When Pregnancy Pulls A Number On You
Shelly Blizzard-Jones of Toronto, Canada, was sent to get an ultrasound so her caregiver could determine her due date. "I went alone because I thought we wouldn't see much. When I looked at the screen I said, 'That's very interesting... I didn't know I had a dual uterus. Why wouldn't they have told me when I was pregnant with my son?' The ultrasound technician looked confused and then we just stared at each other for the longest time," she says. "All of a sudden it clicked. I was shocked." Shelly never thought she might be carrying more than one baby. "My husband and I joked about it but never really seriously considered the possibility."
For most expectant parents, a positive pregnancy test is exciting news. But when they discover that more than one baby is taking shape in the womb, shock - along with other feelings that range from fear to elation - is not uncommon.
"My first reaction was one of pure panic: How on earth could I afford two? How would I manage?" recalls Kerry Brooks of Dublin, Ohio. "My husband, on the other hand, was so happy and excited that I couldn't help but get a little excited, too." Her biggest fear is that the babies, due in July, will be premature or have very low birth weights - all real issues for parents of multiples. "I guess some days I'm happy, some days I'm scared, and some days it just doesn't seem real," she says. "I was just getting used to being pregnant when we found out we had been blessed twice."
When Holly Neal of Bailey, North Carolina, went to her first obstetrical appointment, the doctor could not hear a heartbeat. Since Holly had conceived while taking the Pill and was not sure how far along she was, an ultrasound was scheduled for the following week. It wasn't long before her pregnancy was confirmed - times two. "I literally passed out. Luckily, I was on the table in a reclined position and came to very quickly - still shocked I was pregnant to begin with," says Holly. "I was so intent on seeing the beating of a heart that I didn't realize there were two beating hearts. My husband was ecstatic and, having seen ultrasound pictures before, he knew what he was looking at." Their sons, Mason and Dylan, were born in early 2000.
Dreams and Predictions
Tamitha Lynch of Anniston, Alabama, says, "During my pregnancy, I dreamed of carrying twins. But when nothing odd was ever discovered during my regular appointments, and after so much time had passed in the pregnancy, I had given that up as fantasy." Everything about her first pregnancy was routine. She remembers, "I had very minimal morning sickness, and everything at the prenatal visits showed up perfectly. At 20 weeks, we went for our first ultrasound. The couple leaving the room ahead of us was expecting their second set of twins. My husband joked with the technician about how wild that would be to have twins, and especially two sets! Before too long, the technician had our scan up on the screen. She said, 'You know there are two in here too, don't you?' Needless to say, we thought this was a practical joke. Fortunately for us, it was not." Eighteen weeks later, her son and daughter arrived at term.
Kerrianne Lovelace, a Tallahassee, Florida, already the mother of two singletons, found out she was carrying twins at an early ultrasound. "My three-year-old said we were going to have two babies when we first found out from a home pregnancy test that I was pregnant," she says. "At my first OB appointment at nine weeks, my doctor performed an ultrasound, and it revealed twins! We were overjoyed and overwhelmed. My husband and I both cried and laughed. Our doctor's jaw almost hit the floor when he saw two babies, as we had told him what our son predicted."
Affecting the Odds
While multiple pregnancies are the exception to the rule, certain factors may increase your odds of conceiving twins, triplets, or more.
A study of California twinning rates by ethnicity issued in 1995 [Hum Biol 1995 Dec; 67(6):921-31] revealed some interesting findings. For every thousand pregnancies carried by African-American women, 13.20 were twin pregnancies - the highest incidence of any ethnic group. The rate for white women was 10.05 per thousand, while Asians averaged 7.18 - meaning Asian women generally conceive twins about half as often as their African-American counterparts.
Age is also another important factor in predicting twins or higher multiples. The National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that from 1980-82 and 1995-97, the twin birth rate rose 63% for women between the ages of 40 and 44 - and nearly 1000% for women 45-49 years old. Triplet births are also on the rise: During the same period, triplet birth rates rose nearly 400% for women in their thirties, and again more than 1000% for women 40-49.
This isn't all a natural evolution: The contribution of various assisted reproductive technologies (fertility treatments) to the overall triplet and higher-order multiple birth ratio was an estimated 43.3% in 1997. Fertility treatments are also closing the ethnic gap.
In addition, a strong family history of multiple births increases your odds of having twins or more.
Triple the Luck
"I am a triplet and my mother is a twin - and multiple births have not skipped a generation in our family in 14 generations," says Joy Crofoot of Reno, Nevada. "One of my triplet sisters is also married to a twin. So one of us was bound to have a multiple birth, and, fortunately, it was me."
Joy found out she was expecting twins during her first pregnancy; however, she lost one of the babies to "vanishing twin syndrome," wherein one twin "disappears" at a very early stage and only one baby is delivered. She and her husband conceived again when her son was seven months old. "When the doctor was doing the ultrasound, he said that I had conceived twins again, and then proceeded to call me 'Superwoman.' I was in complete shock and almost passed out on the table... My husband Patrick was grinning from ear to ear, he was just so excited. He had a feeling we were going to have more than one, and was happy to find out it was just two and not three, four, or five."
When Nancy Myers in Saint Joseph, Michigan, experienced bleeding at eight weeks, her caregiver sent her for an ultrasound. The exam showed two babies, and her doctors continued to find two heartbeats at appointments. "Then, at my 20-week ultrasound, the sonographer found 'too many legs' and realized there were actually three babies," she says. "I couldn't catch my breath between laughing and crying at what she had said. My husband's first response was 'How are we going to pay for college?' I guess we have a few hurdles to cross before that time arrives."
"I had no reason to suspect multiples, as my odds are the lowest on the scale -- I am only 23, Asian, not on infertility drugs, and with no family history of twins. I did not even have aggravated pregnancy symptoms," says Sarah Parker of Portland, Oregon. "The few things I did notice, I managed to explain away because I thought 'There's no way!'" After her midwife said she was gaining weight too quickly, Sarah hesitantly asked what the odds were of having twins. "She just shrugged it off and said there was not much of a possibility. I felt silly for asking! I had a feeling early in pregnancy that I was carrying twins, and so did my husband, but I tried to ignore those feelings because, given my odds, I thought it was just wishful thinking."
That same day, Sarah had blood drawn for the AFP test. Two days later, she received a phone call from a genetic counselor, who told her that she needed to come in immediately for an ultrasound because her levels of alpha-fetoprotein were extremely high. "She said it could be spina bifida or twins... I panicked, stayed up all night the night before, and bawled a lot," Sarah recalls. "However, within two seconds of the ultrasound, the technician said, 'Oh! It's twins, you guys!'"
Sarah and her husband were delighted to be expecting two baby boys at the end of May, 2001.