Like everyone else, we’d noticed the explosion in twins—who could miss those SUV-of-the-sidewalk strollers, with the parents asleep at the wheel?—and understood that fertility treatments were behind it. But that was about all we knew.
The natural odds for twins, we learned, is one pair per 90 live births. But nature’s rules no longer apply. The twinning rate has doubled nationally over the past two decades, owing mostly to IUI and IVF, as well as the rising average age of pregnant women (the older you are, the more eggs you release). The city’s Department of Health found that the wealthier Manhattan neighborhoods have rates as high as 8 percent. But within social circles like ours, where most of the women are in their mid-to-late thirties, it practically seems like a 50-50 split. We can count five couples we know reasonably well who are expecting right now; two of them are having twins.
For women who undergo successful fertility treatments, the rate of multiples is about one in three. But it seems higher too. A friend of ours who just had twins remembers visiting a fertility specialist and examining his trophy wall of baby pictures. “I was like, ‘Cool, there’s a set of twins. And there’s twins. And . . . ’ It was all twins!”
Triplets, too, are on the rise, but they’re still pretty rare. Even though the rate has gone up 300 percent in twenty years, only about one in a thousand kids is a triplet.
As common as IUI and IVF have become in New York these days—Jon Stewart thanked his fertility doctor by name on the air—a stigma does remain. Oddly enough, the ones most sensitive to it are not the parents who had the treatments but the ones who didn’t. Multiples are presumed high-tech until proved otherwise.
Parents of twins, we noticed, seem obsessed with meeting other parents of twins. There’s a big networking group called Manhattan Mothers of Twins Club, which a woman named Miriam Schneider discovered ten years ago when she had her twin girls. It had about 40 members then; today, it has more than 700, and Schneider is its president. Paris Stulbach, a former producer for CNN who has 3-and-a-half-year-old twin girls, wanted a group more oriented to her Upper West Side neighborhood. Moms of Multiples now has 280 members and gets together for playgroups and massive mothers-only dinner parties (dads were originally invited but they didn’t last).
“People are used to taking the long view in life, imagining the future—next month, next year—and what they’re going to do with themselves,” says the 38-year-old Stulbach. “But when you’re the mother of twins, your life suddenly boils down to ‘Can I get through the next hour?’ It’s humbling, and nobody but another parent of twins can relate. I started this group because I felt very alone. Moms of twins feel like they’re the only ones on the planet, even though there are hundreds of us all over the place now.”
No longer a tiny harmless minority, parents of multiples constitute a threat to the singleton establishment. There are, among other things, status issues to sort out. On the one hand, you’ve got parents who wish to be recognized for their extraordinary burdens (“What’s the big deal about one baby?” one mother of twins told us. “It’s a step up from having a goldfish”), and on the other, you’ve got parents of singletons who detect an air of moral superiority. Suspicions abound on both sides. A Brooklyn mother of triplets says that when she goes to the playground, “the moms will be sitting around talking while I’m struggling to hold three babies. Once one of them said, ‘We did that, we’re done.’ And I felt like, ‘I’m a human being! How can you just watch somebody struggle?’ ”
Many parents of multiples consider themselves less neurotic because they’re not so fixated on their babies’ every blurp and bleep. The other side of that is they often don’t conform to certain sacrosanct parental standards. Though breast-feeding can be exceptionally difficult for mothers of multiples, they don’t get a pass from the nipple nazis (so many sign up for classes from Sheri Bayles, the twins lactation guru). If they enjoy the novelty of dressing their kids alike, or maybe it just happens by accident, they risk being labeled freaks. And heaven forbid they put their kids on a leash. Jay McInerney, the father of twins who are now 11 years old, remembers the looks of horror and disgust he received from other parents when he went out in the street with his toddlers tethered together. “Kids that age are genetically programmed to go running off in separate directions,” he says. “One person cannot control them. It may look inhumane, but there’s nothing humane about watching your kid get hit by a bus.”