Multiple births are on the increase but having twins can be double the trouble as well as the joy. Gabrielle Fagan looks at some of the problems and pleasures parents like Brad and Angelina will face.
Hollywood’s golden couple, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are now celebrating the birth of twins. Angelina, 33, gave birth to a boy, Knox Leon, and a girl, Vivienne Marcheline, by Caesarean section in a hospital in the south of France last weekend. Brad, 44, was by Angelina’s side.
The tiny pair, weighing around 5lb each, join Cambodian-born Maddox, aged six, Vietnamese-born Pax Thien, four, and Ethiopian-born Zahara, three, as well as the couple’s biological daughter, two-year-old Shiloh.
The wealthy superstars undoubtedly have already experienced some of the highs, lows and demands of parenthood with their multicultural “rainbow” family. But having twins is a uniquely challenging experience, according to childcare experts and other famous parents of twins.
TV presenter Alice Beer, mother of five-year-old twin girls Dora and Phoebe warns: “No matter how much money you can throw at it, those early months with twins are inevitably blooming hard work. So although having twins is incredible it’s also non-stop and exhausting.”
There are around 11,000 twin and multiple births each year in the UK and that average is set to rise as women delay parenthood until after 30 and are increasingly overweight – both factors which raise the likelihood of twins.
Alice, co-author with leading baby expert Gina Ford of the book A Contented House With Twins [Ebury £9.99], admits: “Those first weeks were quite a shock. I had a Caesarian like Angelina and so I was not only sore and fragile after having an operation but also having to cope with two babies instead of just one.”
There have been reports that the first photos of the film star couple and their twins are going for £8 million, a fee they plan to donate to charity.
Alice, 43, says that she agreed to a Hello! exclusive, with the fee going to charity Tamba (the Twins and Multiple Births Association tamba.org.uk).
She jokes: “I’d advise Angelina not to rush to have those photos done. I must have been high on some kind of hormone when I agreed to it!
“The twins were only about four months old when the magazine came and I was still finding it pretty stressful even to get myself organised enough to leave the house with the twins in tow, let alone getting them both looking perfect for photographs!”
She adds: “You can’t anticipate how much of your life is going to be stolen by these tiny babies. My husband Paul and I, whose pre-twins were incredibly punctual, found we always got everywhere two hours late – if at all.”
And she has some advice for Brad and Angelina. “You need to be a team. That’s the way Paul and I got through. He would hold one baby and walk around with her while I fed the other, or we would be cuddling them both together.”
For Brad and Angelina there will have been the initial joy and relief at the birth of healthy babies – twins are more likely to be premature and Angelina’s planned Caesarian was brought forward for “medical reasons”.
Twins are also statistically more likely to each have a lower birth weight and around 40 per cent need specialist care after birth – a factor that may contribute to more post-natal depression among mothers of twins (around 30 per cent according to research by Tamba).
GP Dr Carol Cooper, who is also a parent of twins and author of Twins And Multiple Births [Ebury £9.99], says the higher risk of post-natal depression is not surprising: “Think two babies crying at different times, waking at different times and wanting feeding at different times. Life can become just looking after the babies 24/7.
“Brad and Angelina are privileged and wealthy, but for ordinary couples there may be the added stress of affording two of everything, perhaps even having to get a larger car or house. It can all add to the strain.”
Family and friends may underestimate the early challenge of twins, she adds.
“Naturally everyone is happy for you when you have a baby – and especially two which may be a novelty in the family. But if everyone around you keeps saying, ‘You’re so lucky. How marvellous. Twins!’ it can heighten your feelings of inadequacy if you’re actually not always feeling lucky but are anxious, worried you’re not coping and feeling low following the births.
“Things that are straightforward with a single baby become difficult if not impossible with two. For instance, if you’re holding two babies you have no hands free so you can’t shut a door, make a snack or answer a phone – all possible when holding just one baby. It’s helpful if family and close friends offer to do practical things for you to give you a break.”
She points out that after the initial excitement by the couple’s children over the new arrivals, Brad and Angelina should be prepared for a few tears and tantrums particularly from Shiloh.
Dr Cooper: “In general, a child that age can find it hard to adjust to the arrival of one baby – let alone two. They feel jealous and pushed aside and once it dawns on them that the babies are not going to be sent back – young siblings often think this is an option in the early days – they can be quite troublesome.
“It’s all attention-seeking and will usually settle quickly as long as the parents give the child separate attention to make them feel special, too.”
Rumour has it that Brad and Angelina have already sought advice from other celebrity parents of twins particularly Julia Roberts (Brad’s co-star in Ocean’s 11) and Danny Moder – who have a son and a daughter now three, Phinnaeus and Hazel.
There’s no shortage of other famous parents with twins for them to turn to. Jennifer Lopez had a boy and a girl in February, Desperate Housewives star Marcia Cross has one-year-old twins and there are a host of film star fathers of twins including Michael J Fox, Mel Gibson and Al Pacino.
Dr Cooper believes that one of the greatest pleasures as a parent of twins is seeing their youngsters’ special bond.
“Twins are very special and anyone who has them is very fortunate. Seeing them interact with each other from their early days is amazing. They will reach out for one another and even before they can speak they laugh and chuckle and gurgle together which is adorable.”
But she emphasises that it’s vital to treat the babies – even from the earliest days – as two separate individuals.
“Avoid dressing them the same and always refer to them by their names instead of lumping them together as ‘the twins.’ This means that as they grow older they can develop their own personalities and function apart from one another.”
Alice Beer says her non-identical girls can occasionally be a handful: “You get a double dose of minxiness. No doubt about that. I found from the start my girls worked as a team. If they decided to do something and it was them against me, guess who won? Not me!
“But their closeness is terrific. It can be great watching them playing together and walking hand-in-hand, and Brad and Angelina will have many lovely moments to look forward to.”