Abandoned at Birth by a Twin
On July 24. 2014 an item about woman’s hour was about the difficulties and feelings of parents who lose a twin baby at birth. It explained why my story below was so helpful for the survivor twin.
I gave this story to a young man with severe mental problems who was living in a therapeutic community for young people. The manager of the community told me about him. My objective at the time was to find out if my stories were helpful to ‘counselling clients’. I asked him to tell me as little as possible about the client, just the main issue which was creating problems for the person. He told me that the client had been abandoned at birth by his twin, who had died, and that his mother had a section in the freezer for his food, and the rest of them ate nice stuff. At that point I asked him to stop immediately. I did not want any more details. That was literally all the information I had of him. I had had no background whatsoever in these matters.
I wrote the story which came to me through the usual rapid channel. I asked the manager to vet the story to see if it was appropriate for his client. He told me it was uncannily like the lad’s story, and entirely appropriate for him. Two months later on my seeing the manager again he told me the story had brought about a turning point in the boy’s life. He was now nearly ready to pass his driving test, was out in the world and looking forward to his future for the first time.
You may be forgiven for thinking that abandonment by your own twin would mean very little for a person. It is true that for some people who experience this event there is no particular sense of regret or longing. They feel complete in themselves and although they inevitably wonder what their other half would have been like, they go through life in much the same way as any other person who has perhaps lost a brother or sister at birth. There is a little sadness but not much.
For the mother too there is always sadness, always a sense of loss. Some mothers bear it more easily than others. For some there is always a small gap in their lives, a small ache in their hearts. For a few there is a deep longing for the absent person. They may blame the surviving twin in some subconscious way for the death of the other. They may feel that the survivor has been too greedy for life and has taken the life of the other for himself. He may be perceived to have taken too much sustenance from his mother’s blood, too much space, too much air, or too much time during the birth. The misguided mother may feel a sense of failure and wish to project the blame of failing to bring two babies into the world on to the one left behind. This usually happens when there are no other brothers or sisters in the family. The mother perhaps had only one chance to produce her children and she failed one of them.
My sister was one such woman. It was very sad. First she had a girl, successfully. There were no difficulties for her. The girl was much loved and treasured, and my sister and her husband hoped for a boy to follow her soon. It was seven long years before she became pregnant again. Such joy! She hoped and prayed for a boy. When she was told she was carrying twins she felt she had been doubly blessed. She would care for them so well. She planned how she would manage her twins. She sought out women who had had twins and discussed it at length with them. She prepared two little cots and two sets of clothes. Everything was ready for her two boys, for this is what she was convinced she had kicking bravely away in her belly.
The time came for her labour. In those days husbands did not attend their wives’ delivery. My sister was attended by her doctor and a midwife. Her husband and I waited downstairs. We heard the cries of one baby and then we waited. He paced the floor up and down. Water was fetched, the first baby was welcomed, and we waited. Finally, three hours later my sister delivered the second twin. He was smaller and blue, she told me, and he was dead.
It was such a strange time. Although they had their longed for son they could not be happy because they had lost a child. They were weighed down with their sense of bereavement. No one could convince them otherwise.
The child who survived was very hungry. He cried and sucked and cried and sucked. In my sister’s mind this showed her that he had taken the available food from his brother in the womb. She needed someone to blame, as her sense of failure was so great that she could not bear the burden of it alone. She had to share it so she shared it with the surviving twin. Gradually, in her eyes, he became the cause of her loss. Instead of rejoicing in the fact that he had been born and survived, and was strong and healthy, she saw him as a parasite. She knew in her heart that this was not so, but in some twisted turn of mind she relieved herself of her guilt by blaming the living twin. Her husband was drawn into this way of thinking too. For reasons of his own he colluded with her shame and guilt and was content to put the blame on to the survivor whom I shall call John.
And what of John? How did all this affect him? As a young baby he became aware of a distance between himself and his parents. They did not hold him and love him in the way that his needful baby heart desired. He cried a lot and only food seemed to comfort him. His sister soon grew impatient with his crying and looked on him as something of a nuisance. He had taken his mother’s time and attention off her more than she was prepared to accept. John grew up with a deep sense of aloneness. Something was missing from his life and as a baby it felt like a lack of love. When he was old enough to understand, he learnt about his twin, and began to long for him with a deep yearning which, of course could never be satisfied. His mother’s resentment of him became deeply ingrained and he himself felt in some way responsible for her disappointment. He felt apologetic about his own existence. He wished his brother had survived and not himself. He wanted to give up his own life, as it seemed so meaningless, lonely and empty without his ‘other half’ to share it with. The family took to giving him his own food; it was kept separate and was different from theirs. They felt he ate so much, and was such a good survivor anyway, that he could eat cheap junk food. They needed careful nourishment, as they considered they were more sensitive than he was. He would watch them eat delicious meals while he had to manage on beans on toast or sausages.
Somehow most of the other relatives had been drawn into this myth of the greedy, tough twin. They did nothing to change the situation. I did express my opinion about the unfairness of it all, but I was talked down.
Eventually, fortunately John met a lovely girl who was able to see through the mistaken thinking and who gave John back his sense of identity. He realised that each person is a separate individual, worthy of love and attention in their own right. Each person has their own path to tread and their own lessons to learn.
I am pleased to say that John now has a family of his own, and each member is loved and appreciated for what they are. I am now a Great Aunt to one set of twins, and strangely enough to a single survivor of twins. This one is a girl and she was treated with great love and affection from the day she was born. She does sometimes wonder about her dead sister, but does not need her to complete her life.