Annie Nolan's twin daughters in the photo that went viral
Courtesy Annie Nolan
By Annie Nolan
July 15, 2015
IDEAS
Annie Nolan is a mother and blogger in Australia.

The only thing I know about being viral and parenting is not to bother asking your doctor for antibiotics because they won’t work. But I went a different kind of viral the past few days, over a cheeky photo I posted on my Facebook page. Antibiotics won’t help me now, either! You may have seen it: my twin daughters holding an FAQ of sorts about their origin, provoked by the endless questions people want to ask me. “No, not identical,” I wrote. Followed by, “Yes, I’m sure they’re not identical.” And also, “Conceived by f-cking,” among a few other choice phrases.

It isn’t unusual for me to be slightly controversial — I let my political opinions be known, I take a fairly hard stance on animal rights and I joke often. But I posted this photo without thinking twice, and certainly didn’t expect the reaction from millions—yes, millions! 2 million in the first two days!—of people around the world. And many of them were not very kind.

What had I said that was so breathtaking?

I had been laughing with my fellow twin-moms about the public fascination with twins. We all agreed that you can hardly buy a loaf of bread without it taking 45 minutes due to the questions from strangers; some days, it would just be easier to have some FAQs on display. I have a son who is a singleton and I never get questions. He has blonde dreadlocks and jumps up and down waving his hands and saying, “I’m Malachy, my name is Malachy!” and still people are drawn to my twins.

I really love to talk about all my kids—really, I can go on!—but the questions the twins elicit range from funny to personal to downright offensive. I can’t count how many people have written to me saying that they get asked all the time if their fraternal girl/boy twins are identical. That always gives me a laugh. Unfortunately, other questions leave a bitter taste in my mouth. I have been asked, “How long did you have to go through IVF?” I didn’t, actually, but that’s nobody’s business. Or, “I can tell them apart because that one is prettier but which one is smarter?” And even, “Did you consider aborting one?”

I wouldn’t dare ask why you have maxi pads or adult diapers in your shopping cart.

But it was the IVF questions that elicited my “Conceived by f-cking” line, and that was the line that won me criticism. Let me explain, then, to anyone who might misconstrue my intentions: Every time I get the “Are they natural?” question I squirm thinking of my friends who went through IVF. Does that mean that if a child was conceived by IVF they are not natural? Despite IVF being so common and the twin population reaching new heights because of it, it is still part of someone’s personal health history. IVF is nothing to be ashamed about and many twin parents are comfortable enough to discuss having gone through the process, but it is an emotional, deeply private journey for others.

I felt the swear-word was necessary. It was my way of showing my support and solidarity to my friends who sometimes feel they have to answer, “Yes, IVF,” for umpteenth time that day. One of the other criticisms of my sign was the fact that I placed it near my child. I’ll let you in on a secret: my daughters aren’t old enough to read. Also, it is fairly common to swear in Australian culture (we can be an unruly lot) and if we need to emphasize a point, we do it. I thought I was being tame adding the asterisks, to tell you the truth!

The other scorn I received was along the lines of “You should be grateful you even have children,” with great offense taken by some who have lost a child, or can’t conceive a child. This crushed me. I never meant to hurt a single soul with this photo. To offend grieving parents, or people battling infertility, well, I was devastated. I am grateful for my children. Every. Single. Day. One person posted photos of her child who had passed away. That was when I had to sign off this week. Although the reaction has been mostly supportive, I would like to say that I’m sorry to those people I did offend in that way. The intention was only ever to make my friends smile, as a joke.

Every now and then when I receive emailed death threats or judgments about about how poorly my children are going to turn out, I try to regroup and remember why I did this: to make people smile. I was trying to be a mother extending a hand to another mother. I may have made mistakes but I am comfortable that overall I am doing the right thing by my children, my partner, my friends, my family and myself. Not everyone is going to like me, but I also know that not everyone is going to like themselves.

I was fortunate enough to carry two very premature twins out of the hospital after months and months to take them home and call them mine. I am the luckiest. I am the proudest. And if you want to hear all about them, go ahead—ask me a question.

Annie Nolan blogs at Uncanny Annie.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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