People who haven’t been down the IVF route seem to know two things:
- It always works.
- Everybody gets twins.
However, neither of these are true - in fact, IVF isn't a perfect solution for everyone.
It’d be great if IVF was that successful. But it is not. According to IVF Australia, the success rates range from 34.9 per cent per embryo transfer leading to a live birth for patients under 30 years, to 8.7 per cent per embryo transfer leading to a live birth for patients over 40 years.
In other words, that’s a failure rate of 65 per cent, per embryo transfer, for the 30 and under age bracket – and a failure rate of 91 per cent for the 40 and over age bracket. Not great odds at all.
Truthfully, it’s a bloody miracle to have one baby via IVF, and twice as miraculous for twins.
Life with twins
I’ll never forget a morning I trekked with my newborn twins to the local Woolworths to be met with questions about how they came into the world.
It didn’t matter that I’d only had two hours sleep. It didn’t matter that I’d only put eyeliner on one eye. It didn’t matter that my gut was still sore after the doctor sliced through nine layers of muscle to yank out two babies.
What mattered was this: I was at the supermarket, pushing three-week-old baby twins around the junk food aisle in a “desperate search” for a pack of clinkers (the lollies I loved as a kid). I paused my hunt to smile at anybody who stopped to gush over my babies. I didn’t mind when they asked silly questions like, “Are they twins?” But I felt pissed off when people wanted to know how my kids were conceived.
As far as I was concerned, my babies were a heaven-sent miracle, like the light from a star. Why the hell did it matter to anybody else how they got here?
I lost my first baby two years before my twins were born. Being blessed with twins after all that heartache was my reward for all that praying and crying, and all those invasive tests I went through to find out why the hell I miscarried. For all that pain, I was given not one but
TWO babies. That’s what it felt like. A magnificent reward.
So I was at the supermarket with my living, breathing miracles, searching for Clinkers, when a woman stood by the pram, smiling and cooing at my boys.
“Awwww, they’re so cute!” she exclaimed. Twins?”
“Oh YES!” I beamed.
Then, she burst my bubble.
“Are they natural?”
Three words to wipe the smile from my face.
I mumbled something about my father being a twin – my dad (an identical twin) is always my alibi – and scurried away, without my Clinkers.
But that was just the beginning.
Since then, hundreds of people have asked the same question. Some boldly ask, “Are they IVF?” But most ask “Are they natural?”
The soft people ask, “Are twins in the family?” That’s when I start talking about my dad and they nod – you can almost hear them thinking, “Okay, so they’re natural – not IVF.”
If I’m in the mood for an information dump, I’ll tell them more: my Aunty Janet was a twin but her sister died at birth. I also tell them about my sister-in-law’s twins who arrived three months before my own.
“I’m the daughter of a twin, the mother of twins, the aunty of twins and the great-niece of a twin,” I say.
But sometimes, that's not enough
They want to know if you had fertility treatment and they also want to know why you had fertility treatment, “What was the problem?” some people ask. As if it makes any tiny difference to their life.
And that’s why, all these years later, as the mother of teenage twins, I’m still pissed off that so many people “need” to know how my twins were conceived.
When you’re trying to get pregnant, every time your period arrives you feel like a failure.
The thought of having to wait one more month to “try again” is painful. Also, when you’ve lost a baby and you’re trying to get pregnant again, the very sight of a pregnant woman feels like daggers in your eyeballs (okay, that’s very dramatic, but I did feel a stabbing pain in my heart when I saw a pregnant woman, a baby, or any child really).
When you ask a mother of twins if she went through IVF, you have no idea about the years of pain leading up to attempting fertility treatment. It’s not as though people wake up one day and say, “I’m going to try IVF!” There’s almost always a sad story on the path towards that decision.
When you ask a twin mum if her twins are “natural” it feels like you’re really asking why you needed help to do something that most people do easily. Even if you’re just being innocent and curious, it feels like you’re prying, or making us feel like we’re being judged somehow.
Whenever someone asked one of my friends if her twins were “natural”, she would always reply “no, they’re aliens.” I wish I’d had the nerve to use that comeback, but I never did.
Two women in my mother’s group had conceived via IVF and they’d had singleton babies – yet they told me nobody had ever asked them if they had had IVF. So next time you see a twin mother, think twice before you ask her if her babies are “natural.”
If she’s anything like me, you’ll be sticking one more needle in her bubble of joy.
And if you feel the need to chat, just tell her her babies are cute. Help her find some Clinkers. Smile at her babies. They’re alive, they fill her life with joy. That’s all you need to know.