Second, my sister & I were close enough in age (21 months apart) & looked sufficiently alike (especially when were little, although we never really saw it -- and our personalities were certainly not the same) and, when we were younger, dressed alike, that many people would mistake us for each other & ask whether we were twins.
Third, being Canadian, I was brought up hearing stories about the Dionne Quintuplets of North Bay, Ontario. I read The Dionne Years by Pierre Berton (perhaps Canada's greatest popular historian), as well as the Quints' own memoir, We Were Five.
When I was in journalism school 25 years ago, and looking for story fodder, I spotted an ad in the newspaper for a meeting of the local Parents of Multiple Births organization. I called the number and wound up doing both a print and a radio feature on the challenges of raising multiples. I attended several meetings of the group (the kind-hearted women who ran it even gave the carless student rides to & from the meeting place), including one that featured a panel discussion. The panellists included (older/teenaged) identical boys, identical girls, fraternal boys, fraternal girls and fraternal boy-girl twins on hand to talk about what it was like growing up as a twin & what they wished their parents would have done differently. One of the women attending was pregnant at the time with triplets. She herself was one of quadruplet sisters, local celebrities when they were younger. It was fascinating stuff.
When I was doing infertility treatment, I knew that multiples were a distinct possibility. I felt that I could handle twins, but anything else, I wasn't so sure about. Like so many other people, I figured I would cross that bridge when we got there. Leading up to one IUI, I had four promising follicles. After the IUI was done, my excitement turned to horror as I realized that I could possibly wind up with quadruplets. I sobbed all the way home in the car. What had we done??
I'm not alone in my fascination with multiples. Case in point: the Gosselin family of Pennsylvania, i.e., Jon & Kate Plus 8. Dh & I have watched on & off for the last year or two. The kids are adorable & while I know many people can't stand Kate's bossiness, I keep thinking that you probably have to be that way in order to manage a household with 8 very young children and still retain some semblance of sanity.
Much has been said this past week about the show and the couple's marital problems, being played out on the TV screen for the world to see. Earlier this week, the Toronto Star ran an article about the stress that multiples place on marriages.
The Globe and Mail's acid-penned television critic, John Doyle, wrote about the show's season opener on Monday night, calling it "A sick freak show you must stop watching... reality TV of the vilest sort." I'm not sure I'd go quite that far... but I think he hit the nail on the head in several respects. For instance:
Jon, who looks like someone on the verge of a breakdown, said he never “cheated” on Kate. Then Kate said, “this is not where we're supposed to be,” and wept. And she described the couple as “two very different people.” Right now, she told the cameras, “life is just so hard.”And also this astute observation (although I would say that public obsession with pregnancy & babies is certainly not limited to the United States):
What both are talking about is the fame, and the attention. They're not talking about raising eight kids.
In the U.S. popular culture there's an abiding, sick obsession with pregnancy, babies, families and the accumulation of as many cute tykes as possible.(He noticed!! lol)
The infamous Octomom understated this intuitively when she decided to become famous by having a whole passel of babies. Those tabloid magazines currently obsessed with Jon and Kate Gosselin usually spend their time telling readers – and there are tens of millions of readers – about some female celebrity having a “bump,” which suggests she's knocked-up. There is a continuing obsession with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and their large brood of kids.
Coincidentally (or perhaps not?) the Dionne Quintuplets were born 75 years ago this week. No fertility treatments back then. The odds of giving birth to naturally conceived identical quintuplets is estimated at one in 57 million. The odds of their survival in northern Ontario in 1934 were astronomical. The babies were born two months premature and were kept alive by the midwives placing them in a wicker basket by the open woodstove to keep them warm.
A few months later, alarmed by their father's plans to exhibit then at the World's Fair for money, the Ontario government made the girls wards of the province -- and then, bowing to public demand to see the famous babies, put them on display in a playground that attracted three million visitors between 1936 and 1943. Eventually, the parents won custody of their daughters back -- but the long separation had caused irreparable damage to the girls' relationships with the rest of their family.
Only two of the sisters are alive today, & today's Globe & Mail had an interesting article about the Dionnes & our ongoing obsession with multiples -- albeit with some modern twists.
The article notes that, "While adoration for the Dionnes has spanned decades, that kind of easy approval has given way to condemnation for many modern-day multiples... Because modern-day multiples are increasingly viewed as a choice, parents of multiples are facing more criticism from a disapproving public who see their decision as selfish, even immoral." (Of course, if people decide not to have ANY children, for whatever reason, they are ALSO viewed as selfish & immoral... but, I digress....)
While they have not commented on the Jon & Kate situation, nor on the California "Octomom" whose octuplets made headlines earlier this year (& who apparently has expressed interest in a reality show of her own), a recent Canadian Press article noted the surviving sisters did offer some advice to the McCaughey family, whose septuplets were born in 1997.
"We hope your children receive more respect than we did. Their fate should be no different from that of other children," Annette, Cecile and Yvonne Dionne wrote in an open letter published in Time magazine. "Multiple births should not be confused with entertainment, nor should they be an opportunity to sell products."Another article from yesterday's National Post, titled "The danger of commodifying children," also quoted from the Dionnes' message:
"We were displayed as a curiosity three times a day for millions of tourists. ... We sincerely hope a lesson will be learned from examining how our lives were forever altered by our childhood experience. If this letter changes the course of events for these newborns, then perhaps our lives will have served a higher purpose."Sound advice from some people who have been there, done that, & know better than most of us that public fascination is not always worth feeding. Are you listening, Jon & Kate? Octomom?