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Examining the troubling trend of eliminating one twin before birth

Updated: November 16, 2011 1:34AM

In 1958, at the age of 25, my mother gave birth to fraternal twin boys. She didn’t know she was having twins until after they were born, of course.

“Mrs. Canfield, did you know you had two babies?” was the question asked when she awakened from the anesthesia. My mom already had two children, ages 3 and 2. Rounding out this picture was a husband in sales, little help and not much money.

The stories about her and my dad stumbling around in the middle of the night with formula bottles trying to figure out which twin had already been fed when they both were still crying is the stuff of family lore.

And it only starts there. My mother described years of being so exhausted by 6 in the evening that all four children were in bed, lights out, by 6:15. I wish she had patented some of her ideas for keeping her toddler twins safely trapped in their cribs.

Then there was the time a twin climbed out the bedroom window of the split-level when he was about 4. Or was he pushed by a sibling? We’ll never know. He survived. Later, one twin broke the other’s arm in a bout of roughhousing. And on it went.

Five years after the twins came into the world, I was born. I like to think of myself as my mother’s consolation prize for having gone through all that. My brothers saw it differently. The twins told me when I was about 10, “Bets, we had a fight with (friend) Jim about who had the most annoying little sister. Don’t worry; we stuck up for you and you won!” Awww, nice.

I thought of all this as I read about the small but increasing phenomenon of selectively aborting healthy twin pregnancies down to one baby to make sure the pregnancy produces only one desired child. Such was the subject of an extensive New York Times Magazine story recently.

In “The Two-Minus-One-Pregnancy,” Ruth Padawer writes about a few of those who have chosen this route. Here’s one example:

“Jenny’s decision to reduce twins to a single fetus was never really in doubt. The idea of managing two infants at this point in her life terrified her. She and her husband already had grade-school-age children, and she took pride in being a good mother. She felt that twins would soak up everything she had to give, leaving nothing for her older children. ... Jenny desperately wanted another child, but not at the risk of becoming a second-rate parent. ‘This is bad, but it’s not anywhere as bad as neglecting your child or not giving everything you can to the children you have,’” Jenny was quoted as saying.


The essay recounts that while still somewhat ethically troublesome in the medical community and certainly more so — for now — in the population at large, “selective reductions” from twin pregnancies are on the rise in part because of the growing use of in-vitro fertilization, which often produces multiples. And more parents producing pregnancies on their own terms may be leading some to believe that life itself — theirs and their children’s — should be on their own terms, too. As Jenny put it, “somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.”

I suppose this phenomenon is even less about the individual players involved than it is about a self-obsessed and, ironically, child-obsessed culture that in the very process of providing choices about life itself has minimized the awe we ought to have toward it.

Myself, I almost couldn’t finish the essay. I thought of my mother and my annoying older twin brothers. Two of my best friends now. I considered the four children born within 31/2 years to a young couple unprepared for those children in almost every way the world counts as significant. I felt her and my dad’s overwhelming love for us.

Most of all, I marveled at the sad irony of an increasingly sophisticated and advanced culture in which the gift of life itself is in some ways ever more precarious.

Scripps Howard News Service

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