Friday, 30 December 2011

My very own 'Twin Study'

As a result of some discussions recently on Twitter I decided to use my last blog of 2011 to talk about some of my experiences of being a twin mummy. Most of you are aware I am the proud mummy of twins, my son Eoghan and my daughter Aine, now aged 15 (16 in April 2012, eek!)

They were born in 1996 when I was in the middle of my postgraduate Social Work training. I had already completed a degree and masters in Psychology so it's fair to say I was interested in how being different sex twins would affect their socialisation and development. The little babies had no idea they were going to be subjects of their mum's experiments even before they were born!

When I was at Queens there was research being undertaken in the Psychology Dept on prenatal responsiveness by Peter Hepper **. I remember being fascinated with the discovery that newborn babies who had been exposed to a specific TV theme tune as foetuses (Neighbours!) responded to this hearing this tune by exhibiting changes in heart rate, number of movements, and behavioural state! During my pregnancy the 'Mozart Effect' was widely debated, i.e., the idea that hearing classical music while in the womb affects developing babies cognitive development. Wanting to give the twins the best start I could I made a tape of classical music and played in on my stereo every night, holding the speakers to my belly to be sure the babies could hear it! It was obvious they did as there was a flurry of activity when the music started!

I have absolutely no idea if the music affected their cognitive development (although they are both very academically capable) but it definitely was remembered by them after they were born. We were in hospital for a week after their birth (that wouldn't happen now!). The first night I got home I put my classical music tape on when they were becoming unsettled. The results truly shocked me! As soon as the music started, both babies stopped crying immediately. It was very clear by their reactions that they recognised the sound. For the next few days I played the music every time they were upset and it comforted them. It only lasted for a short time but it was still fascinating to see that not only can babies hear in the womb but they find those familiar sounds comforting!

I had always been interested in the nature vs nurture debate and the impact of socialisation on children. I believed that nurture had the greatest impact on children's sense of identity. I saw the range of toys available for children and how they were categorised as male or female and was determined not to differentiate. My very traditional father was appalled when Eoghan got dolls to play with as a toddler and Aine got Lego and train set. I expected that how I 'nurtured' the twins, bringing them up in exactly the same environment, giving them the same toys to play with, treating them the same would result in their not adhering to traditional gender roles. How wrong was I?

I was soon very clear that, despite both children having access to all toys, Eoghan favoured the toys that would be seen as 'male' and Aine those seen as 'female'. Not only that, everyone commented on how Eoghan was a 'typical wee boy' and Aine a 'typical wee girl'. Eoghan loved climbing, rough and tumble play, building and making things. Aine on the other hand hated climbing and rough and tumble play and loved playing with dolls, role play and dressing up! My theory of socialisation and nurture having more impact than nature was turned on its head! I have no idea if this is because the children were born with a predisposition to certain characteristics and behaviours or due to other influences I had no control of, such as how they were treated by others, advertising, etc.

Eoghan and Aine continued to grow up as individuals who are as 'different as chalk and cheese' still displaying stereotypical 'male' and 'female' behaviours. As teenagers, Eoghan does not discuss his feelings (or much else for that matter!) and Aine discusses little else! However, they are both gentle, caring, well mannered and beautiful children. Aine will hug me for saying that and Eoghan will grunt!

Being the mother of twins is such a precious gift. The experience of their early years was so different than my subsequent experience of having a single child. They were a comfort blanket for each other on occasions like the first day of school (there were no tears or tantrums). The fact that they are different sexes meant that they were never really labelled as 'the twins' but had their own identities. They looked out for each other (and still do!), played together and fought with each other. They are now very close and I hope they will remain that way forever.

I can't believe my 'babies' are going to be 16 in 2012. My do I feel old!

Happy New Year everyone!

Deirdre xx

**(Hepper, P, G. An examination of foetal learning before and after birth. The Irish Journal of Psychology, Vol 12(2), 1991, 95-107)


  1. Happy New Year to you all - let's celebrate everyone's individuality !

    Sue Atkins

  2. Hi Deirdre

    I, too am fascinated by the nature vs nurture debate. I have come across many twins and am so interested in the sameness and the difference.

    I also just wanted to say you write so well! It has been a pleasure having you guest blog for me. I look forward to many more exchanges in 2012! Happy New Year lovely Deirdre!