Twin Tales

Friday 16th of May 2014  |  Category: Opinion  |  Written by: Leoarna Mathias

I am a big fan of Channel 4 News. For me, their unique perspective on some stories, and the quality of their investigative journalism, is pretty tough to match. I especially like the regular Friday feature called "unreported world", in which they focus on a news story that would perhaps not otherwise reach the headlines. Just last week, for example, freelance reporter Kiki King travelled to off-the-beaten-track Madagascar to highlight an abominable practice that the world should be taking action to end.

The Antambahoaka ethnic group live mostly in the south-eastern corner of Madagascar. They believe that the spirits of their ancestors live among them, and have the power to curse or bless the living. In particular, they believe that the birth of twins is a curse, and that the curse has the power to cost them their own lives. The only way to avoid it is to abandon their babies. King’s film included interviews with women who had indeed given up their babies, and showed footage of what she describes as a ‘twin refugee camp’ – a small tented village where a number of families live, mostly headed by their single-parent mother, excluded as they are from the rest of society and rejected by their wider families.

The film was heart-breaking to watch. Seeing Madagascan orphanages full of twins abandoned, or dwelling too long on how the women who feel compelled to give their children up feel inside, was very upsetting, to say the least. And it got me thinking about how the twist and turns of fate are mind-boggling to comprehend, as we travel round the globe.

So, while the twins of the Antambahoaka are rejected, twins in our own society – and the increasing number of them – represent an entirely different aspect of human nature. In the UK, the number of twins has risen 50% in 20 years. In broad terms, the reasons for this are pretty straightforward. First, the increase in average maternal age – 62% of UK twins are born to mothers over 30 - and second, the rise in assisted conception. Twins, as we know, are more likely when a pregnancy results from IVF treatment. We also know that if a couple have got as far as undergoing fertility treatment, their journey towards parenthood has, by that time, been full of self-examination. In short, you have to really want to be a mum (or dad) if you are willing to put yourself through the physical and psychological challenges of treatment. Thus twins, in our own society at least, have come to represent a triumph of science and perseverance over poor conceptual odds.

And to finish a long way from where I started, I couldn’t help but feel better for reading about the small village of Igbo in southwest Nigeria. Known as the ‘the land of twins’, this part of the country experiences the highest rate of twin births in the entire world. Happily, in this community, the arrival of twins is regarded, not as a curse, but as a special blessing; which of course, is exactly what they are.

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