Celebrating National Multiple Births Awareness Day

May 28th is National Multiple Births Awareness Day in Canada. The date marks the birthday of the country’s most famous multiples, the Dionne quintuplets.

Annette, Cécile, Yvonne, Marie, and Émilie Dionne were the first quintuplets known to survive past infancy. The five sisters were also the only known set of identical quintuplets to reach adulthood.

The Government of Ontario took possession of the girls as infants, benefiting from their tourism appeal for nine years. In 1997, the three surviving sisters reached out the parents of the first set of septuplets to survive infancy, stating that “Multiple births should not be confused with entertainment, nor should they be an opportunity to sell products.” The women hoped the children would “receive more respect” than the Dionne’s had, wishing “their fate … be no different from that of other children.”

The worldwide fame garnered by the Dionne’s birth in May 1934 was likely the reason the January 1935 arrival of triplets in Moncton made the papers — including the Montreal Gazette. An article notes that the city’s first triplets (Joan, Kenneth, and Harry Brooks) were “quite healthy” and that “the mother is doing nicely.” It also states that the “stork must have broken a good many flying records. The girl arrived first at 10:30am, fourteen minutes later the first boy was safely delivered. The stork’s flying time was not so good for the third trip. He made it, however, in twenty-three minutes, which, considering his two previous trips, was fairly good going.”

There have been a few more sets of triplets born locally over the years, including a rare set of identical triplets, brothers who are growing before our eyes, and a trio of boys whose arrival helped spark the creation of the local support group for multiple families.

By the numbers

The odds of having triplets in Canada, without fertility treatments, is about one in 8,100 births in Canada. The most common multiple families include twins; the rate of spontaneous twin births (no fertility treatments) in Canada is about one in 90 pregnancies, according to Multiple Births Canada. More than 6,000 sets of twins are born each year in Canada.

Multiple Births Canada estimates there are approximately 100 sets of triplets, quadruplets, and quintuplets born in this country annually. From 1995 until 2008, the rate of multiple births in Canada rose (from 2.2% to 3.2%); it is believed increased use of fertility treatments was a factor. In the past few years, as improvements have been made to assisted human reproduction techniques, the rate of multiple births in Canada has decreased.

Notable families

The first set of sextuplets born in Canada were delivered at a Vancouver hospital in January 2007. The four boys and two girls were delivered by caesarian section just after 25 weeks gestation. One was born on a Saturday, the rest on a Sunday. Two of the infants died shortly after birth; the family become involved in a court battle with the province over the parents refusal to consent to blood transfusions based on religious grounds.

Between 1934 and 1999, there were at least eight sets of quintuplets born in Canada. The Gilmour quintuplets — three girls and two boys — were 11 weeks premature; they were profiled on the local news when they turned 16. When Madisson, Alexandra, Sarah, Simon, and Ryan turned one in 2000, their mother Yvonne said she was relieved, noting the family relied on a team of about 20 volunteers to help get through the first year.

The first set of identical quadruplets born in Canada were the Steeves daughters, born in Calgary in 1982. (The Steeves are, of course, related to our local Steeves pioneers.) At that time, Carrie Dawn, Jennie Lee, Mary Beth, and Patty Ann were the highest order of multiple identical births to survive in Canada since the Dionnes. Now adults, the girls and their family say there was media attention when they were young, but the “15 minutes of fame came and went.” Carrie Dawn Steeves told a reporter that the media “would come and take our pictures for every birthday when we were little, but we haven’t heard from anyone now in years.”

They heard from them in 2007 when another rare set of identical quadruplets was born. Autumn, Brooke, Calissa, and Dahlia Jepp had to spend their first night in two different countries because of a shortage of neonatal beds in Canada. The Jepp girls were conceived without fertility drugs and are one of fewer than 50 cases of identical quadruplets recorded in the world.

Edmonton identical triplets Luke, Mason, and Thomas Lowe and their family are chronicling their journey with multiples and cancer. The boys, who were conceived without fertility treatments and arrived at 34 weeks gestation in December 2013, were all diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a pediatric eye cancer affecting about 22 children each year in Canada.

Though it is rare, twins are sometimes born conjoined. One set of Canadian twins, girls born in British Columbia in 2006, are joined at the top, backs, and sides of their heads. The girls’ nervous systems are connected – tickle one, the other laughs — and it is believed the girls can even see through each other’s eyes. Surgery to separate the twins is not considered a viable option.

A Few Famous Canadian Multiples

Tegan and Sara Quinn

Kiefer and Rachel Sutherland

Shawn and Aaron Ashmore

Jill and Jacqueline Hennessy

Jonathan and Drew Scott

Bob, Clint, and Dave Moffatt

A Few Famous Canadian Multiple Parents

Ben and Jessica Mulroney

Scott Brison and Maxime St-Pierre

Lorne Green and Rita Hands

Michael J. Fox and Tracy Jo Pollan

Diana Krall and Elvis Costello

Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer

Not a two-for-one deal

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada recognizes that families of multiples “face increased physical, financial, and psycho-social stresses.”

Based on 2011 data — and NOT including the cost of diapers, larger homes or vehicles, hiring help, or factoring in loss of income – the first-year cost of a single baby is $35,000. Twins are $42,000. Triplets are $49,000, quadruplets are $55,000, and quintuplets are $63,000.

A study from 1983 concluded that it would take 197.5 hours a week to care for six-month-old triplets. There are only 168 hours in a week.

Fewer multiple moms return to the workforce after their children’s first birthday, compared to singleton births.

More than half of all twins born, and almost all higher order multiples, arrive prematurely. Multiple births account for 22% of all preterm births in Canada; these children are at higher risk for neonatal mortality, developmental disabilities, and lifetime chronic and special needs. The cost for each baby born in a multiple birth is estimated to be 4.8 times higher than a single birth.

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You might also want to read our story shared by Today’s Parent.

Pregnancies from hell: Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome

For parents seeking support, please visit the website of the Canadian Premature Babies Foundation. You might also want to take a listen to their podcast, hosted by me, Jenna Morton, of Pickle Planet.

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