Kate Springer talks with parents of twins and triplets.
Franca Kurpershoek-Hekster and Tobias Hekster grew up in The Netherlands. While living in Chicago, they had daughter Sofie, now 11, followed by twins Maxine and Felix, now nine. They moved to Hong Kong in 2008 for Tobias’ job when the twins were 20 months old.
When did you learn that you were having twins?
It was 19 April 2006 — a date I’ll never forget! I started laughing at first; it was kind of unreal. It just came out of nowhere really. I had a miscarriage in between both pregnancies and was just hoping for a successful pregnancy and a healthy child. And no, twins did not run in my family but I guess they do now.
What were you most worried about?
Mostly the practical stuff. I wasn’t too worried about the pregnancy. My first pregnancy was nine days overdue and very smooth — I wasn’t considered high risk. I worried more about things like how to manage a supermarket trip alone or how to feed them all at the same time.
What was it like after they were born?
They were born in Chicago right before the cold Midwest winter and there is limited help at home there compared with Hong Kong. It was hard getting out of the house with three kids by myself, especially in those first winter months while trying to keep them on a decent sleep schedule. It wasn’t always pretty but I made it work. I showered every day and got dressed every day. My mom was there for the first three weeks, and I have been out with them by myself ever since — even if it was the Starbucks a few hundred metres from our house.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about raising twins?
Even though they’re born on the same day, in the end they’re just a brother and a sister like any other siblings. They may have a special bond, but above all they’re different individuals who have their own personalities, needs and wants. They’ve had their own rooms most of their lives, are in different classes at school, have different friends, and so on. Ultimately, they’ll lead their own lives so raising them as individuals instead of a set of twins is vital, in my opinion.
How are your twins different?
Maxine is outgoing, extrovert, confident, well balanced, fairly sporty and social. Felix is much calmer, more sensitive — although Maxine has a sensitive side too — smart, observant, and super sweet with a great memory. He’s not your typical rowdy boy. They’re both quite switched on, but in very different ways.
What would you do differently?
It helped that the twins weren’t my first children. I think that would have been harder, but you don’t get to choose right? I felt I had at least some experience so was less anxious, but it was hard work, especially with a toddler at home who also deserves attention. Luckily Sofie was a very mellow child — it’s a difficult balance when you’re tired and taking care of two newborns.
What wisdom would you impart to other families about to have multiples?
I’d say accept the fact that you only have two hands and two babies, and possibly more children. You can’t always hold, feed and take care of both babies whenever they want. And that’s all right. Even if they cry, it won’t ‘hurt’ them. You’re doing the best you can at that given moment. As soon as you have more than one child, sometimes the twin or the sibling will have to wait — that’s life.
How did you become involved in the Mothers of Multiple Facebook group?
When moving from the States and the Netherlands, I was looking to new ways to meet people from different places. I joined Mothers of Multiples as a chairman in 2008. It’s a great resource as having twins (or triplets) is a completely different ball game in so many ways.
Any other good resources for parents?
My sleep bible “Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child” by Marc Weissbluth. I sleep-trained all three early on based on his advice and it has paid off tremendously. If they sleep well, you sleep well — so worth the investment. A fun read is “Ready or Not Here We Come!: The Real Experts’ Guide to the First Year With Twins.” It’s hilarious and down to earth.
Hailing from Brisbane, Australia, Ian and Vicki Taylor lived in Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Abu Dhabi before moving to Hong Kong earlier this year. They are raising three-year-old triplets: identical girls Aysha and Demi, and fraternal son Christian.
How did you feel about having triplets?
My husband and I had only wanted one baby — ever. But due to fertility difficulties, we went down the in vitro fertilization path. We had two embryos implanted hoping that one would work. When we were told that we were having twins, it took a few months to get used to the idea.
But wait, didn’t you have triplets?
The doctors in Abu Dhabi missed the third baby for half of the pregnancy. They kept scanning twins until 21 weeks. When the third baby was finally discovered, I didn’t believe the doctor, and it took him at least 15 minutes to convince me that there were actually three babies. I had a two-week panic attack afterwards.
What were you most worried about?
Prematurity is the main issue with multiples. Even a few days extra inside the womb can help with lung development, weight and so many other factors. I was very lucky, as my waters broke at 34 weeks and four days. They were all born healthy and over 2kg each.
What was it like once you got them home?
I think most new mothers feel lost when they have a baby, and it was three-fold with me. My mother passed away 13 years ago, and my sister lives in Australia, so I had to figure everything out with books and guesswork. The first year was very lonely, as it was almost impossible to leave the house with the three babies because of continuous feeding and naps.
What are your biggest pet peeves?
People’s reactions when we walk down the street. Some people don’t realise how rude they can be when they stop and point — or try to touch! It is getting a lot better now that they are out of infancy, but the first two years felt like we were a travelling road show.
How are the three triplets different?
The two girls — Aysha and Demi — are identical twins, although my husband and I think they look quite different. They are actually quite similar in personality. They are fiery, stubborn and very cheeky. Aysha is left-handed and Demi is right-handed, which is very common in identical twins. The two girls are headstrong and independent, while Christian is more emotional.
Is there anything you would you do differently?
That’s a hard one. Maybe I would have been more relaxed about things in general. But how does any new mother ever relax? You always seem to be worrying about something — whether it’s about them drinking enough milk, sleeping enough, developing at the right stages, biting other kids… it never ends.
Are you finding it expensive raising the triplets in Hong Kong?
Having multiples is expensive anywhere, I think. The main thing is you can’t economise with hand-me-downs. We had to buy three cribs, three strollers, three car seats. Our kindergarten was good enough to offer the third child free, which has been a huge help.
Have you had any problems getting them into school?
We have moved around so much in the last two years that finding a kindergarten with three vacancies in the same class has always been a worry. Moving forward everyone suggests having each child in a separate class so they can develop their own identity away from their siblings. That will be something I’ll keep in mind.
What’s the worst thing you can say to a mother of triplets?
We have people regularly telling us that having multiples should easy because the ‘kids play with each other’. I often want to slap these people… Perhaps in another three to four years it will be easy. But they wouldn’t be saying that if they were the one woken at 2am by three babies hollering for milk. Or when three infants are vomiting at the same time. However, it has also been three times the wonderful moments — seeing first steps from three excited faces or three sweet little voices telling you they love you. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also the most amazing.
Are there any books that you would recommend?
I had two books that definitely worked for me: “The Baby Whisperer” helped establish a routine for the babies, and “12 Hours Sleep by 12 Weeks Old” helped me train the babies to sleep.