Only you know the truth about your own history, because it is kept within the cellular memory in your body. -Peter Bourquin
February will mark five years since my youngest daughter’s birth. It will also mark five years since I learned that my daughter was very likely sharing my womb with a twin for a brief time. We don’t hear much about the vanishing twin phenomenon, but it’s actually fairly common. It is likely that one out of every ten people is actually a womb twin survivor. And 21-30% of pregnancies that begin with multiple fetuses result in a vanished twin. I didn’t know about my daughter’s twin until a few days after her birth, and until a few days ago my daughter was not consciously aware of him.
It started with a homeschool discussion about how babies are born. We watched some cool YouTube computer animation videos of the conception, pregnancy, and birth process. We looked at some books. I answered the many questions my kids had. One of the diagrams we looked at showed a picture of a placenta. My son wanted to know more about it. This led to pulling out pictures I had taken of his and his younger sister’s placentas. And then pulling the frozen placentas out of the freezer (where they still await a meaningful commemorative tree-planting or something). Then things got a little intense.
I’m not sure when or how I planned to tell my youngest daughter about her twin, but my 10-year-old beat me to it that birth-education-filled afternoon. Her method was less than gentle: “You had a twin, and then he died.” I spent an hour or so trying to ease the blow, explaining that he didn’t die but the body that was forming stopped growing, so he wasn’t able to come.
For the rest of that day and the following day or two, my 4-year-old worked to integrate this information. Her immediate response was a profound sadness. She came up to me over and over, leaning into me for comfort, speaking in a way that I knew was pure and honest, “Mom, I’m sad about my twin.” It was as if a well of suppressed grief had been hidden away, and now suddenly it had cracked open. “Why couldn’t he make it, Mom? I want him to be my twin.”
When my daughter was two years old and just beginning to speak in sentences, we had a powerful conversation. I knew at the time that my daughter had come to us with emotional baggage. She spent much of her toddlerhood in a state of distress. I’ve written before about her prebirth wounds. But this 2-year-old conversation was the first time she openly spoke about her distress. On that particular morning I had been praying and meditating with the intent to help her. Then the following happened:
“I was in your belly,” she said.
“Yes, you were!” I said with a smile. “Did you like it in my belly?”
“No,” she answered. And then the moment passed.
Maybe ten minutes later, we were in her bedroom changing her clothes or doing some other morning task, and she said, “I was sad.”
“When were you sad?” I asked.
“In your belly,” she said.
Though I was not excited to learn that my daughter’s womb experience had been painful for her, I was happy that something had given her the voice to speak her pain out loud. Peter Bourquin has written a helpful article titled “Healing steps for a solitary twin.” He explains that, for surviving womb twins, there is “a little, yet unborn child inside you, who suffered the death of your twin, still in a state of shock, loneliness and overwhelming sadness.”
Once again this past week, my daughter had an opportunity to acknowledge her pain and give it voice. I have already devoted much prayer and meditation to helping her heal over the past several years, but I have also known that there was more relating to her twin that needed healing. Peter Bourquin writes about the importance of developing a relationship with the vanished twin:
This is the realisation that there is someone very close and dear, whom you have yearned for a long time, and that it is possible to relate with your lost twin, sensing that tiny presence. Giving your twin a name is important. . . . In this your two deepest and oldest memories show up: the intimate union and the devastating loss (Source).
I feel fortunate that we already know so much about my daughter’s twin. He is a child I have come to know quite well over the past four+ years. We know his name, and we know he is a part of our family. We also hope that he will still be joining our family in some way at some time in the future. But even if his brief time in my womb was all the mortal life he needed, he is still a part of our family, and we love him.
I originally bought the above-pictured memorial necklace for myself, but now I’m wondering if I really bought it for my daughter. I’ll definitely be pondering and praying about how to continue to help her through this process.