Standing by the bedroom door, I paused, listening to the murmuring of my twins’ voices. Inside, I found chaos: my son’s desk was pulled into the middle of the room while my daughter stood behind it with rows of soft toys lined up in front. #
Nine-year-old Chloe was clearly teacher, while six-year-old Max was — along with the teddies — one of her students. They turned to face me; two pairs of green eyes looking slightly guilty, their blonde hair framing their faces, identical wide cheeky grins…
No, my children are not twins in the conventional sense — there is a three-year age gap between them. But they are most definitely twins to me.
Chloe and Max were conceived at exactly the same time — in an IVF clinic on an inauspicious industrial estate just outside Bath. That day in early 2012, my eggs were collected while I was sedated and, by the miracle of modern science, fertilised with my husband’s sperm in the laboratory. Five days later, we were told we had two viable blastocysts, which is the stage before the cells become an embryo. The staff at Care Fertility Bath implanted our little girl into my womb, while our little boy went into their freezer. For three years.
There is a three age gap between Kitty Dimbleby’s children Max and Chloe (pictured) but they are in fact twins
As IVF techniques improve, more and more families today comprise a set of so-called IVF twins like mine — children born of two eggs fertilised by two sperm at the same time, making them fraternal, or non-identical, twins, but born many years apart. It’s a result in large part of the soaring rates of frozen embryo — or blastocyst — transfer.
Typically today, a woman will have a single fresh embryo transferred to her womb, and any additional embryos stored for use later at a temperature of 321f. This ensures no biological ageing takes place.
Now, as the technology becomes more routine, thousands of women are returning for those additional embryos —Frosties as they are known in the IVF community.
Frozen transfers increased by 86 per cent from 2014-2019, and today 41 per cent of all IVF cycles are attempted with frozen as opposed to fresh embryos, according to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. The rates of success are increasing too, with 30 per cent of all frozen embryos transferred to women under the age of 35 resulting in a live birth in 2019, up ten per cent in a decade.
Jess Morley, 31, a former nanny who lives in Bedfordshire with partner Paul Perry, 33, had son Kobi (right) four years ago, and then returned for one of her three frozen blastocysts in 2020. Baby Jax (left) was born ten months ago
And as these new-shaped families emerge, parents are discovering something rather strange. Despite the age gap, their ‘IVF twins’, they say, have a deep and special bond that goes beyond that of mere siblings.
Gemma Jones, 34, from Monmouth, South Wales, who is the mother of fraternal twin girls, now aged three and one, from the same batch of 11 blastocysts, tells me: ‘They look alike, but it’s more than that — they’re so similar in every way. They’re on the same track developmentally: threeyear-old Lucy crawled at eight months and so did Emily. They are both very social around other children but shy with adults.
‘I always tell people they’re “scientific twins” and I like thinking of them having that bond, a special story. There is something so unique about IVF siblings conceived at the same time. They have something in common that others don’t — an extra connection.’
Over and over again, a similar story emerges. Some mothers of IVF twins even say one feels unwell and gets symptoms when the other is poorly.
Max’s nickname is Olaf, after the snowman in Frozen
I believe to my core that the bond shared by my children comes from their unique start in life. Max and Chloe insist on sharing a bedroom, for example, even though they each have their own, and in fact now struggle to sleep if, unusually, they are apart for a night.
They play together as if they were the same age; sometimes more maturely and calmly if Chloe is in charge, more immaturely and robustly if Max is leading the way.
Max, who like most little boys doesn’t enjoy sitting still, will draw for hours if his sister is by his side drawing with him. They play together imaginatively, creating fantastical worlds for their toys or themselves.
I have friends with ‘traditional’ fraternal twins, and I see their relationship mirrored by my two — a certain deeper closeness which I am convinced comes from being created at the same time.
David Walker, obstetrician, gynaecologist, fertility specialist and medical director at Care Fertility Bath, says there’s no scientific evidence for this feeling shared by parents of IVF twins born years apart.
Kitty (right) explains that Chloe and Max were conceived at exactly the same time — in an IVF clinic on an inauspicious industrial estate just outside Bath
And yet, he adds: ‘In my 25 years as a consultant, I have met countless parents who have given me plenty of anecdotal evidence that they really believe this is the case, that their IVF “twins” [with an age gap] are more alike than “normal” siblings.
‘There is a certain magic attached to IVF children,’ he adds, ‘and the “twin” story adds to the fairy tale.’
Louise Bowman, 43, is co-head of family services for The Twins Trust and lives in Ashford, Surrey. Her family comprises daughters Daisy, 12, and Scarlett and Connie, both eight — all three of whom came from the same batch of embryos, created at the same time.
‘People will say to me: “Aren’t Daisy and Scarlett alike!” and I can see what they mean. All three of my girls have blonde hair like me, yet Daisy and Scarlett have the same shaped face and look very similar. But it’s Connie who’s technically Scarlett’s birth twin and it was pure chance that Daisy was born first. I sometimes wonder how the dynamics would be different if Connie had been born first,’ she says.
Jess Morley and Paul Perry explain how they had three ectopic pregnancies before they embarked on IVF
She and her husband Steven, an electrician, embarked on IVF 13 years ago, after trying for children for two years. One round of treatment created five healthy embryos and two were then implanted.
Sadly, however, only one survived — and that became Daisy. ‘Three years later, Steven and I decided to try again, using the frozen embyros and while one had degraded in the freezer, the other two were healthy – they were implanted on the second go. I thought only one would survive again, but around six weeks I had a scan and was told that yes, both babies had taken.
‘I often think how crazy it is that it’s down to the random choice of the clinic and what embryos they used that Daisy and Scarlett are not the twins or Daisy and Connie.’ Indeed, the birth order of her children — and their very ages — were decided by doctors in a lab.
‘You might imagine that it’s Daisy who feels left out of things but in fact, it’s often Daisy and Scarlett who get on better and Connie is the outsider. But Scarlett and Connie are very close too and all three of them together are a force of nature. One strong unit of girls.
Kitty Dimbleby with husband Ed Dimbleby had their daughter, Chloe Dimbleby, aged 12-months in this photo, before having their son, Chloe’s twin a few years later
‘I never refer to Connie and Scarlett as “twins”. To me, all three of my daughters are simply “the girls”.
‘It’s important to us that they are allowed to be individuals and we’ll try to give each of them time away from each other.
‘Interestingly, Daisy is dyslexic although she’s doing really well now at school. We think Connie might also be dyslexic so she’s going through diagnosis now. But the other day Scarlett was crying because she felt left out because she wasn’t dyslexic. You can’t win!’
My two, Max and Chloe, have always been on a par developmentally — walking the week they turned one, saying “Dada” as their first word at the same age. Both are ambidextrous,. Chloe is dyslexic (quite severely), and early signs indicate Max is as well, though this can’t be confirmed until he is older. Despite that challenge they both love school and have the same favourite subjects: art and science.
The staff at Care Fertility Bath implanted Kitty’s little girl into her womb, while her little boy went into their freezer. For three years
Teachers remark on their creativity and team spirit. If one of them wants to do something, anything from rock-climbing to writing a story, the other will soon join in too.
Jess Morley, 31, a former nanny who lives in Bedfordshire with partner Paul Perry, 33, had son Kobi four years ago, and then returned for one of her three frozen blastocysts in 2020. Baby Jax was born ten months ago.
‘I’d had three ectopic pregnancies before IVF and my fallopian tubes had been removed so I knew I’d never be able to conceive naturally,’ she says.
‘But it meant I was referred straight away for a free round of IVF and I’m thankful that at least we knew what the problem was. So many couples never find out. I actually think of them as my “miracle twins”.
‘We obtained four good-quality blastocysts from our first and only egg collection. We implanted one five years ago, which became Kobi, and froze the other three, one of which — the best quality one — became Jax. I’m incredibly lucky that both rounds were successful on the first attempt.
‘Do they have a closer bond than normal brothers? Certainly Kobi adores Jax and vice versa. Kobi cuddles and kisses his baby brother saying, “Hello darling”, which is cute. He can’t wait for him to be bigger so that he can actually play with him properly and not just knock all his toys over.’
Pedants will argue that twins are only twins if they share a womb. But most IVF parents in the same situation as us love the ‘twin’ fairy tale, not least because it gives a bit of magic to the otherwise very scientific, unromantic story of our children’s beginning. The children also adore it.
I was born with Hirschsprung’s disease, a disorder of the abdomen that occurs when part or all the large intestine has no nerves and so cannot function, and which left me in effect with blocked fallopian tubes.
We started the gruelling process of IVF in December 2011. Intense hope makes the sevenweek process very stressful, yet in late January 2012 two of my eggs fertilised and made it to day five — blastocyst stage — which is the optimum time to transfer into the womb.
The goal of IVF nowadays is one healthy birth. Gone are the days of multiple IVF births because they’re too risky for mother and babies. Chloe was chosen; the blastocysts are graded before implantation and she had an AA grade while Max was an AB. His cells under the microscope were a fraction more irregular than hers.
I found pregnancy hard, and the birth itself, by emergency Caesarean, a frightening ordeal — but I was a mother at last with a perfect, tiny, baby girl.
I thought I would stop at one, but I couldn’t get that Frostie out of my mind. It was a precious spark of life waiting for a chance to grow. Successful frozen transfer rates (those that survive the defrosting process and go on to become pregnancies) at Care Fertility Bath were then in the region of 31 per cent.
But we had to try, having witnessed the development of my little girl, I knew now what that Frostie could become.
We were beyond lucky, and, after another difficult pregnancy, Max was born in December 2015. We had beaten the odds to become a family of four.
Just as I did, Gemma has pangs when she thinks of her remaining Frosties. ‘I don’t think we want any more children, but I still find it hard to think of those potential siblings. I often wonder what they’d be like… would they look like my girls?’
My husband and I have always been open with our children about their origins. Explaining IVF to young children is almost easier than explaining the natural route. Max isn’t bothered at the idea he started life in a freezer, enjoying his occasional nickname Olaf after the snowman in Frozen. But Chloe, who loves science, is fascinated, and thinks her and Max’s story is much more interesting than that of most of her friends.
They both love introducing the other as ‘my twin’, enjoying the confusion it creates before Chloe proudly explains why.
I remain always in awe of the science which enabled the creation of our family.
‘They say that twins are miracles that come in pairs —and my darling ‘twins’ born three years apart, remind me every day that scientific knowledge is itself miraculous.