The fascinating world of twins

There's a lot to learn when you are pregnant with twins.
There's a lot to learn when you are pregnant with twins. Photo: Getty Images

In the first couple of weeks since we learned that we're having twins, I've become an "expert" (of the shallow Google kind) on the subject.

It seems that there are hardly any articles left on the internet about twin pregnancies that I didn't read. 

So far we know that we're expecting monochorionic-diamniotic twins, which in plain English means we're having identical twins! And in more medical speak: our twinnies share one placenta but have an amniotic sac each.

While fraternal twins occur when the ovaries release more than one egg and two are fertilised, identical twins develop when one single egg splits in two. Fraternal twins are genetically no more similar than regular siblings. They can have different skin colours or  can even have two different fathers - the mother has to a bit of a free spirit for that to happen though.

Identical twins don't run in the family and have nothing to do with the mother's age. They just happen. Technically it's a malfunction of the normal development process.

Birth rate statistics for identical twins have remained stable over the years, despite an overall increase in twins and multiples.

As they share most of their DNA, identical twins are always the same sex. They do have individual fingerprints though, so if they're turning into the next Beagle Boys they'd still have to wear gloves. In 2009 a pair of identical brothers suspected of pulling off a massive jewellery heist in Berlin had to be acquitted because of their indistinguishable DNA.

Only about one third of twin pairs are identical and a monozygotic pregnancy comes with a bunch of extra risks. The biggest is called twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome.

To super simplify it, it means that one twin gets greedy and grabs all the blood and nutrition, while the other one shrivels away. This is not only a problem for the donor twin but also for the recipient. Its heart can't handle the overload of blood and so this can be life threatening for both twins.

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That's why we're going to be having scans every two weeks from week 16 on. If the obstetrician sees any complications they can laser the placenta in two and each of them can grow in peace.

But for now the twinniebinnies are the same size and we hope it stays that way.

When I imagined having twins over the years, I always pictured them being fraternal, ideally one of each sex, so treating them as little individuals should come naturally.

I'm sure it won't take long for us to get to know their characters and personalities and that this won't be an issue at all. Until then we can paint one baby's toenails to make sure we won't mix them up! My initial suggestion of getting them little tattoos as soon as they're born wasn't on the whole well received.

Jokes aside, raising identical twins as two individual, strong characters will be a challenge. As cute as identically dressed babies may be, we want them to be seen as their own little person from the get-go.

It will be fascinating to see how much in a person's character is nurture and how much is nature and how different our kiddiewinkles will turn out to be. 

But for now I just have to focus on eating healthily, taking it easy and doing everything in my power to make sure they have the best possible start in life.

The one thing I got really excited about is that mothers of twins have to eat a lot more. Now I am fantasising of all the delicious – but healthy(-ish) – things I'll have to eat over the next few months.

But I guess it'll be a case of "be careful what you wish for".  Apparently eating isn't as much fun when you're big as a blue whale and there's hardly any room in your stomach because two babies are bouncing around on top of it, and all the things you love eating give you terrible heartburn.

However, one of the few joys of the first-time mum-to-be – even though you've read about all the nasties that come with producing little humans – is that you can still picture how great it will be in your case. Until you get those haemorrhoids…

- Stuff NZ