Are They Natural? Questions About Twins

Confronting Sensitive Questions About Twins and Multiples

"Are they natural?"

You may have been asked this question about your twins or multiples. You've probably even fielded this query from perfect strangers.  Unfortunately, it's an increasingly common inquiry as people become more aware of the connection between reproductive technology and the increase in the multiple birth rate. More and more, people feel perfectly comfortable posing this question to parents of multiples, without realizing how invasive and offensive the inquiry can be.

What they really mean is: "Are your multiples the result of fertility drugs, in-vitro fertilization or other medical assistance?" As more than one-third of twins and 75% of higher order multiples like triplets and quadruplets are the result of reproductive assistance, the question is not outlandish. So why does it bother us so much?

It puts us in an uncomfortable position. How exactly are we supposed to answer this inquiry? By answering "no" are we saying that our children are UNnatural? All children are natural, after all! And answering in the affirmative paints an uncomfortably vivid image of an intimate moment.

We feel uncomfortable being asked to define such a personal moment ... conception is part of a private, intimate act that isn't generally shared with anyone but the two people involved. Most people wouldn't dare ask for such details, at least in polite company.

For parents who did undergo fertility treatments, the question can be a painful reminder of the experience: feeling a sense of failure at not being able to conceive on their own, the dashed hopes and disappointments of unsuccessful cycles, the anxiety, and anticipation of pregnancy risks.

Although most of the interest is heightened when multiples are young babies or toddlers, the questions don't stop as they grow up. It can put parents in a particularly sensitive situation when their children are mature enough to comprehend the questions being asked about their origin.

If you find yourself facing this question - and most all parents of multiples will -- you have to choose how to address it.

Whether posed by a stranger or someone you know, you'll feel more comfortable and confident if you have given some thought to the issue and prepared an answer. Here are some tips:

  • Consider why the person is asking. They may be simply nosy, or they may be motivated by a curiosity derived from their own personal experience. They may be facing infertility (or know someone who is) and seek a positive outcome.
  • Use the situation as an opportunity to inform or educate. Perhaps the inquirer doesn't realize how sensitive or offensive their question is.
  • But, if you feel inclined, let the person know that you don't appreciate the question and that the answer is none of their business. You should probably try to express this in a calm, polite way, but if you're asked often enough, or if you're asked at an inopportune moment (for example, if you're struggling to push a stroller with two screaming babies who need to be fed), a less gentle retort may be appropriate.

Source:

Kulkarni, Aniket D. et. al. "Fertility Treatments and Multiple Births in the United States" NEJM, December 5, 2013, pg. 2218.

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