What kind of parent would even consider tattooing their twin babies to tell them apart? How about the kind that is interested in saving their lives?
A dad who posted on Reddit got some sharp criticism for wondering if a tattoo might help tell his preemie twins apart after a medical mix-up resulted in both boys becoming sick and landed one twin in the hospital. But is what he asked so unreasonable?
We don’t think so. We’re not saying, “Go out and tattoo your kids — it’s totally rad and CPS definitely won’t care,” but given the scary nature of what happened with the dad’s identical twins when their usual method of identification wore off, we’d be open to anything too.
The dad, who posted his question on Reddit’s parenting subreddit with a throwaway account, explains that the premature boys are identical except for some medical issues that require one of his sons to receive regular doses of medicine. Missing those doses can be catastrophic and almost was in this case. It is absolutely unfathomable how scary that must have been for the family:
“My wife and I have two very premature twin boys. There is no difference between them apart from Aaron having very serious health issues, requiring him to have medication every 4 hours. If he doesn’t have his medication it leads to significant consequences. The boys are 12 months old and are completely identical. Even me and my wife can’t tell them apart and have been drawing on Adams arm every day with permanant marker (Aaron has very sensitive skin and we don’t want to irritate it). This backfired when the twins were at grandmas and after a bath rubbed off the texta, grandma accidently gave Aaron’s medication to Adam. Adam ended up very sick and Aaron in hospital for a week. This is a serious extreme situation and I don’t want to take this risk again. We have had other mix ups with the boys but it has never wound up this bad.”
He goes on to say that they’ve tried all kinds of things to differentiate the boys, including bracelets, shorn hair, nail polish and different-colored clothing, but so far no option has been without error, which leads him to pose the following question:
“We are after a more permanent solution. I read online about someone tattooing a single dot on one of their twins and also about piercing ears. I really hate to say it but we are here. I need to do something permanent. I could have lost both my sons last weekend and I’m desperate. I am only after permanent solutions. Believe me when I say we have tried everything else before and it didn’t work. Please help me. I don’t want to lose my boy.”
This isn’t some ignorant bro who wants his sons to have matching #YOLOSWAG420 tattoos or a rad set of “Ride or Die” knuckle tats — it’s a dad who would like to keep his sons alive and therefore needs a permanent way to tell them apart, at least until the boys are older.
So what does a dad like this do? The Internet is full of cutesy little tricks and tips for keeping your multiples straight in your head, but his issue is not one of embarrassment over calling one of his twins by the wrong name. A mix-up for Aaron and Adam wouldn’t just be the stuff of feel-good sitcom high jinks but would have real, potentially devastating consequences.
That didn’t stop people from being critical, of course, or just ignoring the rest of the dad’s question outright once they saw the word “tattoo” and drew their own conclusions:
“Don’t do this. There’s a thread on here about those Playboy triplets who were tattooed (tiny dots on their butts) and most people are horrified about it.
Just keep using the texta and other methods as well.
Or if you must, pierce an ear. You can take it out when he’s older I guess, though I would make this an absolutely last resort.”
This is needlessly sanctimonious. He has tried other methods. The added passive-aggressive criticism of ear piercing was a nice touch, though. Others jumped in to suggest things he’s already tried, but ear piercing came up repeatedly as an option.
It is possible to pierce a baby’s ears in a sterile medical setting, and in fact, that’s what the American Association of Pediatrics recommends. The dad seemed open to the idea, but it does raise concerns of its own, including the risk of his son pulling on the earring or having it fall out.
There are a few other options as well, including henna (assuming it won’t irritate the skin and the baby can stay still long enough for the marking to set) or even a temporary tattoo especially designed for the purpose of conveying a medical alert. Of course, both of these options also fail to meet the dad’s main requirement, which is permanence.
That brings us back to the original question: Is it ever OK to tattoo a baby? It might surprise some people to learn that while it is illegal in all 50 states to tattoo a minor, there are two common concessions in the law in a number of states, including parental consent and — ding ding ding — medical necessity.
And there’s definitely precedent. In fact, there’s a very common medical tattoo known as a pinpoint tattoo that cancer patients sometimes receive before undergoing radiotherapy. Yes, even pediatric patients. These tattoos are small, relatively noninvasive and completely sterile. So it seems like this dad’s best bet is to talk to his doctor. A simple pinpoint tattoo in an inconspicuous spot isn’t out of the question, and it isn’t even unreasonable.
Plus, parents have apparently tattooed much more conspicuous things on their kids to keep them safe, according to a poster on the What to Expect forums:
“My husband’s aunt had her son tattooed at thirteen. it is on his forearm and says type 1 diabetic. i normally would say absolutely not to tattoos on children, but there was an instance where that tattoo saved his life. he was absolutely terrible about monitoring his blood sugar and giving himself insulin. he also refused to wear a bracelet or anything of the sort. he had a medical emergency away from his mother and this immediately alerted those around him of his condition.”
In comparison, a little dot hardly seems unconscionable, especially when weighed against a child’s life.
© 2021 PMC. All rights reserved.