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Sue Mortimer Interview

Author of Mine’s a Double talks to us about being a Mum of Twins

Sue Mortimer and her twinsThis week we caught up with Sue Mortimer, author of Mine’s a Double. Sue’s had a fascinating career that took a new turn after having twins. Inspired by people’s fascination with twins, Sue created this book, which is neither a medical or parenting guide. Read the full interview to find out more.

What is your most cherished memory of your twins to date?

My most cherished memory has to be the day that my twins were born: two little helpless babies who had emerged too soon and were whisked away to their intensive care cots. Ironically this was probably also the most challenging day in my life. Small in comparison to full-term newborns (3 lb 14 oz and 4 lb 8 oz), they were veritable brutes alongside other babies in the unit: the twins born the day before at 25 weeks looked so forlorn, with their tiny bodies, translucent skin and surrounded by space-station gadgetry. I realised then just how fragile life is. Despite the distressing circumstances I was so proud of my two little boys – the answers to my prayers – who bravely fought their way through those difficult early days. Now Edmund and Philip are boisterous nine-year-olds and there is no sign of their shaky start in life.

What was the most important milestone for your twins when you felt life was becoming a little bit easier?

Like everyone else, we found that the first few weeks passed in a blur of sleepless days and nights. It was also a chaotic time as we were living in Oxford and house-hunting in Swansea when the babies were just five weeks old. We managed to view 15 properties in two days – no wonder we were so exhausted! Whilst we waited for our house sale to go through we relocated to Berlin, where we have always had a flat. So with four-month old twins we moved to Berlin. We had more luggage for the one night on the car ferry than we’d had on a round-the-world trip just a year earlier: twin car seats; double electric breast pump; steriliser; washing-up stuff; nappies; bottles for the night feed with my expressed milk. The only space-saving decision was that the twins were to share a travel cot!

Once we had settled in to life in Berlin, and in particular joined the local twins club, life became a lot easier… until the toddler stage when they would run off in different directions oblivious to all potential dangers! But that is a different story.

What do you think is the hardest thing about being a parent of twins?

As a parent, I recognise that they are individuals. Even in their initial three-week hospital stay it was evident that they were two different personalities. In some respects it is easier for us as they are fraternal, or non-identical, twins and they look different. But people still muddle them up and I know that many of our circle of acquaintances don’t have a clue as to who is who. Even a friend of my parents admitted recently that she had bonded with the boys’ cousin, whereas she found ‘the twins more frantic’. I realised with some sadness that she would not be alone in putting a tag on ‘the twins’, rather than making an effort to get to know them as individuals. My hope is that they grow up to be confident as individuals in their own right whilst also knowing that their brother is their best friend!

What’s the best thing about being a twin parent?

I love the fact that my boys have each other. Since moving back to the UK when the boys were two, we have spent part of the year in Berlin where the boys attend school for a couple of months. My then six-year-olds were both nervous on their first day, although they visibly relaxed when they found out that their teacher had such a cool name (Frau Ferrari), but it was a comfort to them – and us – to know that they could stick together. And they certainly did that!

What’s the silliest thing a stranger has asked you about your twins?

The most bizarre encounter was when the boys were just one month old, weighing around 5 lb and still a few weeks short of their due date. We were walking through our local park when my teenage heart-throb Sting stepped aside to make room for the double buggy! And there he was saying hello and stretching out his hand. He and wife Trudie Styler were fascinated with the babies (‘We have never seen such tiny babies!’), and Sting started to question me: ‘Were they born naturally? Was I feeding them myself?’ Trudie was echoing her approval by saying: ‘Good girl,’ when I answered, ‘Yes’. Then came the tricky question: ‘What are their names?’ I was so exhausted and star-struck that my mind drew a blank. Luckily my husband stepped in. I already knew what would come next: ‘Which one is which?’ The names of those two slumbering babies, whose faces I had lovingly pored over during the previous weeks, suddenly escaped me. Once again husband to the rescue! I realised then how blessed we were – we too were celebrities for that day at least!

Are your twin’s personalities alike or ‘chalk & cheese’?

They are two individual people with their own defined personalities. I remember one of my one-week-old twins howling as I walked into the hospital SCBU. He would only be comforted when I arrived. My Mum was with me at the time, and she said that he was ‘the monkey’. I chided her as I ‘knew’ from my reading of literature on twins how it was best to avoid labelling children. However, deep down I realised that she was right and even today he is still the one who gets into the most scrapes. But what never ceases to amaze me, is how complex these little people are and I love the fact that they both have such different perspectives on their worlds!

How did your working life change as a result of having twins?

I have been fortunate to have had more than my fair share of exciting jobs. A graduate in Modern Languages from Oxford University and a chartered accountant, I am fluent in five languages and have worked extensively across Europe. My career in international fraud investigation included a lengthy stint in Switzerland on the so-called ‘Nazi Gold’ project, identifying assets belonging to victims of the Holocaust.

But nothing could prepare me for the world of twins. It was a real baptism by fire, but I have never looked back. Our time is split between the UK and Berlin, where my husband works for part of the year, so I have focused on jobs in the voluntary sector and looking after my family. I have just started a teacher training course, and look forward to where that will lead me next!

What inspired you to write your book?

Mines a Double by Sue Mortimer
Mines a Double by Sue Mortimer

I never realised how interested people are in twins until I had my own. When I became pregnant I found there were almost no books about life with twins – just medical or parenting guides. So when my little boys started school I decided to write one.

My own unusual experiences gave me some ideas to start with. I went into labour in the middle of the night nine weeks early, and by the following morning I was in the hospital delivery suite. Ten days later I was still there! One of the midwives went off for a week’s holiday, and she was amazed to see me again when she got back. When I tell the story, it is fantastic how many other twins tales come out, and how different many of them are.

Can you summarise your book in a few sentences?

Mine’s a Double – The Twins Book charts the path of twins from conception – easy for some, a long IVF hassle for others – to adult life. There are many happy experiences, and a few tragedies, but the stories are all set out as told to me by the people themselves.

Living in two countries has given me access to a much wider range of stories than would have been possible just in the UK. A fascinating tale is that of two women whose lives were torn apart when the Berlin Wall was built overnight, with one living in Communist East Germany and the other in West Berlin. A German edition of Mine’s a Double – The Twins Book is in the pipeline.

The final chapters take a look at the definition a twin (not as straightforward as it sounds) and why identical twins are not in fact identical.

How does your book differ from other books about twins?

My aim was to set out the experiences of all those whose lives have been affected by twins – either as parents or the twins themselves. The book is not intended as a parenting or medical guide, but rather as a real-life companion to echo people’s experiences.

In addition to the accounts of pregnancy, birth and early days with twins, I have also talked to eighty-year-old twins, one of Britain’s oldest set of triplets, Britain’s first twin MPs, identical Polish twins studying the same subject at the same Oxford college, and many more. I have also spoken to families with triplets, as well as families with quads, including one with a three-year-old, a one-year-old and quads!

Do you have a favourite chapter in the book?

One of my happiest, but also oddest experiences was when I attended the annual day out of the Berlin Twins Club – at the Zoo! Over a hundred pairs of twins were there, toddlers, teenagers, grown-ups and grannies, most of them identical and many identically dressed for the occasion. No one was looking at the animals that day!

Where is your book available?

Mine’s a Double – The Twins Book is available by email from thetwinsbook@aol.co.uk costing £10 including p&p to a UK address (www.thetwinsbook.co.uk). The book is also available from www.twinsgiftcompany.co.uk. It is not available from online booksellers because many readers prefer the personal touch of an author-signed and dedicated copy for themselves or as a present.

What is the one thing you would say to someone who has just found they are having twins?

It is different to have twins, different to be a twin. My own boys summed it up for me when they were very young. As toddlers I took them to visit a friend who had recently had a baby. At first my twins were interested in the new arrival, but then they started to look perplexed, even worried. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “Mummy”, said one, “Where is the other baby?”

Enjoy your twins!

Designed For Twins would like to thank Sue Mortimer for her time in answering our questions.

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