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Double Trouble : Clubs offer advice and support to mothers facing twin challenges.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Club meetings for mothers of twins often involve members spinning tales of woe.

One mom recounts exhausting all-night binges with the bottle. The babies, of course, do the drinking.

Another reveals her fear of incoherent babbling. This time, it’s the parent doing the babbling. “This is the first contact I’ve had with adults other than my husband in weeks.”

Much like other other support groups, mothers of twins clubs are there to comfort, inform and inspire. Distraught moms are reassured that maintaining sanity while raising twins gets easier over time.

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“We are like veterans of the same war,” said Kim LaSpada, president of the Conejo Valley Mothers of Multiples club.

Outsiders often have difficulty believing that mothers of twins need support. Even members can have mixed feelings about seeking solace for an exciting and mostly joyful circumstance.

“We know how lucky we are to have twins,” said Lois Gallmeyer, executive secretary of the National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs. “This is not a group others are very sympathetic toward.”

Evidence of the need, however, is in the numbers. There are clubs in all 50 states, 410 in all, composed of more than 15,000 mothers of twins, triplets and quadruplets.

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Ventura County is home to three clubs affiliated with the national organization. The Ventura Mothers of Twins Club, the Simi Valley Mothers of Twins Club and the Conejo Valley club each have 40 to 50 members. Most of them are mothers of twins or triplets under the age of 6.

The clubs provide the latest research on twins, bring in speakers, hold clothing exchanges and publish newsletters.

Moms receive practical tips: Do not wear slippery shoes (because dashing from twin to twin requires quick stops and starts).

Moms receive quasi-scientific data: Twins often are born premature (because they run out of womb space).

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The clubs’ greatest benefit, however, is simply providing another shoulder to cry on when the wailing on both shoulders becomes unbearable.

“We provide support,” said Linda Zilisch, a member of the Ventura club. “That’s our main function.”

Membership has its privileges, the most obvious being the opportunity to dump the twins on someone else and leave the house for a monthly meeting. Needing the most support are moms of newborns. They realize quickly that the challenge presented by two is greater than the sum of its parts.

“I never would have left the house without the club,” said JoEllen Schaffer, a member of the Conejo club. “The encouragement of other moms is the best thing about it.”

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The next step is leaving the house with the twins, a harrowing prospect to many moms. The club can provide the necessary push, as Becky Donovan found two years ago when her sons Ryan and Kyle were three months old.

“There was a club play group at a park and I wasn’t going to go,” said Donovan, a member of the Conejo club. “I thought my kids were too young. One of the mothers called and said, ‘We’ll help.’

“I was able to see how other moms did things. Until then, I was afraid to go out without my husband.”

Fathers of twins are unwelcome at most local club functions. Gallmeyer admits that the 31-year-old national organization has been assailed occasionally for sexism.

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“The club was founded when mothers were assumed to be primary caretakers,” she said, adding that many single parents--including fathers--are members. “There is no slight intended.”

A handful of events are scheduled for the entire family. The Conejo and Ventura clubs held picnics in August and dads could be heard chatting about their children.

These days, fathers of twins say they pitch in on the parenting, like it or not. The daily routines of Ken LaSpada, a general contractor with boy and girl fraternal twins, and Mark Winter, an insurance agent with fraternal sons, have changed considerably.

“I feel guilty on the golf course,” LaSpada said.

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Winter occasionally finds time for golf but admitted, “If I wanted to stay married, I had to get involved with the twins.”

Fathers are especially useful in fending off the onslaught of attention the family receives in public.

“You’re like a celebrity,” Winter said. “In Tahoe this summer, we were stopped every 20 feet.”

The notoriety can get unnerving.

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“The only thing I find obnoxious is people who insist on touching them,” Ken LaSpada said. “I’ve had several people say it is good luck to touch twins.”

Twins are attention-getters because of their rarity (one in 80 pregnancies results in twins) and their singular duality. Mothers can do nothing about the odds, but they can stress the distinctness of each child.

In fact, sensitivity to individuality has produced a pair of twin taboos: 1) Don’t call them “The Twins” and, 2) Don’t dress them alike once they’re in school.

Separating twins into different classrooms is advised by Judith Landau-Stanton, an associate professor of psychiatry and family medicine at the University of Rochester and the mother of 20-year-old identical twins.

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“You must recognize their twinship but encourage their growth as individuals,” Landau-Stanton said. “It is important to help them into situations where friendships with others are likely to happen.

“They will always be each other’s best friend, but you don’t want them to be totally dependent on one another.”

Individuality was not always in vogue. Martha Sexton says that her identical twins, Dean and Dale, now 41, liked being similar. The Sextons grew up in Ventura and Martha was a charter member of the Ventura Mothers of Twins Club in 1955.

“When Dean and Dale were 14 or so,” said Sexton, “they wanted to dress exactly alike for school dances to fool the girls. It was lots of fun.”

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Club moms who compared caring for newborn twins to wearing permanent ankle weights find themselves delighted as the children get older.

Michelle Cope’s 9-year-old identical twins, Brandi and Lacey, have developed into a slick double-play combination on the Conejo Valley softball fields. And Jane Meade’s fraternal twins, Brett and Melissa, were voted senior ball king and queen at Thousand Oaks High in 1990.

“Moms with young twins just have to hang in there,” said Meade, who was a member of the Conejo Valley club when her twins were preschool age. “I remember the club helping me keep my sanity.

“But it gets better all the time.”

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