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The Twouble with Twiblings

Many newspapers are running the story of what they’re calling the “twiblings”: two babies born days apart to the same parents via surrogacy.  In other words, the parents worked with two surrogates simultaneously in order to transfer embryos to both at the same time which resulted in each surrogate carrying a child, delivering them within days of each other.  So they have boy-girl twins … from separate wombs.

I don’t want to debate the ethics of this or talk about twins in general or the parenting of multiples (I mean, yes, all those things would be interesting to talk about, but they’re not what I want to focus on today).  What I want to talk about is the enormous amount of word coinage that goes on in the media when they discuss fertility stories and whether these terms even fit.

Twiblings makes perfect sense because the uniqueness of twinhood is partially nature and partially a social construct.  If people didn’t treat the ChickieNob and Wolvog as something special, they would not know that twinhood was something special.  But they have had a lifetime marked by others cooing over them and pointing out how they are different from singletons, and I think that has cemented the relationship just as much as spending time in the womb together.

Which is not to knock the time they spent together inside of me.  The way they interacted then is the way they still interact now.  We used to watch the Wolvog touch his sister’s head in the womb, and that is still his calming technique, his touchstone.  He just needs to hold her ponytail for a moment to be sure of her.  When they came out of the womb, one had bradycardia and one had tachycardia, but if we kept them together in the same isolette, they each regulated the other’s heart rate.  And when we moved them apart, they would return to their irregular heart rates.

I think most twin parents have a crazy story like that.

So, yes, those kids are twiblings, and I would count them as a type of twin because other people will mark them as a type of twin.  And that marking will define them just as much as the time they spend together at home or the time they could have spent together in the womb if they had been traditional twins.

Oh, in case you didn’t know, this story isn’t that unique.  We have our own triplings in the blogosphere: Uterus x 2 which became Finding Chaos had twins and a singleton within 4.5 months of each other.  The two mums are raising their kids as the trio.

The problem I have with the use of the word “twiblings” is when it is applied to children who come from the same batch of frozen embryos, yet are born years apart.  At the same time that newspapers were reporting on this set of twiblings, they were also talking about three kids they were deeming triplets, even though they were born 11 years apart.

But they aren’t triplets — not by nature such as being in the womb together nor by social construct such as having people point out their uniqueness or interact with them based on their triplethood.  The parents will not need to help those kids navigate the pitfalls and benefits of a multiples’ relationship.

I think it can be emotional for parents to think about batches of embryos — of creating two lives from the same batch of embryos — and I’ve certainly read blog posts about this when it comes to loss and creating a second life from the same set from which the first child came.  But in this case, it’s the thoughts and feelings of the parents that are being placed on the children, rather than the other way around.

With twinhood, even non-traditional twinhood such as the twiblings above, it’s the children navigating the relationship and all it brings and it’s the parents who are there merely to observe and guide.  In the case of the faux triplets born 11 years apart, it is the parent’s feelings about embryos from the same batch being placed on the children, telling them their relationship rather than having them organically experiencing it by going through milestones together.*

Which is not to knock the uniqueness of embryos from the same batch growing into children.  Life, in and of itself, is miracle enough.

I don’t know, where do you stand on the use of twiblings in the case of the two-surrogates-at-the-same-time (or two-mums-at-the-same-time too)?  What about in children born from the same batch of embryos years apart? (Which is so freakin’ common that I can’t believe this is newsworthy at this point.)

* I don’t actually know how this couple feels about this phenomenon, but I’m basing this on the fact that the parents are putting this story out there.


1 LastChanceIVF { 01.11.11 at 8:16 am }

Hmmm, interesting.
I guess I totally misused the term about our kiddos–two Ethiopian babies we’re adopting (after five failed IVFs) that are not genetically related but whose birthdays are only days apart. Because so many people keep saying “well they’ll be like twins to YOU” …. they’re not twins but yet they’ll be so close in age they’ll be raised more like twins than not…and actually my Mom is used called them twiblings after seeing the story on the Today Show and thinking it was a cute term. Oh well. I’m sure everyone will have their opinion…

2 Bea { 01.11.11 at 8:18 am }

Twiblings seemed like a good name for this case, because they’re almost like twins, but with a difference that makes them a little more like siblings. I kind of like it.

As for those born years apart, yes, it’s really common, why are we still hearing stories in the media, etc. It’s kind of cute to think of them as sort-of twins, but I don’t think I’d go so far as to coin a whole special term (or maybe they actually need a special term, to differentiate them from actual twins?), I think I agree that’s more of a straight sibling relationship. I think that’s what I’d go with most of the time although the newspapers would pick up on that one little time I tried to be cute about it out of all the others.

I’ve often thought that if one of our first batch of embryos resulted in a live birth (unlikely), s/he would be a kind of “oldest sibling” in a way and that’s cute, too, but I wouldn’t go around using the term “big brother/sister” all the time for a child who was quite obviously born later than the “younger sibling(s)”. I might use it for occasional anecdotal purposes, though. I guess it’d be the same with siblings/twiblings from the same batch of embryos born years apart. You’d say it, you’d all smile and shake heads at the wonder of modern medicine, then you’d go back to normal terminology.


3 Kymberli { 01.11.11 at 8:58 am }

I’m in your camp. I believe that babies who are generally in the same developmental stage and are raised together are considered twins moreso than children born from the same batch who are born years apart.

I have a blog friend who has four chidren. She adopted a 1-year old daughter from Haiti when her son (by birth) was also a 1-year old. The two are are only three or four months apart in age. While the “twinness” of them is wholly different – especially given the fact that it was a transracial adoption – she considers the two twins and often refers to them as such. The rest of the world might wonder curiously about the cute Black girl walking with her three White siblings, but for all intents and purposes, she’s a twin to her brother…at least I consider her more of a twin to him than I do babies born years apart from the same batch of embryos.

I also have a friend in the surro c0mmunity who did a dual transfer with her surrogate. They both got pregnant with boys. Her surrogate delivered 8 or 9 days before she did. The boys are definitely being raised as twins, even though they have different birthdays.

4 Ana { 01.11.11 at 9:00 am }

I agree with you, to me the unique concept that is deserving of a new term has nothing to do with the specifics of when gametes were fertilized, but more to do with the social and cultural relevance of having a sibling (by genetics or adoption) the same age as you that you can’t call a “twin” because they didn’t share a womb. So the original story fits my idea of “twibling” as does actually LastChanceIVF above. To use the term to describe children born at different times from the same batch of embryos is complicating a situation that really deserves no further explanation (again, to me); the children are born at different times and have the social and cultural experience of being older & younger siblings, not twins. Of course it may be silly for me to be offering MY interpretation of a made-up word.

5 Mic @ IF Crossroads { 01.11.11 at 9:17 am }

Yes! I like this introspective post! I feel very strange when I think about my frozen embryos, just waiting at SGFC in a freezer, as twiblings for Kaitlin. Yes, if one of those totscicles happens to become a child, then it would be a sister or a brother. But because it was a child created in a petri dish with Kaitlin? I hardly see them as twiblings.
Maybe it’s because my husband is an identical twin that I have difficulty identifying with the fact that K would be a twin to a future totscicle child. I’m not sure. But I do think about it – often and with mixed emotions and feelings surrounding the subject.

6 manymanymoons { 01.11.11 at 11:21 am }

As a twin myself I found this post to be so interesting. When I think about it, I believe what makes us “special” (for lack of a better word) is equal parts “special” based on nature and nurture. I have often though that the fact that we were referred to as “the twins” set us apart way more than our identical faces.

7 loribeth { 01.11.11 at 12:04 pm }

I will buy the term “twibling” (cutesy though it may be) in the first case, as the children are very close in age & being raised together, even if they didn’t share the same womb. Close to twins, but not quite.

Not so sure about sharing a petri dish. I remember Celine Dion, when her son Rene-Charles was born, talking about how he had a “twin” & she was going to “go back and get him” — an embryo from the same IVF they’d had frozen. So I’m blaming her for that particular concept. ; ) I think we need to come up with a new term for this particular scenario.

8 Michelle { 01.11.11 at 1:13 pm }

In adoption land, they are using the term ‘artificial twinning’ if I have a baby naturally and adopt at the same time. All of these terms and criteria just seem a little unsettling. I guess I get erked when people are always trying to slot and categorize each other. I have been ‘forwarned’ of the ramifications of this approach, while I adopt. To which I respond…well whatever happens…happens! Does it really matter?

I would agree, that babies that are from sets of frozen embryos, born years apart, are siblings. I get the concept of ‘twinning’ from the same batch, but let’s be honest, they are not ‘twinning’ in the sense of current nurturing and environmental factors.

Hmm. Just seems weird all of these labels. Great post! Definitely gets us thinking!!!

9 Kami { 01.11.11 at 1:31 pm }

I like the term twiblings for the surrogate story. They aren’t the same as twins because that intrauterine experience is key, I think. But they are the same age and more than typical siblings.

I think of my two girls from the same batch of embryos born 21 months apart as siblings only. I do sometimes wonder how they would be different people if things had been a bit different and they were born together or we opted to put younger sibling back first and she became the older sibling, etc. It is a fun intellectual exercise, but the most amazing thing about them is DE not timing.

10 JessPond { 01.11.11 at 4:22 pm }

Personally the term twiblings makes me twitch. I’ve most often heard it applied to “baby bunchers” and to me it’s retarded to say that kids born with found-in-nature-spacing between them are anything like twins! Even if they’re 10-12m apart!

Though I will note that there are interesting parallels with twins and closely-spaced children. In observing my two that are 6m apart, with no bio connection, I find they display many of the same behaviors I see in twins. They are, in their RELATIONSHIP, actually “twins” really….they are raised as the same age siblings, they have twin-speak, they follow a lot of the “odd behavior” type things you see with twins, and they never knew it any other way than with the other child. They will go to prek and school together, and they have been pretty close developmentally speaking. You can notice the 6m less and less, too, as they get a little older. It’s very odd, some of the things I’ve heard attributed to “sharing a womb” I see every day in my non-biologically-related children….so clearly much of it is nurture not nature. You can’t even argue genetics.

As for surrogacy, I think the same things would apply. By SOME definitions of “twin” they are twins if they’re conceived the same time and born the same time (or not…after all, are twins born on separate dates not twins?). That said, they did not share a gestation….HOWEVER did share a conception. It’s kind of subjective and should be a whole other thing, honestly, but the media probably likes “twiblings” because it’s cutesy and somewhat sensational.

I also think that it’s fair to tell children their origin. If I had become pregnant with an embryo from Ethan’s batch, I’d not have even considered withholding that information from either child…it’s part of their story. However, I’d not also have considered them twins or treated them as such. To me, my two now would have been much more “actual” twins than having shared a conception date.

I mean, a lot of the “twin” seems to me to be from being raised together, developing your personalities together in the exact same environment at the same times, and sharing every experience throughout your childhood and young adulthood. For some this starts in utero, true, but I’m not sure the essence of twin-ness seems to stem mostly from that (in my observation of things typically “twin”).

11 JessPond { 01.11.11 at 4:27 pm }

I feel the need to add FOR THE RECORD that we DO NOT consider our kids twins. Though it is abundantly clear they are not the same in most ways as regularly spaced siblings. In that sense, I don’t really consider them anything than what they are, which I think is best in any case, don’t you think?

(That reasoning is why parents who dress their kids alike make me twitch, as well….twins or no!)

12 Chickenpig { 01.11.11 at 6:04 pm }

I hate the term twibling. It makes the kids sound like fuzzy toys that talk to each other or something. I prefer the term ‘virtual twins’ myself.

I think for children to truly act like twins they have to be raised with each other from a very young age. Part of the reasons that twins (or triplets and etc) behave like twins is because they were together before their idea of ego was established, they truly believe they are the same person for many months, and how they start to separate as individuals is a big part of the twin relationship. Virtual twins that aren’t together before 8 or 9 months don’t have the same bond, even if they are raised as twins. As for the idea that children conceived in the same batch as being twins, that’s pure rubbish. They can’t even really be considered virtual twins since they aren’t age mates. And why would anyone want to have twins so badly that they would create twinning where there isn’t? Weird.

13 Battynurse { 01.11.11 at 7:41 pm }

Twiblings is an interesting name and I would say it works since they are pretty much the same age regardless of whether they shared a womb or not. I have a friend who referred to her two youngest children as Irish twins since there is like 9 months between them. I don’t know though that it works for children from the same batch of embryos born years apart. They’re still siblings of course but they aren’t the same age.

14 Jenny { 01.11.11 at 9:19 pm }

The word twiblings doesn’t really bother me, and neither does the unconventional usage of the word twin.

Personally, I wouldn’t call anyone a twin unless he/she was one of two children carried around in the same uterus and squeezed through the same vagina (ok or cut from the same belly…) during the same labour. Anything else is just siblings. If they are nearly the same age (and regardless of what person carried them around for 9 months) they are just plain old-fashioned siblings. Not that there is anything wrong with just plain old siblings!

Generally though, it seems everyone things their children are special or unique. Even more so (and rightfully so!) those of us that manage to obtain children after years of frustration with infertility and/or loss. Hence terms like ‘rainbow baby’, ‘miracle child’ and now twiblings. We all like to feel special and in my eye this is just another expression of that desire – no harm done, even if it’s not particularly accurate.

15 MrsH { 01.11.11 at 9:42 pm }

I have never thought of my frozen embryo now fetus as a twin to my previous baby. It didn’t even occur to me to think that way. I guess it would be one way to think of it, but what for? it is not as if there is any medical need to name it anything other than siblings. While as fraternal twins made from embryos from the same batch placed in the uterus at the same time have a completely different reason to be named twins since they share the uterus at the same time.
The term twiblings is also completely unnecessary, unless the parents really like it. The two babies born from separate uteruses are singletons as far as I am concerned, and only related as much as any other singletons are.

16 Leah { 01.11.11 at 11:22 pm }

I think it’s mind blowing and very cool to have siblings come from embryos created together but gestated years apart – however I think it’s more similar to the potential for life waiting inside the parents or donors to become a sibling, than to children having a same aged sibling – anyway that happens.

17 jjiraffe { 01.12.11 at 12:31 am }

I definitely think raising two children of the same age at the same time some kind of special relationship. The two children will take cues from each other, be able to play “two against one” card when with a parent is alone with them, and they’ll probably develop different social skills than those raised apart in age. My twins learn so many things from each other every day; it’s fascinating to see how they teach each other new words and how to identify emotions. But I do think, like you, that being in the womb is a special experience too that creates a special bond between twins. I don’t know scientifically what bonding went on in there, but I know it happened because at two weeks they would “talk” to each other and verbally “respond”. It was like watching two aliens conversing in a language I didn’t understand.

So, yeah, the word “twibling” makes sense to me.

18 Bree { 01.12.11 at 6:19 am }

I think it’s all about being raised at the same time in the same context, so similar-age-but-not-biologically-connected siblings are more ‘twins’ in my mind than petri-dish compatriots born years apart.

I know a family that includes step-sisters, born about two weeks apart. Even though they both lived as only children for the first 3+ years of their lives and didn’t live in the same house until they were five, they are now being raised as twin-like sisters. As in matching clothes for all occasions. Photo sessions labeled ‘the twins’ on FB. All of it. Ironically, every time I see them they look more alike.

19 carey { 01.12.11 at 9:19 am }

Thanks for thinking about us! We call ours The Trio because of their close age but we cringed at the thought of calling them triplets (even though they are more like triplets than anything else). The Trio seems more appropriate. I do not think of any of our embryos as twins/triplets/etc. I guess I question why one would even need to give a name like twiblings – why are we so compelled to give everything a special name? For me, it’s just easier to type “The Trio” vs. all of their names, esp. for blog purposes.

20 steph { 01.12.11 at 10:55 am }

Thanks for the mention and the link! Interesting post and interesting comments. I agree with the majority of the comments in that children born from the same batch of IVF but years apart are no differnt than regular siblings. To consider them twins is just absurd. If so then I am way up on octomom b/c I have about 20 frozen. LOL.

As for the term twiblings, I’m indifferernt to the term – doesn’t bother me either way. I’ve seen a similar term used in some of the psychology literature where siblings (usually through adoption in the studies I’ve seen) who are less than 9 months apart are referred to as functional twins/triplets. Getting back to the original term, would my trio be triblings? LOL.

I know of several situations like ours where lesbians moms both gave birth within several days to months of each other. I’m ok with people in that situation (or adoption or surrogacy) saying they have twins/triplets in certain situations. I mean really, do I need to explain to the lady next to me at the grocery store that my wife and I both carried. And no we’re not that crazy but it’s just that after 3 years of IF treatment and multiple miscarriages each we just didn’t trust that a positive pregnancy test would equal a baby in 9 months…. So yeah, sometimes it’s just easier to smile and nod and say “why yes, they are triplets” and then take the “better you than me” or the “my you have your hands full” comment than to get all deep and personal about the previous failures of my lady parts.

With all of that said, I rarely ever say mine are triplets. They are old enough that they understand what I’m saying and I don’t want them to hear me fib or to think that I am in any way ashamed of our family. Oh yeah, and they’re NOT triplets. (Although, I was a part of a moms of multiple group and the triplets and more subsection took us in and I must say I related most to these women. The things I needed help on or had questions on where best understood by the mom’s of triplets than the twin moms…adding that third really changes things). Usually I say twins plus one and let them wonder what the age difference is. Usually most people think the boys are the twins and Little Miss is the little sister since she’s so petite (the twins are b/g).

Functionally though, my trio are pretty much triplets. Based on their birthdays they will all be in the same grade. With the exeption of 4.5 months for The Boy, they have had every single experience in their lives the same and they have experienced them at about the same developmental level. We certainly are a different family than your average… but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

21 steph { 01.12.11 at 11:32 am }

I see that my wife also commented. I love seeing how differently (or alike) we think sometimes.

22 Kir { 01.12.11 at 11:35 am }

I’m not comfortable with the term Twibling when it’s applied to babies born years apart but from the same batch of embryos. I also used to call the one embryo we had left “the boys Triplet” but If that baby was ever born to us, I would never use that word, that child would not be their triplet, because they are not the same age, they didn’t share my womb and grow up together, hitting milestones etc.

I think that our world wants to coin words like this to help the people who don’t understand fertility stuff to grasp it, but all it does is confuse already CONFUSED people.

Jacob and Giovanni are very different little boys, they do not look ALIKE, they look like brothers and they act very differently but the one thing that is the same is the time that they have spent together, being raised together, being in my body at the same time. My story is that when in the NICU, we were told 3 times that Gio’s light had come on and would be coming home…but Jacob would need to stay a few more days. Every time, we would get ready, steady ourselves to bring Gio home and leave Jacob there and when we would get inside the NICU Gio’s “Light was off” …He eventually stayed 10 days, Jacob 11…but it was more like HRS…in the end. They were circumsied on the same day and I believe now and forever that Gio waited for Jacob. Now he is the same way with his “little brother” by 2 minutes…if you give him something he asks..”one for Jacob?”, “how about Jacob?” that is the thing that they will carry with them.
I can’t imagine that a child born of the same embryos would have that kind of tenuous but special line to these two boys. Even as their Sister/Brother.

23 SassyMama { 01.12.11 at 12:37 pm }

Interesting discussion.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but the dictionary defines twins as “one of two offspring born at the same birth”. I don’t have an issue if people want to use the term “twibling” in unusual situations like the one you mentioned, but in my mind it seems to complicate things. They are siblings. Born very close together due to modern medical science. I suppose they will be raised as twins, which will almost inevitably lead to a special relationship… but they have different birthdays. It just seems strange to me to call them anything but siblings. So although I see why the term would be applicable in the rare situation, I think widespread use of the term for other situations (like for embryos from same batch born years apart) is just confusing.

Of course, maybe it leaves a bad taste in my mouth because as the mother of triplets I often hear mothers tell me their kids are “just like triplets” because they had a singleton and then twins as much as 16 months apart. To me they are siblings born closely together. Not at all the same as triplets.

I think calling three babies from the same batch of embryos born 11 years apart “triplets” to be ludicrous. Because if that is true, my friend who has four singletons through IVF… she has quadruplets? Just doesn’t make sense to me.

BTW… if “twinning” and “tripleting” is based on conception, not gestation, what of my situation? Since my triplets (born at the same time from the same uterus…) were embryos gathered from three different retrievals… does that make them any less triplets?


24 Sara { 01.12.11 at 1:46 pm }

Hmmmm. It’s all so complicated. I’ve always liked Steph and Carey’s “trio” approach, and I’m fine with twiblings. I just wonder why this is such big news at all.

I have always been a little confused about why people make such a fuss over multiples. I mean, obviously there are special parenting challenges associated with having two or more babies at the same time, and I do totally understand why parents of multiples seek support from parents of other multiples, but I’ve never understood why e.g., my friend with twins always refers to them as “the twins,” rather than “the kids” or “the girls,” or their names. “The twins” isn’t shorter or easier to say, so why is it such an important part of their mother’s image of them? (She doesn’t have any other kids, so it’s not like she is trying to distinguish “the twins” from her other kids.) Oh well. If that makes her and them happy, then good for them.

25 Katie { 01.13.11 at 9:29 am }

A good friend of mine and a fellow Resolve volunteer had three of her four children via surrogate. Her son was born in December, and her twin girls were born in March. She essentially has Irish triplets. After ten years of battling infertility (and almost losing her first son prematurely), I have no doubt in my mind that she’s happy about her decision. The situation occurred on accident – she and her husband were not planning on using two surrogates at once – but they seem to be adjusting just fine.

My friend said to me, “People thought I was crazy for using two surrogates at once. But when the opportunity fell on my lap, I thought ‘I will probably never get this chance again’ and I went with it.” I think it’s all up to the person and what they can and cannot handle.

26 Dora { 01.13.11 at 2:12 pm }

First of all, I want to say I really liked the NYT Mag article. I applaud this couple for their openness about their family building. And for maintaining connections with the women who helped them build their family. I agree that “twiblings” is not an accurate term for siblings from the same embryo batch. My daughter’s siblings from her embryo batch are 5 years older than her, were born to another mother, and live in another country. Yet … I do think it’s special that they were all conceived the same day.

27 Ellen K. { 01.13.11 at 10:53 pm }

I’m the only sibling of identical twin boys, and I’m now parenting fraternal twin girls (IVF), so I’m very familiar with social constructs and familial expectations of twins and twin relationships. I’m also a medical editor, so I have to go by the books (i.e., the medical dictionaries). I think “twiblings” is an extremely silly term regardless of the context. By medical definition, twins are two offspring produced in the same pregnancy. Same conception may be somewhat implied but is not part of the definition. The pregnancy is what matters. My daughters are fraternal twins (IVF/ICSI); genetically they are simply siblings of the same parents, but physiologically a multiple gestation is very different than a singleton gestation, and babies who gestate together face specific stressors and challenges before and after birth. (And newly expectant twin moms, if your obgyn says that twins are really not any different, please find yourself a better doctor. I wish I had done so.)

28 Lut C. { 01.14.11 at 3:50 pm }

I rolled my eyes at the ridiculous use of the term ‘triplets’ in that story.

29 Amy { 01.17.11 at 5:39 pm }

A few thoughts:

First, I’m just shocked that anyone can afford two surrogates! Wow! But I think the moniker fits, since the babies will be raised together as twins. An aunt adopted two very different looking babies at around the same time, and “twins” was a bit of a tongue-in-cheek term for them. In their adulthood, they aren’t really twinny at all. I don’t know what makes a twin, really.

But having been pregnant with twins, I have to disagree about something. Someone said, “I wouldn’t call anyone a twin unless he/she was one of two children carried around in the same uterus and squeezed through the same vagina (ok or cut from the same belly…) during the same labour.” Now let’s not forget the delayed interval delivery! My boys were born three weeks apart, one vaginally and one by C-section. That doesn’t make them not twins. What does make them not twins anymore is that one died. My living son’s twinhood is a crucial part of his birth story and his survival into the world, but his childhood is very much that of a singleton.

Though I’m expecting another baby due when my son is 16 months old (13 mos adjusted), I don’t think they’ll be twinnish at all. My doctor, upon confirming my pregnancy, said that they’d be just like twins. I resisted the urge to slap him for insensitivity (uh, I HAD twins you jack-A), but it’s still clear to me that these babies have their own births, and their own very independent beginnings. And my son, who will soon be a big brother, has established himself in a lot of unique ways that this albeit close sibling is simply not a part of.

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