24 Jan 2013

The Great Canadian Twins Debate...

As teenagers, my friends and I would imagine having kids one day. We’d talk about what we might name them. We’d wonder if they’d be future NHLers or little ballerinas and even considered the thought of having twins and what that would mean. Out of my group of friends I really wanted twins. Seriously. I hoped for twins. Who does that? I do! My goal was to have twins “on the first try” and I held on to that ideal right until my first boy was on the way—a singleton. 

Back in the day, when we’d discuss my fascination with twins, my one good friend would recoil at the very sound of the word “twins” whenever I mentioned the prospect of having two babies at once. “Why would you want to do that??” she’d exclaim. “Well…why would I not want to??” Even at the tender age of 16, this friend, who is still my friend today, was thinking about the financial ramifications of having two babies at one time. No joke. She realized the costs involved with diapering two babies, feeding two babies, of losing sleep because each baby was likely to sleep on slightly different, if not completely different patterns. She knew being a mother to two babies at the same time would be exhausting and frankly, you’d have no life for a while. She was also fully aware that there was no consideration for the fact that there were two babies arriving at the same time and that the parents would be awarded a single maternity/parental benefit (if the parent had actually acquired enough insurable hours before the babies arrived.) This was my friend’s biggest bone of contention when it came to our twins discussions.

And you know what? My friend, that 16 year old was right! At that time in the mid-90s, a mother could get about 15 weeks maternity leave and 10 weeks parental leave. This was for one pregnancy, regardless of the number of babies that were born from that pregnancy. Same standard as it is today, except the number of weeks has increased.

I, for one, am definitely grateful to live in a country in which we do have the opportunity to receive employment insurance based on becoming a mother. I know this is an “opportunity” or a “privilege” and not an absolute. If you have not been employed for enough hours leading up to the time of the arrival of a baby (babies in some of our cases,) well then, you don’t qualify. Makes sense. I know we are ahead of the game in comparison to many countries, but at the same time there are other countries out there that have even greater benefits to parents.

Our Employment Insurance system is in the midst of a major transition. Many people are worried and unsure at this moment in time about what the changes mean to the average working Canadian when it comes to potential job loss. So perhaps the recent events of a Canadian couple attempting to change the rules surrounding maternity/parental leave are falling on deaf ears (and unaware minds.) The basic story making headlines today is, back in April 2009, when a couple’s twins arrived, Christian Martin and his wife, Paula Critchley, had each applied to Service Canada to take the full parental allowance of 35 weeks (CBC story 2013/01/24)Originally Martin and Critchely were each approved for a 35 week parental benefit by a Board of Referees, but then the benefit was retracted by an Umpire who cried foul. What are these kids? Pucks and Baseballs?  

For the past couple of years Martin and Critchley have been drawing attention to their Appeal. The feeling is that if a pregnancy results in twins, then why shouldn’t that mother and/or father receive double the benefit to be with their twins for an extended period of time? This makes sense to me. BUT I can see how it would be alarming and seem unrealistic to the average person who does not have twins, triplets, quadruplets…and yes, even octuplets. Today I’ve been reading enormous amounts of backlash and snide remarks, coming primarily from individuals who do not have multiples, based on how they describe their family make up. Once again, the argument comes back to the old saying, “Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in his shoes.” Please and thank you!

Although I do think it would be amazing to be able to have a husband or partner take off 35 weeks of work simultaneously with the mother to care for their infant twins, I can see how that can raise big question marks in peoples’ minds. If parents of twins get 35 weeks each, then do parents of triplets get 70 weeks each and so on? Well of course not. Evidently, there needs to be a new approach to the fact more people are having multiples (twins are still much more common than triplets or quadruplets,) regardless of how the pregnancy came to be (I.e.: assisted vs. au natural.) I think that it would be reasonable to have a happy medium, so that parents who do conceive and bring into the world some multiples can have extra time to spend with extra offspring. It seems reasonable!

Going back to my friend’s philosophy…having twins doesn’t add up. Doesn’t help the bank. Doesn’t help the sanity. So true…and so…if parents of multiples were able to benefit from even a slight increase in the number of weeks able to spend with their young babies, such families would fair better for the long term. 

So to respond to the nay-sayers now…who are probably huffing and puffing at this thought of an increase in benefit weeks…Did you know families of multiples suffer greater rates of divorce? Did you know mothers of twins are more likely to suffer greater levels of Post-Partum Mood Disorder and Post-Partum Depression than those who have singletons? Did you know both parents can suffer from such depression before and after (for many years) due to the experiences involved with bringing multiples into a family unit?  Did you know more multiples are born pre-term than their singleton counterparts? Did you know this experience can also add to the strain, physical and emotional well-being of the parents and other family members, as well as the infants living in the NICUs? Did you know that parents can suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to the preterm arrival of their multiples? Did you know that many twins born pre-term also go on to live with chronic and potentially debilitating health issues, which the parents must learn to manage on a day to day basis? Such parents must learn CPR before their pre-term infants can leave the hospital. Such parents may have to equip their home with medical technology, not to mention the doubles of cribs, bassinets, bottles and diapers. Having twins (multiples) is not a walk in the park like many parents are indicating all across the web today.

An unaware person’s rebuttal to the above may be something like, “I have two kids and I’m just fine.” Yes, yes, you do. But, you didn’t have two kids born at the same time, with two different personalities, maybe a few special needs thrown in there, both having to be attended to at the exact same time with breastfeeding or bottling, bum changes, learning to use a spoon at the same time and so on. Usually it’s mom who is doing about 95% (that’s my guesstimate) of this work during the day. Alone. 

Imagine if the mom and dad could take the time off at the same time or dad follows up after mom is ready to go back to work when her parental leave time ends? The children would have more time dedicated to them for a longer period of time, since honestly, when it comes to twins (or more) the attention given to them must be divided from day one. There is no choice in the matter. They don’t have it quite as nice as that singleton. I know, so I can say this. I had a singleton first. I had a singleton when I didn’t know he was a “singleton.” He was also a preemie, I might add. The concept of singleton vs. multiple really and truly had no solid meaning in my mind until my multiples arrived. When they arrived I had that “A-ha! Moment.” This is the difference! I really don’t sleep! I thought I had it hard when I had baby number one and felt sleep deprived. For the first several months after the twins came home, I really, really did not sleep. I also took my twins to 298 specialist appointments in the first 11 months after they were discharged from their 3+ months’ NICU stay. My husband was at work, so he couldn’t help dress the kids, help me pack up two infants in their car seat carriers and get their older brother into his back row car seat to get on our merry way for another run to the hospital. And these nay-sayers say having twins is no different than having one at a time. Yeah, right. There are many other issues I could bring up here and point out to the unenlightened, but we multiples parents know what is accurate and what is not. The goal now is to assist the Martin/Critchley family with building a better, stronger, undeniable case for when they approach the Supreme Court.


  1. Well said, Carolyn. This proposed change would be so much better for multiple-birth children and their parents. And it would not cost the EI program or employers any more than they give now to families who have their children a couple of years apart, and take two full leaves to care for them.
    Here's an editorial in the Globe and Mail in support of longer leave for multiple birth families. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/editorials/why-parents-of-multiple-newborns-deserve-longer-parental-leave/article7847227/

    1. Thank you, Sheila. If parents have been putting in their time at work and have been earning enough insurable hours during the years leading up to their multiples' arrivals, then it only seems fair that they access the EI system and be compensated for the fact two children (or more) have arrived at the same time. I've been seeing the comment "two for the price of one" in regard to the fact currently multiples parents are having two children, but the government (with our dollars) are only paying out for "one child" (a pregnancy) which would not be the case if the mother had two separate pregnancies 1, 2 3 or more years apart. In support of my blog here, find Globe & Mail's article http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/parenting/divorce-depression-the-ugly-side-of-twins/article599618/, which I came across today.

  2. Great article. It is an uphill battle, but we must not give up. I am confident that changes will occur eventually if we keep the discussion going. Christian Martin

    1. Twintrospectives4 February 2013 at 21:09

      Thank you Christian. I'm sorry for the delay of my response. I've been busy with my multiples, but not too busy to continue to pay attention to this appeal. Thank you for your comment.