Double Trouble?

Athlete and nutritionist Sarah Mortimer experienced firsthand the challenges that come with twins. Now president of Multiples Bay of Plenty, she’s guiding the charity to help support other parents.

Athlete and nutritionist Sarah Mortimer experienced firsthand the challenges that come with twins. Now president of Multiples Bay of Plenty, she’s guiding the charity to help support other parents.

When an accomplished endurance athlete tells a story about being their most mentally and physically broken, it conjures up images of a gruelling race — perhaps an Ironman. But Sarah Mortimer, former swim-run ultraracer and ocean swim champion, is recounting raising premature twin babies.

In August 2019, Sarah went for her first-ever pregnancy scan with her partner, Hamish. They were amazed to be pregnant, excited to see the heartbeat but… “It never crossed my mind there would
be two, it was a shock for both of us. I went into hyperventilation mode and Hamish went ghost white.” Then, the practicalities: their Mount Maunganui flat was tiny — they’d need a new home.
A bigger
car. And later, two of everything.

But there wasn’t time to buy two of everything because Sarah’s babies, Skye and Arlo, were born suddenly at just 30 weeks (38 weeks is considered full term for multiples). With no time to get to Waikato Hospital, which has the nearest Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) unit, Sarah delivered them at Tauranga Hospital. A helicopter was sent from Waikato to collect the babies, but it turned
out Waikato’s 41 NICU beds were full. So the babies were flown to the next NICU in New Plymouth, leaving new parents Sarah and Hamish on the ground at Tauranga Hospital, stressed out with no babies, no hospital discharge and a tortuous five-hour drive to take the next day.

It was followed by two weeks drifting around New Plymouth’s NICU, pumping milk 24/7 and living
out of suitcases, five weeks in the Special Care Baby Unit in Tauranga, and then about three years
of sleep deprivation.

Almost four years later, Sarah has resurfaced and is president of Multiples Bay of Plenty, her experience giving her the motivation to offer parents that critical wraparound support. The organisation is affiliated with Multiples New Zealand, and regionally it supports 183 families — raising 180 pairs of twins and 3 sets of triplets, from Whakatāne to Rotorua to Waihī Beach. “In this country, Multiples New Zealand and its regional clubs are the only organisations supporting families with multiples in any way,” says Sarah.

Hamish Collie and Sarah Mortimer and their three-year-old twins, Arlo (in green) and Skye.

New Zealand’s national rate of twin births is 2–3% of all births. Last year, that worked out to be about 500–900 families around the country who are experiencing the miracle/challenge of twins/triplets. While some families take newborn twins in their stride, it’s often not the case. “In families with multiples, there are troubling statistics around prematurity — around half are born premature
— and mothers’ mental health. Twin and triplet births are associated with a higher rate of divorce
and higher rate of postpartum depression, we see those families could do with extra support.”

While the government does provide childcare assistance for those parents of multiples who already have other children under five years old (240 hours assistance spread over one year for twins,
1560 hours spread over two years for triplets), first-time parents of multiple babies are not eligible.


Multiples Bay of Plenty offers a wide range of services (outlined below) because the adage ‘it takes
a village to raise a child’ rings truer for families with newborn multiples. It costs $35 to join the organisation, but that comes right back immediately, with a big box of nappies and frozen meals once families arrive home from hospital.

“Having twins is a completely different ballgame to having two single babies in quick succession,” says Sarah.

Breastfeeding advice Feeding two babies takes time to master, so Multiples Bay of Plenty provides plenty of information and support. “Tandem breastfeeding can be a logistical challenge. It’s not just the mountains of cushions you have placed around you — it’s almost comical — or even the twin breastfeeding platform you can strap yourself into, but when one twin doesn’t latch properly or nods off, it can throw the whole process,” says Sarah. This is especially the case if they’re premature.

Equipment hire Twin babies can be expensive. “You have to have two of everything and you need them at the same time — there is no such thing as economies of scale at play in this scenario. One
of our services is equipment hire for short-term stuff, like breastfeeding pillows, capsules, prams, breast pumps and frontpacks for twins.”

Social events for connection Using funding from local community grants, the charity sees its events as key. “We organise events to keep our families socially connected. You’re not as mobile with two babies… You can’t pop out easily with the frontpack. It’s harder to go along to SPACE and mum’s groups, because you have to manage feeding, carrying and naps for two of them.”

Playgroups occur at houses, playgrounds and even willing cafes. “At cafes it does form a bit of
a scene, you take up a lot of room with double prams and two BYO high chairs each. Cafes are
not ideal but sometimes you need a coffee — it’s been a long night!”

There are also free family events at Easter, Halloween, Christmas, and nights for mums and
dads a few times a year — these are baby-free evenings at a restaurant or bar.

Mental health Sarah says events are especially critical for the mental health of parents with multiples. “Sleep deprivation can be massive with one baby, but it’s double with two. With two potentially prem babies who might have extra wind, these parents can be feeding for one hour, burping for one hour and changing — doing this for every feed. That’s a long night.”

Attention is also paid to the partner or other supporting family members, checking in to make sure they’re doing ok — it’s much more hands-on than with one baby. “When the partner gets home from work they need to be onboard straightaway, you can’t take turns, especially around witching hour.”

Caroline and Cameron Doyle with their two sets of twins: Issac (left) and Jordy (on the ground) are two years old, and Brooklyn (second from left) and Thomas are five years old.


This October, the organisation is holding a golf tournament to raise further funds, which will enable
it to start sending out a second lot of meals at the six-weeks-of-age mark. “We find that time can be the hardest, whether they’ve just come home from hospital or emerging from the newborn stage to be more awake or partners have just gone back to work.”

It also plans to go into partnership with a postnatal doula, who will be contracted by the organisation to visit families in their homes well beyond the typical midwife timeframe — helping holistically with feeding, sleeping, routine and, most critically, dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety.

Natalia Tomonaga Parrett and Al Parrett with 19-month-old children, Giovanni (aka Vinny)  and Ivy (right).


Members tend to leave when the twins are of school age and families find their groove, but parents can remain as Facebook group members and can be a valuable resource for new parents with questions.

With her twins past the baby stage, Sarah can slowly get back into athlete life. At the time of writing, she’s was in Fiji “relaxing” with three days of 3km open-water swims as part of the Fiji Ocean Swim Series, while Hamish watches the kids on the beach.

“Now that my twins are three years old and developing into amazing little people, I’m seeing the golden side of having twins — I love watching them play together, knowing they’ll always have each other for all their firsts in life. But in the beginning, the support I received through Multiples Bay of Plenty was a godsend. The antenatal classes and those connections with other parents became so important to me in those early months. It’s a support system I deeply appreciate to this day.”

A big thank you to the Multiples Bay of Plenty members in this story who let us come to their homes and photograph their beautiful families!

Twin taste testers

Raising twins requires tenacity, but mealtimes are the one place where Sarah doesn’t wage battles.
In addition to her president role, she’s a nutritionist, and she’s raising her twins on a largely plant-based diet. With constant exposure to colourful and varied dishes, she’s achieved the impossible: both children will now eat just about anything she serves up.

Through her business, Seed Nutrition, she provides guidance about introducing solids to babies
and creating a balanced diet for kids. Given she’s developed countless recipes (with two in-house taste testers), it’s food they’ll eat.

“While my own household has been plant-based for the last three years, my client approach is
‘plant-centred’ rather than plant-based. I’ll build healthy dietary plans based on a family’s preferences — that’ll often include meat. Or if they want to explore vegetarian/vegan diets, I can help them navigate that safely.”

Sarah has a Bachelor of Science in human nutrition, is undertaking postgrad study in maternal
and infant nutrition, and is an associate registered nutritionist. In a world of wellness influencers
and unreliable content, she feels it’s important to have correct, personalised information when undertaking a plant-based family diet, especially for child development.


Words by Skye Wishart
Photography by Alice Veysey