Raising a “Twinless Twin”

“Is he your first child?”

This question follows us around wherever we go: playing at the park, buying shrimp at the grocery store, hanging out at a mom’s group, or celebrating a friend’s birthday. This is the question I have to answer most frequently. Coincidentally, it’s also the one I find most challenging to respond to.

Most often, the truth feels too time consuming to put into words; it carries with it awkward responses and a lingering emotional toll. So I take the easy way out and simply say, “Yes.”

I know that in a few years, I won’t be the only one struggling to find an appropriate answer to this question. Alistair will have to find his own words for this story too.

“How many siblings do you have?”

This is the question my son will have to answer for homework as he draws out his family tree in school. Kids hanging upside down from monkey bars, and adults standing in line at the grocery store will all ask him if he’s “the oldest.” These are standard, every day, get-to-know-you questions. Unfortunately there just aren’t any standard answers in our family.

Understandably, being a twinless twin comes with its own array of challenges.

By definition, a twinless twin is an
individual who had a twin who has died.

A twin bond is strong. We’ve all heard about twins who can tell what the other is thinking or feeling, perhaps even experiencing each other’s pain from miles apart. Twins do everything together; right from the very start they are uniquely invested in each other’s lives.

But what about twins that were separated in the womb? Do they still feel that acute sense of loss as they grow older?

I remember sitting in the NICU, staring through the walls of a glass incubator, and wondering if my three-pound son knew that his brother was gone. Certainly he knew that something had changed.

As he grew older, I wondered if this was why he didn’t sleep well by himself. Why he has to squish his face against mine so tightly in the middle of the night. Perhaps he’s just lonely, missing the comforting sound of his brother’s heart beating alongside his.

It’s difficult to find an abundance of research on “twinless twins” and the resulting grief during infancy. But from the meager studies that do exist, they seem to say that when it comes to grief, it doesn’t matter at what stage of life the death occurs. Even in an early twin loss, the surviving twin can feel a prolonged sense of grief. Some say that the only comparable grief to losing your twin, is to that of losing your spouse.

But what exactly does grief look like in an infant or toddler?

It’s challenging to pinpoint grief in an infant. Other parents of twinless twins say that their child is more clingy, has a higher than normal degree of interest in pictures of themselves or mirrors, or has difficulty sleeping alone. Just like adults, children grieve uniquely.

I can not say with certainty how deeply Alistair has felt this loss. I do not know what future importance he will place on it (if any). By the time he is able to fully understand this loss, he may feel that he has already sufficiently grieved or he may require more time to process it.

Regardless of the way he eventually acknowledges this grief, we as parents want to be there to support him, to be open, and to talk about it.

While some twin parents chose to delay telling their survivor about the loss, we have talked about Landon from the very beginning. Alistair has and will continue to grow up with the understanding that he had a twin brother.

We do not hide this part of our family history. In the search for healing, we have allowed ourselves the opportunity to openly grieve as a family. At the same time, our family does not revolve around this death – our focus is and always will be primarily on loving and parenting the giggling munchkin in our arms.

Losing someone you love is difficult no matter your age. As parents, our job is to be there for our son throughout the ups and downs and to hopefully model for him a healthy way to work through his grief. In his pain, we will point him to the One who makes us whole.

Although our son may identify as a twinless twin, this is not his sole identity. Our identity is found in One much greater than the trials we’ve walked through or the grief we’ve experienced. Our identity is found in the God who mends broken hearts, and who has been a part of this journey with our sons from the very beginning.

Our son is a twinless twin. But he’s also so much more.

10 Comments

  1. Rachel says:

    I’m a twinless twin. My fraternal twin died during the first trimester of my mother’s pregnancy. People ask me how it could possibly affect me, but even though I had only eight weeks with my twin, I knew him.
    I know he would have been a boy, not a girl.
    I know he would have been (a few minutes) older than me.
    I know he would have been stubborn, and energetic, and funny,
    And that we would have gotten into all sorts of trouble.
    I loved him with all my heart. I still do.
    When people ask me how many siblings I have, I answer that I have two (we have a younger sister).
    I think of myself not as the oldest, but as the middle child of three.
    Nothing ticks me off more than when my mother calls me her firstborn.
    Sometimes, when I do those unintentionally humorous things in life (like spilling jellybeans or looking for my sunglasses while I’m wearing them) I swear I can hear him laughing.
    My twinship, like all twinships, isn’t all of who I am (far from it), but it’s an undeniable part of me. A part I’m very proud of. Because despite all the heartache that I’ve felt from my brother being gone, I wouldn’t change those eight weeks for anything.
    On the downside, my parents refuse to talk about their twin pregnancy, preferring instead to pretend like he didn’t exist. In the past, when I’ve voiced that I’ve missed him, they’ve told me that I’m selfish and insensitive to how that makes them feel, because they don’t want to face the fact that they’ve lost a child. While I understand where they’re coming from, it’s put a greater crux on our relationship then either of them know. So trust me when I say that, from a twinless twin’s perspective, you are giving both of your children an amazing gift by keeping Landon alive in Alistair’s heart. ❤

    You're amazing and I wish I could do more than just applaud you. If there is a God, I hope he blesses you tremendously. ❤

    Like

    • Thank you for sharing this! The way you’ve described your twin connection is just so beautiful – and such a great help for me, as a mother, to understand a bit more of what Alistair may feel as he grows older.

      I’m so sorry that your parents didn’t feel able to talk about the fact that this was your loss too. With your permission, I’d love to share your comment with a group of moms who are also raising twinless twins. I think it’s so important for us to learn from one another and for us, as parents, to understand our children’s grief better. This is such an honest, heart-wrenching but yet beautiful glimpse into what it’s been like.

      Thank you.

      Like

  2. Jill says:

    Where does one find a group for Mom’s raising twinless twins? We are raising a fine little girl who misses her twin daily. Would love to be connected.

    Like

    • Hi Jill, I know how difficult it can be to find support groups for twinless twins! My best suggestion for finding support groups is: Facebook. Even if you don’t use Facebook regularly (or at all), I’ve found that this is the best way to connect with mom groups.

      If you’re on facebook, try searching for “Parents of Twinless Twins” or “Twinless Twins Support Group Intl” (or if you’re not on Facebook, check out their website.) Besides the online connections, I think they also do meet-ups and conferences.

      There are also several other “more specific” Facebook groups for families of twinless twins. I joined one specifically for families who experienced loss due to TTTS (twin to twin transfusion). These groups are usually a bit smaller and good for connecting with moms in your local area, or just general discussion about life after twin loss. Just search “twinless twins” on Facebook.

      Hope you find something!

      Like

  3. Lu says:

    My twin died for trimester and my birth certificate says I am not a twin. My mom says I am not technically a twin because he died so early. She doesn’t know his gender but to me he is a boy. I feel love for him and pain everyday from losing him. I want to talk to my mom but she pushes me away when I try. I hurts most when I’m alone. I lay awake late at night talking to him. My friends don’t get how I could miss him because I don’t “know” him. But I do. I call him petah and to me he is caring and goofy he is the kind of brother who know when I feel sad and I feel his arms wrap around me. I want him back so bad. I look in the mirror and hate my self for being the one who got to live. I’m not suisidal just sad. It makes me happy to think of him smiling. No one in my life understand and it makes me feel even more alone than I am. I’ve never had a good relationship with anyone they always seem to come and go. But I want to be able to understand my situation better I read about a syndrome that twin survivors have. I know I have it and it helps to know a little about it. But I can’t talk to anyone

    Like

    • Hi Lu,

      The twin bond is so strong. I am so sorry for your loss and for the lack of support that you’re feeling. I have heard of many twinless twins who lost their siblings early on in the pregnancy and yet still feel very connected to them. The grief that you’re feeling is normal, and it is good that you’re trying to work through the pain rather than avoid it.

      I would suggest visiting the website: http://www.twinlesstwins.org. They have many, many resources available. (You may also be able to find a similar Facebook group online.) This would be a great place to connect with other twinless twins, or to find a specifically trained twin-loss counselor who could talk with you about it. Many twins have experienced survivors guilt, just like you. There are also many stories on their website (and email updates) about individuals who are going through this type of loss. I’m not sure where you live, but they also regional meet-ups and annual conferences. I think this would be a great way to find another twin to connect with on a deeper level.

      It’s difficult, but you are not alone in this. If you ever need someone to just listen, please feel free to send me an email or private message on Facebook (MommyMannegren.)

      Hugs,
      Liz

      Like

  4. monicagvelez says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. As a twinless twin mom myself, I’m comforted by your words and the thought that I’m not alone in this journey. Learning and listening to others has helped me tremendously – and I thank you for this. My heart goes out to you and all the other twinless twin moms out there.

    Like

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