Thursday, March 17, 2011

Artificial Twinning

 I had never heard the term “artificial twinning” until last year when our adoption caseworker used it in a sentence. I was familiar with the concept, but I just didn’t know there was actually a coined phrase to describe it. The name alone brings to mind images of scientists in white lab coats, surrounded by petri dishes, syringes, and lab rats. However, in the adoption world, artificial twinning, using’s definition, is defined as:
“An expression used to describe unrelated children in a family whose birthdates are less than 9 months apart, including- a combination of biological and adopted siblings, adopted only, step or foster siblings."
I’ve been curious about the subject so I googled the term and came across a few articles full of professional insight. What I learned in my reading is that pretty much without exception, adoption and child development professionals discourage the practice of artificial twinning. Why? As adoption director and author of the article Artificial Twinning: Adopting More than One (page two on this adoption newsletter) Richard Van Deelen says

“ the adjustment demands of both children happening simultaneously may overwhelm the capacities of the parents to cope and adjust themselves.” He was speaking specifically about cases of couples adopting babies at the same time."
I can understand that line of reasoning. Children- especially babies- do require a lot of work. I thought back to three short years ago, when a four-month-old baby girl was placed with us as a foster placement. Our nights suddenly included middle of the night feedings, lullabies, and diaper changes. Just two weeks after our foster daughter was placed with us we received word that our daughter’s birthmother had chosen us and another baby girl would be joining our family. When our daughter came home from the NICU a month later it made things a little easier for my husband and I since we no longer had to coordinate our schedules and take turns going to the hospital several times a day to feed, hold, change, and bathe our daughter, but now our nights were full of twice as many middle of the night feedings, lullabies, diaper changes, etc. We devoted all of our time, energy, and love to caring for both babies. It was exciting but physically exhausting as well. Many people would say, “It’s like having twins!” In some ways I’m sure it was, but in other ways my mother, who knows firsthand what it’s like to raise twins, says it was probably a lot harder because although the girls were only five months apart chronologically, they were on very different developmental levels considering our daughter was a preemie. They were also on different sleeping and feeding schedules, wore different size diapers and clothes, drank different formulas, and went to different pediatricians. Notwithstanding the demands of two babies, my husband and I wouldn’t change that experience for anything.

Van Deelen also addressed the concerns of competition and comparison in artificial twins. To reduce such comparisons he suggests that adoption agencies use age spacing- (ideally, he says, adding a second child when the first is 2 ½ to 3 years old) and that they place children of different genders together.

I can personally attest to the fact that twins do get compared to each other- a lot- regardless of whether they’re identical or fraternal or even the same gender. I know this because I am a twin. Then again, “regular” siblings also get compared to each other, too. The biggest difference is that in twins their similarities and differences seem much more pronounced because of their obvious closeness in age, and in some cases, appearances.

Patricia Irwin Johnson, a fertility specialist and adoption educator, was much more outspoken than Van Deelen in voicing her opinion on the subject of artificial twinning in her article Instant Family: The Case Against Artificial Twinning.

The specific focus in Irwin’s article was “the unique issues of genetically unrelated healthy babies less than eight months apart in age, who, during the cognitively, physically, and emotionally crucial first year of their lives, become “twins.” My goal is to help parents-to-be see that creating families in this way is not in either baby’s best interest.”

Although I appreciated that Johnson had the babies best interest at heart I wasn’t a big fan of the way she painted infertile parents who are hoping to adopt as selfish, naïve, impatient, and even unethical. Even if a family did, as one of her examples suggested, simultaneously adopt two unrelated babies through international adoption, isn’t it better for a child to be placed in an adoptive two-parent home even if they must divide their time and attention with another child so close to their age rather than the alternative of remaining in a crowded orphanage with a ratio of caregivers to children which makes it nearly impossible for each child to get their needs met?

Other points of interest in Johnson’s article were her suggestions for parents with very close-in age babies. I thought the “separating your children in school” advice was interesting as I’ve seen some mothers of “real” twins (as opposed to “artificial” twins- UGGH- the term sounds far too weird to me, as if the children are robots or some kind of a science experiment!) use both strategies with their twins- keeping them in the same classroom/same teacher versus purposely splitting them up into different classrooms.

Anyway, I know there are some foster and adoptive FAMILIES OUT THERE WHO FIT THE CRITERIA FOR HAVING ARTIFICIAL TWINS:  What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you agree with what professionals have to say or do your own personal experiences tell a different story? What are the advantages, disadvantages, or concerns about having “artificial twins” in your family?


Amari said...

Interesting post! We've adopted non-siblings through foster care. We've got one little girl who is 7 1/2 months older than the next (non-biological) sibling; followed by another little girl, who is 4 months younger than the second one. We've also got more children, but those are the 3 that are closest in age. It would have been very hard, as you stated, to raise them that close in age when they were younger. Fortunately, the second one (and the rest), came when our first child was already 2 1/2 years old.

jendoop said...

I don't technically fit the criteria, but right now I have a 9 yr old son and a 9 yr old foster son. From living with them for the last month I think artificial twinning is not a good idea. No one should be exposed to this many fart jokes.

Danya said...

Being an "artificial twin" myself I'm torn on the subject. But maybe that's because I have a different circumstance. When I was 13 years old my parents adopted my brother from foster care who is only 5 days young then me. So we were quite a bit older at that point but I can tell you my experience was mostly posative. Sure we had some competition issues but I think that's healthy for kids. And yes there were times I wanted to ring his throat out for various things but they were all the same issues I had with my other brothers who are much farther from me in age. Honestly my experience was more or less the exact same as any other sibling. We enjoyed the fact we were so close in age, had the same friends and interests - and I became closer with him then some of my other (biological) siblings.

Now that could be because we were a lot older when we became "twins" but I think A LOT had to do with my parent's parenting style. They were very attentive to both of our needs, seperately, but also helped encouraged our friendship. They never "took sides" during an arguement between my brother and I. I don't really know how but I truly believe my parents are the reason his transition into our family was so smooth.

So I'm sure these professionals and "experts" have a lot of research to back their theories but in the end every family is different and can produce different outcomes. With that in mind I can't say I'm againt "artificial twinning" but I do recognize it's something that requires a lot more work to end up successful.

Shantra said...

I have a 28 month old , 20 month old and a 16 m old( 28-16m. Are bio siblings).......all adopted through foster care. We also have 3 older children. It is hard but the main thing is to remember that they are all ther own person. ..... Example... 20 m old I the most advanced ... 28 m old has a lot of delays... you can not compare them, that is the biggest thing I have learned... The younger 2 I do treat like twins ( they are both girls and I dress them alike,) but they act like twins and really don't like tobe apart, they are very bonded to each other.
But let me say it is hard....hArder with toddlers then newbies though... But I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Julie said...

Yeah. We've got three under 2. Bio son who is 22 months old, and two foster kiddos, Tank who is 18 months and Little Dude who is 7 1/2 months. None of them are bio siblings. I think artificial twinning is something different for each person. I definately see the difficulty in having them so close so young, especially with my two one year olds. I need to send you a longer email. But I just wanted to put it out there that for my family I am not a fan... at least not right now at this age.

Deidra said...

Funny that you brought up this post. I am on a lot of internatinoal adoption yahoo groups and this discussion is frequent and heated. Most of the time the people who have done it are all for it (even if they do say it is hard) and the people who have not done it (and the professionals) are against it. Maybe the people who have done it and don't think it is a good idea just stay quiet. ?? Any way, I think each family is so different and you just have to decide if you are up to making parenting any more difficult than it already is. Some people have lots of energy and are very creative parents! More power to them!

Timber said...

Deidra hit it right on the head--those who are doing it rarely have problems, but those not doing it are against it!

Jenacy and N'iel are 2 months apart in age. They were twinned at age 3½. They tell everyone that they are twins. They even wanted to have the same b-day so last year we started celebrating their b-day on the 4th of July because it's right between both of their b-days. They want the same b-day again this year so we're going with it!

When we got N'iel he was severely delayed. Right from the start, N'iel started watching Jenacy and following how she behaves. Having someone right at his age to model how to talk and behave has been a HUGE benefit to him. There is no way he'd have made the progress that he's made without her!

That being said, I do worry about the future a little. Right now they are both 5 yrs old. Jenacy is in 2nd grade and N'iel is in kindergarten and will most likely be held back and repeat it next year. When there is a 3 year educational gap between them, I'm afraid he'll label himself as the dumb twin. So, we just keep stressing to them that everyone learns at their own pace and celebrating his achievements. Everything will even out in the end, right? :)

Mary said...

We are raising "artificial twins" (we call them pseudo twins and I'm on a yahoo e-list called "like-twins"). Sorry, but there is nothing artificial about this experience...kind of an invalidating term. :-) Our are through adoption. Our son was born and barely out of the NICU when we were contacted about adopting our daughter. She is 7 weeks older than our son. They have always been developmentally different. He was a preemie and she walked at 8 months! But they are close emotionally and rely on each other for things, and still have a lot of fun together. Dating is a few years off, but I can't wait to see the fun that brings.

Here's the link to a recent funny like-twinning story:

About the research--When they were younger we were contacted through our e-list group to participate in a like-twin study with Nancy Segal, who is an expert on twin research and was interested in comparing that with the experiences of families raising like-twins. As far as I know it's a longitudinal study, so we did one round and she won't do it again until they're older. The first round didn't reveal at all what experts had predicted and it seemed that other factors besides the like-twinning played a larger role.

A few years after the initial part of the study, a family tragedy had us adopting our niece, who was the only survivor of a car accident that took the lives of her mom (my sister), dad, and baby sister. Of course the tragedy rocked our world, but especially tore at the relationship between our like-twins. My niece (now daughter) was only a year younger than they were and for the first time, my like-twin daughter had a sister. I was so sure the dynamics would never be the same again. I'm also a mental health professional, and emailed back and forth with Dr. Segal about some of my observations about the changes in our like-twins' relationship.

Surprisingly, a few years later, I started seeing them come back together again. It was absolutely amazing to see that the connection they had always shared was still there, and still unique to them. No one has the relationship they do with each other. They are night and day in interests, friends, etc. but they share an incredible bond. I can't wait to see how it continues to develop over the years (they're 12 now). The professional me has learned from the mommy me to never say never!

Jennifer Holt said...

I've really enjoyed reading this post and all of the comments. When we had been trying for almost 2 years to adopt for the 2nd time, I became pregnant with the combined help of five years of fertility treatments. When I was 3 months along, a birth mom picked us, stating that she didn't care that I was pregnant, she felt like her baby boy was meant for us. We were thrilled and adopted him when he was born a few weeks later. I ended up getting a severe case of toxemia, and my doctor had to deliver our youngest son via emergency c-section almost 3 months early. As a result, we have two baby boys who are 3 months apart. It has been an amazing experience! Yes, it was difficult in the beginning as our youngest son spent 8 1/2 weeks in the NICU that was a 40 minute drive from our house, and life remained crazy when we brought our youngest home. He was developmentally like a newborn, although he was still on monitors and we had to keep oxygen close by in case he had trouble breathing, and our older son was 5 months old. As you mentioned, they were on very different developmental levels and we fed them different things on different schedules, played with them differently, etc. But, it was absolutely wonderful! I devoted myself completely to taking care of their needs and those of my then-3-year-old daughter and I treasured every minute. My boys are best friends. They each have very unique characterisitcs and likes and dislikes, and of course they argue now and then like all brothers, but they always have their best friend near them. I wouldn't change it for anything.

They are now 5 years old. Our older son Tyson will turn 6 the end of May and our younger son Jay's birthday is the very end of August. We did split them up for school, since Jay's birthday was so close to the deadline, and they would've been in different grades anyway if he had been born anywhere near his due date. It has worked out well for us. They are so close, and such good friends, that they would hardly play with anyone else but each other, but having Tyson in Kindergarten and letting Jay go to preschool a second year has helped both of them make their own friends and overcome their hesitancy at playing with others. However, they can't wait to get together at noon when they are both out of school and 'catch up' on what has happened during the morning.
We are committed to giving each of them their own experiences and letting them develop their individual identities while celebrating the fact that they are blessed and lucky to be brothers. I can't imagine my family being any other way!

I always love to talk about this, and could go on and on, but I'll leave it at that for now. If anyone wants to chat further, I'd love it!

Mie said...

Wow! I had never thought of this being a problem. But, then again, we've been artificial twinning now for almost a year with several different "twin" combos. First I had a 13 month old and a 9 month old (with a 4 year old too). This combo was a family for 7 months before the "13 month old" went home. Was it hard? Not really. I got a double stroller and just did everything twice. I didn't really find it any different than having 2 kids 1 year apart (I had 3 kids, each a year apart, before these two). So it worked our really well for us. The most difficult part was that people always asked us if they were twins and I didn't know what to say to avoid bringing up that they were in foster care. Eventually I started saying that they were 3 months apart and that we were foster parents (if questioned). Then I had a 4 month old, 17 month old, and 2 year old, all girls (and the 4 year old boy). So, we had "artificial" triplets I guess, or at least artificial twins twice over! The hardest part of this wasn't so much the kids age difference, but instead was getting used to waking up at night with a baby again or getting used to having 4 kids (previously we had only had 3). Now, once again we have 2 sets of "twins"...Two 19 month old girls and the 4 year old now has a 3 year old brother, still less than 9 months apart. Its sometimes challenging because having 4 kids takes some work, but other than that it works out perfectly for us...I do everything for the girls twice, everything for the boys twice, and the rest of the time they all play really well together! It works out for us really well.

I'm shocked and a bit defensive I guess that people have coined a whole term against this. It's great that they are concerned about the kids and want to make sure parents aren't overloaded, but I would hate for any of my kids to have been anywhere else because I kknow they receive(d) top-notch care in my home.