Have you seen more twins in recent years? It's not your imagination. Multiple births are on the way up in Australia - 4550 sets were born in 2013, which is a jump of 36 per cent since 1991. That's a lot more mums nervously watching the screen as the ultrasound technician detects more than one tiny heartbeat. It also means there are a lot more dads hurriedly looking into buying a larger family vehicle.
Of course, fathers of multiples have much more to contribute than expertise in choosing a car, but in all the excitement and preparation, they can sometimes be almost forgotten or ignored.
Dads or expecting fathers of twins can also struggle to find support in female-dominated online forums, as Neil Ward discovered. He's a state manager for a retail IT company, and in 2013 he and his wife learnt they were about to have twins.
"My first reaction was shock. We were really excited though, as we previously believed we were unable to have children," he says. "One child would have been an absolute blessing; two was totally perfect in our world."
As soon as the word 'twins' entered their personal vocabulary, Neil and his wife looked up the local club for the Australian Multiple Birth Association. They were soon meeting other parents expecting multiples. When their two boys arrived, their mother's experience as a special education teacher meant she already knew the value of establishing a routine, while Neil looked for additional support online. He wanted someone to talk to who shared a dad's point of view.
The arrival of Neil Ward's twin sons were the catalyst for the creation of The Multiples Dad Sanctuary.
"I joined four multiple-birth Facebook groups but there were very few fathers that were active," he says. "When a dad did post, the mums may have had good intentions but their reactions often came across like 'Well, what would a father know?' That's why I left a lot of those Facebook groups – when a dad had a practical question he was met with an emotional response."
Neil remained in one unisex multiples group, where the dads were a bit more 'hands on'. One night he was chatting to some female members and mentioned his struggles as a dad in online support groups. "There's nothing out there for my husband," one woman said, and another dozen mums agreed. That's when Neil decided it was time to act.
"I said 'bugger it' on the spur of the moment, and within half an hour I had a 'dads of multiples' Facebook page up and running," he says.
Neil called the group The Multiple Dads Sanctuary and hoped it might offer tips, tricks and ideas. He also hoped it would support the mental health of fathers of multiples; Beyond Blue has reported that mothers of multiples have almost double the rate of PND than mums of single babies, while more than half of their partners will also suffer depression. Neil says the divorce rate amongst multiple families is also a lot higher due to the stress.
Read more essentialbaby.com Story: Gabe McGrath