Twins are a Phenomenon That Everyone Marvels At

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Liv and Maddie, Property Brothers, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Twitches, Mary-Kate and Ashley, Double Trouble, Twins, The Parent Trap. Have you watched of any of these media productions? The answer I’m assuming is probably yes! As a child, I remember religiously watching The Suite Life of Zack and Cody every day after school, especially if a new episode came out. Some of my little cousins are the same way right now with Liv and Maddie, and I know my sister used to watch The Parent Trap endlessly. The question is, why? Why were/are we so captured by these films and TV shows? They’re all so different from each other yet have one thing in common- twins.

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When I think of twins, a word that pops into my head is a doppelganger. For those who are unfamiliar with this word, it means “an apparition or double of a living person”. In simpler terms, it’s someone who looks exactly like you. As someone who doesn’t have a twin, there’s always one question in the back of my mind. Do I have a doppelganger? Is there a person out there who looks, talks, and acts just like me? I find myself wanting to know who my doppelganger is, but then I wonder how would I react if I found them. Would I be spontaneously intrigued or feel as if a part of my individuality is taken from me? As children, we’re always told that we’re one-of-a-kind; no one else in this world is like us. They encourage us to use this uniqueness to our benefit. However, this is an area that twins will never experience. They’re born with their doppelganger and aren’t given the opportunity to embrace/use that uniqueness. Their sense of individuality and uniqueness is hindered since birth.

Society has put emphasis on twins, and it is something that we, as humans, are naturally drawn to. It’s the thought that there are two humans who look, act, and talk the exact same way. It’s a mind-blowing concept that grabs our attention to the point where we want to know more.

Twins are a natural phenomenon. They happen 3 times in every 100 births, and in 2017, there were 128,310 twin births in the United States. These numbers are fairly large, so I found myself asking what exactly is the definition of ‘twins’? Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines twins as, “Either of two offspring produced in the same pregnancy”. Families all over the world experience what it’s like to have twins and some are even fortunate enough to be twins. They are a phenomenon that everyone marvels at, but people rarely think about the side effects that come with it. With twins, the struggle for identity and individuality along with the physiological effects—good and bad—have more of an impact on their life than most people realize.

The Basic Knowledge

Many people don’t know the basics behind twins, but thankfully, the Australian Multiple Births Association did a brief overview of what twins are. Every now and then, I hear people in our society question how common is it to have twins. They sometimes wonder, ‘Are there ways to increase your chances of having twins?’ The answer to this question is yes! When it comes to having twins, there are some factors that will increase the odds of having them. One factor is the age of the mother. The older the mother, the greater the chance is of having twins. The prime-age is women in their 30s and 40s. They have higher levels of estrogen compared to younger women meaning that their ovaries are more likely to produce more than one egg at a time. Genetics is also an influence in having twins. If the parents have a history of twins in their family, then their likelihood of having twins goes up. If a woman is a fraternal twin or is siblings with fraternal twins, she is also more likely to conceive fraternal twins! The last factor influencing the odds of having twins is by using assisted reproductive techniques. Many of these techniques rely on stimulating the ovaries with fertility drugs to produce eggs. When this is done, there are usually several eggs released. This gives the sperm a greater chance of fertilizing more than one egg, producing twins.

The process of carrying two children at the same time occurs because of a fluke during the stages of fertilizing an egg, creating a zygote. One fluke is when the zygote is split in two. In this case, one single egg is fertilized by one single sperm. This one fertilized egg then splits into two fertilized eggs that contain the same exact genetics. This process results in identical twins. Approximately one-quarter of identical twins are mirror images of each other. This means the right side of one child matches the left side of their twin. The second fluke occurs when two different eggs are fertilized by two different sperm at the same time; this results in fraternal twins. These children will only share half of the same genetics with each other. In a sense, fraternal twins are no more alike nor different than regular siblings; they were only simply conceived at the same time.

About one in every three sets of twins are identical meaning that every two in three sets of twins are fraternal. Fraternal twins are more common because they are linked to genetics. That genetic trait will be passed down the family bloodlines causing more and more sets of twins to be born. As I stated before, identical or monozygotic twins share the exact same genetic information; they’re formed from the same egg and sperm. They have a large amount in common with each other and are even born in the same amniotic sac! Fraternal twins are the opposite and are developed in two completely different amniotic sacs. If a doctor was unable to determine if the twins were monozygotic or dizygotic during the pregnancy, they would be able to determine it at the time of birth depending on the number of amniotic sacs.

Psychological Effects on Identity and Individuality

The majority of births that take place result in only having one child. That child has their own birthdate and has the chance to be independent from his or her other siblings. With twins, that’s not the case; they typically share everything. They are together through conception, childhood, teenage years, and sometimes even in adulthood. They spend the majority of their time together and generally experience all significant moments of their life together. In Sophie Cassell’s research article over twins, she states, “Many theorists have argued that developing an identity, independence, and individuality are essential to having a healthy ego in adulthood.” With that being said, twins can struggle in maintaining that healthy ego because it’s harder for them to gain that complete independence.

The relationship of being a twin causes difficulties in the developmental stages of discovering one’s identity. These developmental stages were identified by the American-German psychologist, Erik Erikson. He created eight stages of psychological development, starting from birth to until death. The fifth stage, Adolescence, includes those who are between the ages of 12-18 and is the main stage where twins struggle. This stage involves individuals who are struggling between finding their identity and going through identity diffusion. Identity diffusion is a time period where one is trying to figure out who they are. “In this adolescence phase, individuals are supposed to detach themselves from their parents and home and begin to identify themselves by their own values and ideals”. Once this is done, they usually begin to acquire security in their identity. However, when it comes to twins, this is difficult for them to achieve. They often think of themselves as a unit or a pair making it hard for them to create their own identity. Twins usually end up sharing an identity.

When it comes to separation from their parents and their home, twins have an altered outlook on this making it a harder time for them. “Research on twins has shown that co-twins experience an extremely close bond with one another to compensate for difficulties parents may face in raising twins”. To make up for any struggles that parents may face while raising twins, they’ll usually push a parent role onto one of the twins. In return, this causes the set of twins to turn into each other’s key caregivers. A single child would experience separation troubles from a parent during this phase, but with twins, they experience separation trouble from each other. “The literature shows that separation from one’s twin is extremely challenging for twins and often comes with a great deal of conflict and hesitation”. It becomes problematic and makes it even harder for them to distinguish their identity during this critical phase.

In addition to the difficulties twins endure during the developmental stages, they also encounter twin ego fusion. This is mainly caused by socialization. Parents like to name their children with rhyming words or words that start with the same letter- Sara and Cara, Aiden and Caiden, Madison and Mason, Taylor and Tyler, etc. This automatically distinguishes them as a pair, not two different individuals. Experts in twin research say naming your twin child like this is a social reinforcer of ego and identity fusion. Parents also tend to dress their twin children alike. It’s viewed as a social norm to dress them exactly alike since they are twins! However, this also hinders their individuality. Even if a parent would only dress them alike for the first five years of their life, it sets the building blocks for the twins to be labeled as a pair. It’s the socialization normalities in our society that reinforce twin ego fusion.

It’s in our human nature to want to fulfill roles whether that be at school, in the house, at work, gender, etc. We want to feel needed, a part of something, or that we are necessary to that operation. It’s our duty to succeed in these roles to keep everyone happy. With twins, they sense that their role is to maintain the twinship. They feel the pressure of always being a pair and remaining a pair; society expects them to do so. Thus, they end up lacking that individual identity and instead partake in a unit identity that they share. This is another psychological effect of being a twin.

As twins grow older and separate from each other in their own lives, they subconsciously try to find a friend, significant other, a mentor, their children, or someone they find important to latch onto. Experts call this the ‘projection of the twinship onto other relationships’ or ‘twin yearning’. Sophie Cassell from the American University says, ‘This twin yearning behavior is an understandable reflection of the unit upbringing of twins and the socialization that occurs.” They’re trying to recreate that connection they had with their twin. They’ve had that special, close bond their whole life. It’s in their human nature to fill that position after they, and their twin, have separated into their own lives. Case studies show that most people who experience twin yearning fill that void with a significant other; it’s the most common relationship that has enough intensity to mimic that relationship they had with their twin. In a sense, it completes them and makes them whole again.

Tanner and Derek

My family was one of the 3 in 100 births to have twins as I have a set of identical twin cousins- Tanner and Derek. Their parents, Tom and Darla, became pregnant in May of 2004. They wanted one little girl and ended up with two twin boys, ironically. She delivered them via C-section; Tanner was delivered first making him one minute older than Derek. Neither Tom nor Darla had any history of twins in their families, so this was an exciting surprise for all of us!

I’ve had the privilege of watching them grow into young men since they were 3 years old. Fast forward 11 years to the present day where Tanner and Derek are now 14 years old. Throughout the years, it’s been interesting to see how being a twin has impacted them. I see how they interact with each other, their friends, and their two older brothers. I have my own outsider view on their life, but I wanted to see how they viewed it. I decided to sit down and talk with both of them to grasp their idea of what it’s like being a twin.

My first question to them was about their identities and the struggles they’ve had with individuality. I wanted to know if they felt as one unit or two separate individuals. They both agreed that they felt like two different individuals who each had their own identities. Although, they continued on and stated that sometimes it’s frustrating because people still refer to them as ‘the twins’. Tanner aggressively stated that he disliked being known as a pair. He enjoys being his own person; Derek agreed by shaking his head up and down vigorously. As far as their individuality, they both agreed that they feel in the middle on this. In some aspects, they get to have their own things such as clothes, food, homework, friends, etc. while in others they feel as if they’re always sharing. Since they’re 14 years old, they can drive but have to share a car. For them, deciding who gets to drive is a big obstacle and causes many arguments. Derek chirped in and said, “It was easier when we were little because sharing, wearing the same clothes, and doing everything together wasn’t a big deal. It was expected of us to do all that. But as we get older, we both want our own things and it isn’t cute to dress the same anymore.”

My next question was about their dependency on each other. Tanner and Derek both agreed that they’re dependent on each other. Their mother, Darla, passed away from cancer in 2013, so they definitely feel the pressure to be each other’s caregivers. They have two older brothers, but both are in college and work so it’s hard for them to find time to come home. Tanner said, ‘Derek and I are a lot closer and our relationship is stronger compared to our relationship with our brothers. It’s hard for them to come home and our dad is busy on the farm, so we have to be dependent on each other for a lot of things.” As an outsider’s view, I would agree with this statement. My parents always pitch in and help out, but the boys are definitely dependent on each other!

For my following question, I wanted both of them to give their overall opinion of what it’s like to be a twin. Tanner said, “It’s annoying that you have to share everything, but it’s nice to always have someone there.” Derek went on and said, “I love Tanner and life can be really fun as a twin, but sharing and being called a pair is irritating!” They also mentioned that there always seems to be competition between the twin of them. “We always argue over who will get the cooler shirt in a store, who is taller, who did better at the wrestling match, who got the better grade on the test, etc. It’s frustrating after a while.” I nodded my head as I could relate to what they were saying- sharing can become old over time.

My last comment to them was to ask what they thought their future would look like. They sat and pondered for a while and then giggled at each other. Tanner spoke up and said, “Well, I suppose I’ll hang out with him a lot and do things we’re probably not supposed to do!” I shook my head, smiled, and went on to ask a more life-long question. “Since all of us older kids are in college at SDSU now and you see what our lives are like, will you two want to attend the same college and be around each other?” At the same time, they said, ‘Oh for sure! Definitely SDSU!” We all let out a laugh and gave each other high fives. Derek continued on, “I wouldn’t want to go to college without my twin brother,” and Tanner nodded as if he agreed. As I ended the interview, they both concluded that despite their hate for sharing everything, they wouldn’t give up being a twin for anything. They love having each other there all the time and the close bond that they share.

Real Life and Research Together

After I was done with the interview, I took the time to reflect on the research I had done and what Tanner and Derek told me. A quote from Sophie Cassell stood out to me, “While this close bond is complicated and often riddled with issues of identity confusion, the twin relationship remains close and vital throughout their lives.” It rings so true to everything that my cousins had said to me. All twins encounter difficulties between finding their identity and individuality. They are separate individuals and like to be called by their own names. Although, they still realize their dependency on one another. Twins know each other better than anyone else could know them. They take advantage of that, and it helped them to create a bond that is hard to mimic. They will eventually separate as they grow into adulthood, but they’ll naturally try to recreate that bond with someone else to fill that spot that has been so impactful on their life. Twins are a phenomenon that everyone marvels at, but people rarely think about the side effects that come with it. With twins, the struggle for identity and individuality along with the physiological effects—good and bad—have more of an impact on their life than most people realize.

Works Cited

  1. American Pregnancy Association. “Are My Twins Identical or Fraternal?” American Pregnancy Association, 3 Sept. 2016, americanpregnancy.org/multiples/are-my-twins-identical-or-fraternal/.
  2. Australian Multiple Birth Association. “Twins – Identical and Fraternal.” Better Health Channel, Department of Health & Human Services, 31 Aug. 2014, www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/twins-identical-and-fraternal.
  3. Cassell, Sophie. “AU Digital Research Archive.” AU Digital Research Archive, American University, 2011, Spring, auislandora.wrlc.org/.
  4. CDC/National Center for Health Statistics. “FastStats – Multiple Births.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 Jan. 2014, www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/multiple.htm.
  5. “Doppelgänger | Definition of Doppelgänger in English by Oxford Dictionaries.” Oxford Dictionaries | English, Oxford Dictionaries, en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/doppelganger.
  6. “Erikson’s Stages of Development.” Learning Theories, 30 Sept. 2016, www.learning-theories.com/eriksons-stages-of-development.html.
  7. “Twin.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/twin.
29 April 2022

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