My very first negative twin comment experience happened when I was pregnant, gleefully scanning an early ultrasound photo in the office copy room. One of my coworkers walked in as I was walking out, ultrasound picture in hand.
“What’s that?” He asked me, eyeing the photo.
“Uh … nothing …” I wasn’t quite three months along, and not ready to share this news with my coworkers.
“Ah – it looks like an ultrasound pic. Congrats. When are you due?”
“October!” I said, in a rush of excitement. “But I am actually having twins … so they will probably come earlier than that. The latest will probably be toward the end of September …”
He looked at me with such utter shock that my heart stopped. “Twins?!!! Are they natural? Oh boy. I feel sorry for you. That’s going to be awful. How will you guys afford it? Two babies?! You don’t even know what one newborn is like. Is Steven okay with this? Is he upset?” (Yes, this is the actual conversation. I kid you not.)
Granted, he had a young child who still hadn’t started sleeping through the night and a marriage that was on the rocks … maybe twins was overwhelming to him … but still. I walked back to my office with a heavy heart. It was almost as if he had shattered something beautiful and innocent that I had held dear in those first few weeks. We hadn’t experienced any negativity in the least from family or friends, and my husband was over the moon. My coworker’s comment, I would soon find out, would be the first of many not-so-nice comments about twins.
I am always stopped short in my tracks when a stranger or acquaintance says something rude to me about twins. I don’t react right away. I don’t know how to react. I usually keep moving, and the whole time regret not saying something rude back. Regret not standing up for myself and my children.
In the beginning, it would shake me to the core. I would cry to my husband when I was home later, feeling sad and awful that people could be so insensitive, especially when talking about my children, who were completely innocent of the fact they were twins and sometimes perceived to the outside world as a burden. In the months after their birth, I quickly grew a thick skin, and the comments started to roll off of me. Instead of tearing me down, I let the rudeness slide right off of me, and I would keep on walking.
Perhaps you could say I recently reached a third stage of enlightenment: talking back.
It was during a weekly CVS trip. The woman at the counter that day was one who always waited on me. While she doted on Jack and Mara, she always had something a little rude to say about them. Today was no different.
“Ah! They are getting so big!” She says, peering into my stroller.
“I know … they are nine months old already. Its starting to fly by!”
“I hope to have a baby with my boyfriend … I guess you could say I’m a late bloomer … I’m 36 and I think my time might be up,” she says.
“No! A lot of women have babies a little later. My sister-in-law is almost 37 and has a baby. My boss started having kids when she was 40! It will all work out,” I tell her.
She leans in, as if sharing a secret with me. “Well, there are twins on my side of the family, and my boyfriend’s side … Oh My God! I can’t imagine!” She wrinkles her nose as if smelling something awful. “I would die! I’m sorry, but I think it would be awful.”
I say nothing and pay, walk my babies out of the store, and head for the car.
By the time I get to the car, I am fuming.
By the time I unload Jack and Mara, I am ready to go back in and say something to her.
I march back into the store, and go back to the pharmacy counter. She spots me, and walks over. “Hi – did you forget something?” She asks.
“Well, I just wanted to let you know … your comment was rude. When you are talking about twins to a mother of twins, you shouldn’t say they’re awful.” I pull my sunglasses off. “Its fine if you think that way, but it was really rude for you to say that to me.” I’m shaking.
The woman looks genuinely taken aback. “No! I didn’t mean it like that. I think if my boyfriend and I had twins it would be such a blessing …”
“No, you don’t,” I say, and walk out. Other customers had heard our exchange, and so had her coworker. I wonder what she is thinking.
My husband thinks I overreacted, and perhaps I did. Perhaps it was unfortunate that it was this comment (surely not the most horrible I have ever heard) that somehow moved me enough to speak up. Back to the event in the work copy room – I had muttered a few words back which to this day I can’t remember, and walked away, feeling embarrassed. It was this exchange, in the CVS, where I finally had enough.
I do think there is a larger issue at hand – people, when speaking this way about twins, don’t realize they are being rude. The woman in CVS had not tried to intentionally hurt my feelings; I know that. To her, the idea of twins is truly horrifying. And that’s fine. But, she didn’t – and others don’t – stop and think about how their comments come across. They sting.
While I am still trying to find my best approach to hurtful comments, I would love to know how others react. Should I just have walked away? Or did I do the right thing?