parent opinion

One year ago, Silje had triplets. No one talks about the financial reality.

Silje Andersen-Cooke’s son was 18 months old when she and her husband decided to grow their family. They’d have a second child, they thought, then maybe a third - if the economy and their personal finances allowed.

But that second child turned out to be three new additions, with Silje learning at their seven-week dating scan, that she was pregnant with triplets.

Watch: Horoscopes As New Mums. Story continues after video.

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“You can imagine the shock,” the Sydney-based lawyer told Mamamia. “There were just so many anxious thoughts going through my head.”

Her mind went first to her body (how would it cope?), then to the high-risk nature of a triplet pregnancy (should she even get attached to the idea of three babies?). Then it started spiralling with all the practicalities of instantly doubling the size of their family.

“I really just had to figure it all out that night,” she said. 

“'We need a new car. Do we need to move house? Can we afford this?' I was thinking about all the things that we need to buy. It was so overwhelming.”

Silje’s triplets are now a year old. She’s returned to work two days a week, and also serves as a director of the Australian Multiple Birth Association - a charitable organisation that connects, educates and supports parents of multiples around the country.


This week, the AMBA released a report that detailed the financial strain felt by families of multiples and called on the government to offer additional financial and practical assistance.

Chief among their recommendations is a ‘multiple birth grant’, which would see a one-off payment of $15,000 given to parents of twins. For higher-order multiples, like triplets and quadruplets, another $10,000-$15,000 would be paid for each additional child.

A family with triplets, for example, would receive a minimum of $25,000.

Image: Supplied


This grant, Silje said, would go a long way towards addressing the increased financial burden felt by families of multiples. 

According to the AMBA’s Multiples Matter report, twins typically cost five times that of singletons, while triplets cost 13 times more.

That’s due to a range of factors. There’s the obvious extras like nappies and clothing, as well as increased childcare costs and car upgrades. Then there’s the specialised equipment (Silje, for example, has spent between $4,000 and $5,000 on prams alone). Multiples are also more likely to be born prematurely, which is often associated with increased medical costs and income loss for parents or caregivers.

And there’s plenty more.

“That’s just not acknowledged in the current system,” Silje said. “The Hawke Government actually brought in the first non-means tested, non-taxable payment for twins and triplets and more. That was in the '80s, and we've gone backwards from there. It's really odd. It just feels like we've been forgotten.”

As it stands, only parents of triplets or higher-order multiples receive additional financial support via the Federal Government. That’s in the form of a means-tested Multiple Birth Allowance of up to $4,460.30 a year for triplets and up to $5,942.20 a year for quads or higher-order multiples.


Twins are excluded.

“I know that’s a really sore point for a lot of twin families,” Silje said. “And analysis shows that even if you are able to access that small payment, it only accounts for less than seven per cent of the differential costs between having a multiple and singleton. So it doesn't even scrape the sides.”

But it’s not just financial support that’s needed, the AMBA argues.

The report’s other recommendations include extending paid parental leave beyond the current 18 weeks for families of multiples. It calls for the primary caregiver to receive an extra eight weeks for each additional child, plus an extension of Dad and Partner Pay from the current two weeks to eight.

The AMBA also calls for parental leave to be extended in the event of a premature birth.

Silje’s triplets were born at 34 weeks and 5 days, and they spent 19 days in the neonatal intensive care unit. Having taken that time off, Silje’s husband had little choice but to return to work just two weeks after his babies came home from the hospital.

Image: Supplied


“He started to work from home,” Silje said. “I was constantly handing him a baby through the door to hold on his video calls, just because I couldn't do it on my own.”

Silje was fortunate to have some support in the early days courtesy of a NICU nurse who offered to help on a casual basis, usually a couple of days a week. 

“It was life-changing,” Silje said. “The days that she could come meant that I could just walk outside by myself for an hour, and she helped me feed the babies. I get emotional talking about how much that helped me. It was just incredible… Honestly, if I could afford it, I would have paid her to come every single day because it was just so hard without her.”


At one point, feeling like she was “at the end of the road”, Silje even approached hospital support workers to plead for assistance.

“I was so exhausted and I couldn't look after my kids,” she said. “I literally broke down in tears, and I said, ‘Is there anything, anybody, you can send to my house to help me?’ And they're like, ‘Sorry, no. We've had a look. There's nothing. Unless you think you're going to imminently harm your children, we can't help you.’ 

“It just felt like the whole thing was rigged against us.”

Parents of multiples are more likely to experience depression, anxiety and PTSD than those of singletons, and they are nine times more likely to experience disabling exhaustion. But accessing ongoing help usually means yet another expense. 

Silje was able to obtain mental health care in the form of a psychologist. And though a limited number of sessions were subsidised by Medicare, it still came with significant out-of-pocket costs and childcare challenges. 

In Silje’s view, far too much burden - logistical and financial - is placed on already exhausted parents and caregivers of multiples to obtain help for themselves and their children.

“I was lucky that people sort of individually acknowledged that I needed more support, but it wasn't guaranteed,” she said.

“It should just be, ‘Okay, you've had triplets. We're going to come to your house every week and check in to make sure you're okay.”


And that’s another recommendation of the AMBA report: extend the federal In Home Care program to families with multiples, allowing the children to receive early childhood education in the family home.

It also calls on state and territory governments to provide home help services - including cleaning, cooking and laundry - to be accessed within the first 12 months after the birth of twins (if the family has another child aged under 5) and the first 24 months after the birth of higher-order multiples.

The cost of implementing all the AMBA’s recommendations would total an estimated $172.7 million.

Listen to The Delivery Room podcast. On this episode, Jessie Stephens is sitting down with her mother Anne to find out what happened when Anne found herself pregnant with twins... two times in a row. Post continues below.

“I think we’ve got to see this as a cost-saving exercise,” Silje said. “There’s all these avoided health costs. But also, parents of multiples are at alarmingly higher rates of removing themselves from the workforce entirely. What if they could come back to work sooner because they were able to be supported throughout that year?

“I know that would have changed my life.”

Mamamia has reached out to Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth for her response to the AMBA’s Multiples Matter report.

Feature image: Supplied/Ricardo Figueredo Ochoa

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