GLBT Parenting and the Marvel of Multiples:Tips for Gay and Lesbian Parents Raising Twins, Triplets, and More

by Katharine Swan

In 1934, five tiny baby girls were born to Oliva and Elzire Dionne. Known as the Dionne quintuplets, the five identical girls were celebrities from their earliest days of infancy. Exploited by both their parents and the Canadian government, the memoirs they published many years later described a childhood of being treated as one entity, rather than five unique little girls.

While the story of the Dionne sisters is rather extreme, it demonstrates many of the challenges of raising multiples. For a number of reasons, which we will discuss momentarily, many gay and lesbian parents find themselves raising multiples, making the issue an important one for the GLBT community.

Dad and Triplets

How Do Multiple Births Happen?

First things first – let’s talk about how multiple births happen. There are three basic types of multiple births:

  • Monozygotic – All of the babies came from the same zygote, which divided after fertilization to make two or more embryos. Identical twins and triplets are monozygotic.
  • Dizygotic – The mother’s body released more than one egg, and each one was fertilized to make a baby. Fraternal twins and triplets are dizygotic.
  • Polyzygotic – Not all of the babies are from the same egg, but some are: for instance, a case where two of the triplets are identical and one is fraternal.

Now let’s talk about who is most likely to experience multiple births.

Who Needs to Know about Multiple Births

Multiple births can affect all families, regardless of sexual orientation. Due to a number of factors, it is becoming more and more common for women to give birth to twins, triplets, or more. Lesbian bio moms and GLBT adoptive parents both need to be aware of the issues surrounding multiple births.

Bio Moms Older than 35

Regardless of why you might have waited to pursue parenthood, if you are over 35 you are more likely to give birth to multiples. This is because your eggs are as old as you are: You were born with a lifetime supply of eggs, already formed and waiting for you to hit puberty. And unfortunately, those signs of aging you see in the mirror every day are also showing up in your eggs, making them more likely to release several at a time or split into multiple embryos.

Bio Moms Taking Fertility Drugs

Fertility drugs also have a habit of producing multiple births. Since sperm donations can be rather expensive, lesbian bio moms may opt to use fertility drugs in order to boost their chances of getting pregnant. However, those drugs usually work a little too well: More than a third of women who take fertility drugs end up having multiple births.

Any Gay or Lesbian Parent Raising, or Considering Raising, Multiples

Of course, bio moms are not the only ones who need to know about raising multiples. Some gay and lesbian parents decide, for whatever reason, to adopt multiples. Others choose a birth mother only to find out months later that – surprise! – she is not carrying just one baby, after all!

Tips for Gay and Lesbian Parents of Multiples

Regardless of how gays and lesbians become the parents of multiples, you can probably imagine the challenges. Suddenly everything has to be synchronized, from feedings and diaper changings to meals and after school activities. And not only that – parents of multiples have to also worry about whether they are succeeding in raising well-adjusted twins or triplets (or more!). Here are some tips for GLBT families raising multiples.

Fostering Independence

The most important lesson to be learned from the Dionne sisters’ story – well, besides not signing your kids over to the circus – is that multiples need independence, just as much as other children.

“But twins and triplets have a connection,” you might protest. In most cases that is true. However, think of it this way: You are close to your partner, but that doesn’t mean you want to be treated as the same entity, right? The same goes for multiples – they want to be recognized as unique individuals just as much as you and your partner do.

As the parents of multiples, you and your partner need to be sure that you:

  • Take pictures of your children individually, as well as together
  • Call you children by their real names, instead of referring to them as “the twins” or “the triplets”
  • Encourage them to choose different toys, rather than always getting them the same of everything
  • Talk to their school about putting them in separate classes
  • Allow them to pursue different activities and interests, even if it is a royal pain in the behind for you
  • Spend “alone time” with each child, taking the time to develop a special relationship with each of them
  • Don’t dress them all alike, no matter how cute you think it looks!
  • It’s not necessary to give them similar sounding names, i.e., Mark and Clark and Parke or Katie and Cady or Dustin and Justin might be cute when they are little, but not so much as they get older.

Managing the Madness

Of course, before you start worrying about fostering independence in your twins or triplets, you first have to figure out how to simply get through the day. Two or more screaming, hungry babies don’t sound any more appealing than they will as tantrum-throwing two-year-olds or active five-year-olds.

Here are some ideas for caring for multiples while maintaining your sanity:

  • Recruit an extra pair (or two!) of arms for feeding time, bath time, bedtime, etc.
  • Use charts during infancy to keep track of who has been fed, diapered, etc. and when
  • Use charts during childhood to keep track of each child’s activities, household chores, and homework
  • Read and talk to your children frequently to encourage good communication and help them move beyond “twin speak” (a private language multiples often develop when first learning to talk)

The Marvel of Multiples

Raising multiples presents many challenges for gay and lesbian parents, but it can also be rewarding in many ways. Many parents find it delightful to see the vastly different personalities exhibited in their twins or triplets. Nothing is quite so astonishing as realizing how different two (or more) children can be, regardless of how alike they look or how many months they spent twined around each other in the womb. Although you will have to deal with the challenges of refereeing arguments and fostering independence, it is impossible to deny how marvelous parenting multiples can be.

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