, but 1.5 to 3 years turned out to be a whole lot harder. They could walk. And run. And express opinions. It was nuts. But, fortunately there was a lot that was really fun and sweet and adorable about that age too. Which I guess is true pretty much across the board when it comes to being a parent.
Read more about Double Time: How I Survived―and Mostly Thrived―Through the First Three Years Mothering Twins and Jane Roper at janeroper.com.