On March 8, the Brisbane Multiple Birth Association Northside Inc (BMBAN) community will be celebrating International Women’s Day. The UN’s theme for 2023 is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality“, recognising the contribution of women to technological advancements and digital education. UN Women Australia has published a number of key messages for its theme this year, “Cracking the Code: Innovation for a Gender Equal Future”, including leveraging inclusive technologies, embracing innovation, and safeguarding access to education.
This International Women’s Day, we at BMBAN acknowledge the challenges women within the multiple birth community face, showcase how adept our community is at innovating, and consider what further steps can be taken to safeguard gender equality for the current and next generation of women in our membership.
Women in the multiple birth community are innovators by necessity. So many of our daily challenges cannot be solved with traditional approaches. So we find new ways to tackle our problems. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they fail. But no matter the outcome, they innovate.BMBAN member
How innovation has changed multiple births
Multiples pregnancies are classified as ‘high risk’, and for good reason. Whilst complications can affect any pregnancy, multiple birth families are faced with a heightened risk of complications, including pre-term birth and prematurity. Keeping those precious babies safe in utero for as long as possible is the main goal, and technological advancements in screening and pregnancy care are critical for improving outcomes for women in our community. Increasing community knowledge about these risks is also pivotal for providing the highest levels of care for women and ensuring they have adequate supports in place.
Twin-to-twin transfer syndrome (TTTS) is a serious complication associated with identical twin pregnancies. Advancements in medical technology have enabled the treatment of TTTS in utero (fetal laser surgery) and have contributed significantly to the improvement of outcomes in these pregnancies. Technological advancement in this field has had a direct impact on the positive medical outcomes of women and their unborn children.
Neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) are also a common chapter in multiple birth journeys. Many of our members share stories from the NICU, sometimes even befriending fellow multiples NICU parents who are facing the same vulnerable moments together. With ongoing research, new screening technologies, quality education for healthcare providers and better medical resources, the number of positive stories coming from our tiny NICU graduates is heartwarming.
BMBAN provides education and support to our members during their NICU journeys, and brings awareness to the larger community about the impact it has upon our members. Embracing new technologies has also enabled us to deliver comprehensive webinars to expectant parents, giving them the knowledge and tools to tackle these early days, in a way that has immensely expanded our accessibility to these families.
Adapting to multiple priorities
The subtle shifts in adapting to multiples start early in pregnancy. For many women carrying multiples, they first need to accept what the new dynamic of their family will be, and work through their feelings.
Women often need to commence parental leave earlier than the average, owing to the additional strains of the pregnancy and associated complications. During the pregnancy, greater medical oversight is involved, also necessitating additional periods of medical leave. Absences prior to delivery deplete leave reserves far earlier than anticipated (if sufficient leave is available at all), resulting in increased financial stress and/or pressure to return to work earlier than planned. It can also contribute enormously to a woman’s perception of their value in the workplace and cause hesitation about how these accommodations will be managed and perceived by their co-workers. By way of example, there is no specific ‘additional’ allowance in the national paid parental leave program for multiple births, so despite becoming a parent to two or more children at the same time, needing greater leave periods prior to birth, and incurring significantly increased expenses, the allowance is the same.
Many of our members report immense anxiety and stress at managing the expectations of both their work and home lives, with rapid depletion of leave entitlements due to ‘tag teaming’ sickness in the household (multiples share everything, including germs!), and the stress of managing the needs of more than one child of the same age. Compounding these issues are also significant periods of sleep deprivation during the earlier years (not just when they are babies, but into toddler years too), a factor that needs far more attention for parents of singletons, moreso for parents of multiples.
Family, friends and social priorities also shift for many multiple birth families. Maintaining strong relationships can be very challenging, particularly during those early years when leaving the house can be difficult and physical / mental resources are limited. Opportunities for developing meaningful connections with other parents are just harder. The village is harder to find, and to maintain. Luckily though, BMBAN has created a wonderful (and thoroughly understanding) village of its own for our members, and we have embraced the available technologies to communicate with our members.
The constant juggle drives innovative solutions
Multiple birth families are always juggling. From the moment a multiples pregnancy is confirmed, parents face an endless sequence of shifting priorities. Whilst a safe birth is always a significant milestone, it is only the start.
For example, parents dealing with NICU stays for one or more children are constantly juggling their time, their energy, their emotional resources and testing the support network they have around them (if any). Many of the women in these situations are also trying to preserve their physical and mental wellbeing, attempting to establish or extend breastfeeding in difficult circumstances, or adapting to onerous mixed and bottle-feeding schedules whilst their body is still recovering from the demands of a high-risk pregnancy (and in many cases, major surgery courtesy of a C-Section delivery).
Many day-to-day tasks that are challenging for any parent can create heightened levels of stress for multiples parents. Loading two (or more) small children into a car safely, is challenging. Physically dressing, changing and moving those children as they get older (and heavier), is challenging. Carting those children from a car, to a pram, to a shopping trolley, to a doctor’s office, to their big sister’s school drop off, is challenging. Women managing their mental wellbeing during extended periods of overstimulation with crying or colicky newborn babies, is challenging. A woman maintaining a positive dynamic with her support network (if she has one) in the midst of sleep deprivation, is challenging. As children grow, shepherding toddlers in a safe manner through a car park or around a swimming pool, is challenging. Shepherding those children through the highs and lows of their adolescent and teen years, even more challenging!
In a fairly practical example, over the years we have seen many an innovative approach to some of the more physical challenges associated with moving multiple children of the same age – carts, wagons, double prams, pram attachments, double trolleys, harnesses, and dog backpacks (just kidding!). If you want to see innovation in practice, watch a multiple birth family navigate a beach trip or weekend away!
How we innovate for the future to safeguard gender equality
The challenges women face in the multiple birth community are in many ways akin to those for women more broadly, but it’s the detail in the differences that sets them apart.
Our members’ lived experience indicates that further improvement is needed in the following areas:
- Whilst significant improvements have been made, further direct and indirect financial support is required for multiple birth families, including provision for extended parental leave, and recognition of the greater expenses incurred in multiples pregnancies, to improve the quality of outcomes for women.
- Better understanding of the physical and logistical challenges faced by multiple birth families. A need for quality healthcare (including allied health) to help women’s bodies recover in the postpartum period so they have the physical capacity to meet these challenges as their children grow is also important.
- More awareness of the significant financial impact that multiple births have on families, noting that for many families they may be placed into a situation where they have more dependants than they planned for.
- Greater availability of affordable childcare, and sufficient childcare places to enable women to return to the workforce in a meaningful way, and in the capacity that they want to return in, not the capacity they are forced to return in.
- Increased community resources for organisations such as BMBAN that support the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of women in the multiple birth community and to be able to leverage newer technologies in digital education.
- Better representation of women in the multiple birth community at all levels of government, and in the broader community.
- A better understanding of just how brilliant, resourceful, efficient and innovative women in the multiple birth community are.
Women with multiples are truly the most efficient, collaborative and solution-oriented people you can find. We should be creating opportunities for them to thrive in the workplace, in their community and at home. They will find more innovative solutions in one hour of their time, than many will find in a whole day.BMBAN member
BMBAN has been helping multiple birth communities since 1977. We will continue to innovate for many years to come to support the women in our membership and the greater multiple birth community. We proudly celebrate International Women’s Day in 2023.
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