Twin births have almost doubled in the past 40 years, with one in 65 pregnancies now having two or more babies. Often the result of fertility treatment or delayed motherhood, when ovaries can release more than one egg at a time,twins can wreak havoc on marriages, sex lives and finances. So just imagine what it’s like to have not one, but two sets of twins…
Donna, 42, and David Cordingley, 48, had two sets of twins within 12 months. The couple, from Barnsley, South Yorks, already had three children, Thomas, 22, William, 19, and Hannah, 16, before the surprise appearance first of Olivia and James, now four, and then George and Isabella, three. Donna says:
Shortly before my 38th birthday, I had a lot of stomach pain and, thinking it might be gallstones, my GP sent me for an ultrasound scan.
I’d been taking the Pill and still fitted into my size eight clothes, so I was aghast when the sonographer told me I was five months pregnant with twins.
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– James and Olivia (left) aged 4 with George and Isabella (right) aged 3 are from Barnsley, South Yorkshire
Donna, 42, and David Cordingley, 48, had two sets of twins within 12 months
Our youngest child was then 11, and I honestly thought my baby-bearing years were behind me.
It was a huge shock to my system to be thrust back into night feeds and nappy changes and, with two babies to care for, I had to give up my job in the office of David’s family’s transport business.
I went back on the Pill while waiting to be sterilised. When the day of my operation arrived, I felt relieved, knowing that afterwards I would at least have one less thing to worry about.
The nurse sent me for a scan, to check I wasn’t pregnant, though I told her there was no chance because my husband and I were mostly too exhausted to make love.
So convinced was I, in fact, that I was looking around the room as she did the scan. I was certain I’d misheard when she said: ‘You are pregnant. Here’s baby one and here’s baby two.’
I sobbed until my hospital gown was soaked — I was four months gone.
I sat in the hospital car park crying for three hours, too traumatised even to call David.
When I finally made it home, I didn’t know how to break the news, so I handed the scan picture to David. ‘Whose are they?’ he asked. ‘They’re ours!’ I said, watching his mouth fall open.
We held each other, muttering about how we’d manage, but couldn’t dwell for long because Olivia and James were howling to be fed.
George and Isabella were born a week before their siblings’ first birthday, seven weeks premature and weighing just over 3lb.
Stacey Wright and ex-partner Peter Podolski had two sets of twins born 17 months apart
The twin boys Harry and Oscar are now five, and the girls, Annie and Eliza are now four
They spent their first six weeks in special care and looked like dolls.
Our one-year-olds weren’t sleeping through the night and the newborns were so tiny they needed feeding every couple of hours.
For months, David — who has been unable to work since suffering a serious head injury in a car accident 19 years ago — and I barely got a wink of sleep.
We fed them two at a time and changed around 30 nappies a day.
All babies and small children need attention, and ours really have to fight for mine. Of course, that’s led to a lot of guilt. In fact, I think the only reason I didn’t go insane in the early days is I hadn’t a moment to analyse my feelings.
Having four babies demanding their parents’ attention was a huge shock for our older children, too.
But they mucked in whenever possible, and having them to help probably kept David and I out of the divorce courts. We have no time to ourselves, and our sex life will probably be on hold for at least another decade.
But as my husband often says, having two sets of twins means quadruple the work, but also four times the love, fun and laughter.
Sometimes I eavesdrop on them chattering to one another in the playroom and know that, despite all the hard graft, we are blessed.
Stacy Wright, 32, a former retail manager, and her former partner Peter Podolski, 31, a builder, from Maidstone, Kent, have two sets of twins — Harry and Oscar, five, and Annie and Eliza, four. Stacy says:
Peter and I had been together for only a few months when I discovered I was pregnant. It was a huge shock to discover we were having non-identical twins.
Leah Eaton, 39, a former travel agent, and husband Andrew, 48, a joiner, from Stoke-on-Trent, have five children: Harry, 13, and two sets of twins, George (back right) and Amber, (back left) 11, and Henry (front left) and Charley (front right), seven
I breastfed the boys for six months because I wanted to give them the best start, but it meant Peter couldn’t help with the night feeds and, in a state of exhaustion, I would sometimes forget to take the Pill.
When the boys were nine months old, I suspected I was pregnant. My GP sent me for a scan and, an old hand at reading the monitor, I instantly spotted two heartbeats.
I have no idea how it happened — and twice — because there is no history of twins in our families. I never considered a termination, even in my lowest moments.
The girls, another set of non-identical twins, were born 14 weeks premature in 2011 and spent their first four months in special care.
It was a horrendous time. I was only able to visit in the evenings when Peter returned from work to look after the older two.
I’d then spend weekends sleeping at the hospital while the boys stayed with their father.
With no family around to give us support, life didn’t get any easier once the girls were allowed home from hospital, aged 16 weeks.
I quickly got them all into strict routines: I’d no time for fussiness or bad sleeping habits, but there were lots of times when all four would be crying and I’d scream in my head: ‘Get me out of here!’
Unable to go back to work — I’d have needed to earn a fortune to cover the childcare costs — money was tight. Permanent exhaustion, combined with terror of getting pregnant again, meant our love life suffered and put a huge strain on my relationship with Peter.
Hardly surprising really, given that we’d gone from being young, free and single to having four children within just over a year.
We rowed constantly and six months ago we decided it would be better for all of us, including the children, if he moved out.
They stay with him at weekends and I have them during the week, so we both get a break.
The twins are aware of how unique they are because people stop and stare at us in the street or they’ll say: ‘You’ve got two sets of twins?’
One even asked if she could take a picture of us on her phone.
Of course, I’m dreading the teenage years when all four of them will be hormonal at the same time. But, for now at least, they tend to be better behaved than other children — they have to do as they’re told.
They each have a little peg on our hall wall, at their height, and seeing their coats hung up in a line once they’re all tucked up in bed always makes me smile.
Having two sets of twins would be a challenge for anyone, but they’ve brought so much joy I couldn’t imagine life without my four.
Leah Eaton, 39, a former travel agent, and husband Andrew, 48, a joiner, from Stoke-on-Trent, have five children: Harry, 13, and two sets of twins, George and Amber, 11, and Henry and Charley, seven. Leah says:
Our first set of twins were born when our eldest, Harry, was just 16 months old.
It would have been hard work anyway, but was particularly challenging because George has a congenital heart defect and needed the first of three open-heart operations as soon as he was born.
Once we took them home, we were up four times a night giving feeds and we had to change more than 25 nappies a day.
We were also back and forth to the hospital with George.
Sex was off the agenda for the first 12 months; in fact, Andrew and I barely talked, except to exchange news about the children.
Things got easier once the twins were at school and everything was plodding along quite nicely.
Around this time, my GP suggested I take a break from the Pill. We took other precautions, but when I missed a period I had a gut feeling I was pregnant.
At the first scan, the sonographer said to me: ‘Have you got a history of twins in your family?’
I said: ‘Yes, I’ve got a set.’ And she said: ‘Oh good, because you’re having another set.’
I sat there looking at her in complete disbelief.
After that I suffered quite badly from pre-natal depression. I remember telling my mum: ‘I think I’m going to have to get someone to adopt these babies because I simply cannot cope.’
My mum lives an hour away and doesn’t drive, so she knew she couldn’t be a great deal of help and was really worried about me.
I’ll never forget shortly after the babies were born, a midwife came up to me and said ‘Oh, you’re an old hand at this’, and left me alone — for hours on end.
Once back home, my husband had to work, so I had no choice but to get on with caring for five children, including two babies who screamed constantly due to acid reflux.
I feel sad when I look at their baby pictures as I was in such a bad place I barely remember anything.
Eventually, I sought help and was diagnosed with post-natal depression when my youngest twins were three years old. Things became easier after that, and more manageable still once they started school two years ago.
But still, my husband has to work seven days a week to support us, so I have to juggle everything largely alone. We’re both exhausted.
We’ve no time to invest in our marriage and, inevitably, our sex life has taken a back seat.
Having said all of that, we couldn’t be prouder of our brood.
They all pack their own school bags and the older three make their own packed lunches.
They also help around the house, vacuuming, emptying the dishwasher and putting laundry away, as well as changing their bedding.
We’re a close-knit family and when we’re all gathered around the dinner table chatting, I always feel incredibly fortunate.