Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On our stories

"So, what is it like being a twin?"

Amongst the top five questions asked of me throughout my life, it has to be one or two most consistent, if you weed out "What?" and "Huh?" The others are some variation of:
  • What country are you from/what nationality are you?
  • Do you, like, feel it when your sister gets hurt?
  • So, do you speak Spanish?
  • What can I get you?
The first one is very strange question. I mean, I can't quite compare it to anyone else's experience. I've only ever been an identical twin. My entire personality is formed by being a twin. (I read a study about how twin personalities are formed by their womb experience, i.e., the smaller twin tends to have the more anxious disposition. ) I have suffered both from massive identity crises and taken refuge in looking exactly like someone else. And by taking refuge, I of course mean that my sister has called boys in junior high school saying she was me and broken up with them. And vice versa. Most of my childhood I was referred to as a collective noun--the twins. And I have no patience for children who scream "MINE" all the time. I grew up without my own birthday, my own toys, my own clothes, my own classes in school (we spent most of our schooling in the same classroom) or my own personal space. My own name was even lost amidst squints, long drawn out pauses and awkward moments: my "very special relationship" with this teacher or adult made painfully clear when the person failed to take the time to identify me as the correct twin. My relationships are haunted by having always had someone who knows what I am feeling. I've only ever known my life with a person who shares my DNA. (Interestingly, my sister and I have children, DNA-wise, that are technically half-siblings.) My sister and I even see identical twin doctors in the same practice, which means one twin's diagnosis goes on the other twins record for testing.

Being a twin, at least when you are growing up, is like growing up with your insecurities out of your control and running away from you. Here is the person who looks exactly like you--someone whose name frequently gets interchanged with your own, even by your parents--going out in public with unhip clothes and a medicine bag around her neck filled with power crystals. (You did that in 8th grade, Kel. Okay, so did I, and I did it with a mullet, but you know what I mean.) And yet, that person is your best friend.  At times (especially junior high school) your worst enemy. I frequently consider the other FAQ "Can you, like, feel when your sister gets hurt?" Yes, I can. But probably not in the way that you think. Sure, my sister and I have some random weird twin stories about injury and premonition. But in terms of other hurts, on the day-to-day basis, those cut deeper and were felt more acutely by the other twin.

Here is my theory: I have been in the womb with this woman. The first time her feelings were hurt, I was there. The first time she was sad, happy, anxious, silly, mean, kind, or compassionate, I was sitting there staring at her face, registering her feelings. I have a three dimensional database of my sister's moods based on subtle, imperceptible changes in her voice and face that I have catalogued in the dark recesses of my brain. I couldn't consciously tell you what it is that she does when she is anxious, I just know it when I see it. Or even, say, hear her voice. Frequently, this is how telephone conversations begin with my sister and I.
"What's wrong?"
"Say it."
"Oh, alright, so the other day..."

So, why all the blasted twin talk? Because I just cannot say that being a twin is better or worse than being a singleton. I am not Tiresias. I have not experienced both sides of one coin. I resented it some days, and other days reveled in it. In much the same way, I can only know this experience--this experience of losing my second child. I have heard some people talk about how comparison is a normal and natural part of this process. I just disagree. Maybe it has become part of this community, because we read so many different experiences and situations. But it doesn't need to be. It is a futile game and one in which nobody wins.

I have not experienced infertility. I have not experienced parenting childless. Believe me, I appreciate that the getting knocked up part was easy for us. I appreciate that I have not had to go through these devastating situations. I imagine it is, as someone explained it to me at our retreat, like experiencing loss after loss after loss. Sharing my story at the retreat was a difficult exercise for me, mainly because I feel guilty for being so fortunate. And when the flow of sharing skipped me, I couldn't really jump in. I have a living child. I get pregnant easily. But I lost a child. Somehow being in this community and hearing horror stories over and over again, I feel fortunate for simply experiencing one of the the worst things life has to offer a parent: the death of one of my children.

In the past two days, I have read a hang of a lot of posts about this topic. I admit that I can not relate to some of the feelings of other babylost mothers: jealousies and resentments of pregnant women, for example. And yet, I feel they are so very important for me to read. While I cannot feel those emotions, I can understand them. I can try to empathize with them. I can try to use it to become more compassionate. It certainly has already made me recognize some awful old impulses in me and adjust my way of being. I no longer discuss my pregnancy with strangers, or wear the proverbial "Baby on Board" t-shirt. I never take for granted that someone's fertility is a choice. I also don't tell my story as though it is the only one in the world, or even the worst one. It is one of many about suffering and grief , life and joy, light and darkness.

Reading many different blogs written by many different people with many different experiences has made me see the world with a completely new set of eyes. All people have complicated stories, even the ones that seem straight forward, even the ones who have never lost a child, or suffered through infertility. My friend Max's first question upon meeting someone is: "So, what is your story?" And I remember some great responses to that question, but one that always sort of haunted me was of a meek 21-year old girl who simply said coquettishly, "I don't have a story yet." I sometimes read blogs and try to imagine them in their real life walking into an office with this heavy burden of loss and infertility carefully packed in a beautiful bag and chic suit: women that worked next to me, women that I once passed on the stairs, women that I sneered at, "She is so skinny and rich. Everything comes sooooo easy for her." I realize now that no matter how easy someone's life may seem from the outside, the inside is often a dark, lonely place of suffering.

This space, though, is my space to process things, and my dark, lonely place is lit by the candles of other compassionate women. When I visualize this space, that is what I see. A circle of women with candles remembering our babies, witnessing our suffering, sharing our stories. This circle is where my pregnancy fears come out, or my grief from losing my daughter's sister, or the goofiness of having a day where I could simply be present in my awkward crafting. Or remembering my little Lucy a year after she died and a year after she was born. I can only say that I hope people are in this circle out of choice and not obligation. I know I have lost readers with my pregnancy, and I am okay with that. I would hate to imagine someone reading my blog and muttering under their breath, "Ungrateful bitch." Because I may be a bitch, I am never ungrateful. Not ever.


  1. Wow Angie...this is a very interesting post for me to read for many reason. Losing identical twins is something that is so hard for me. I know I will never have that unique experience of raising two babies together and that is something I was so looking forward to. I know it would would come with lots of chaos and its share of not so good times, but I was so excited to be so fortunate to have that experience. Hearing you describe the multitude of emotions from being a twin is a lot of what I have imagined and some of I never even thought of!
    I feel badly at times because I do have living children. I guess not badly because I have them. but badly because others don't. I can't imagine living through this grief without my kids...they have given me a purpoe to get out of bed every morinig since losing my gilrs.
    Anyway...very interestng!! Hope you are feeling well. xx

  2. Angie, you are the best story teller I know. Keep on telling it as you see it. Love the pic of you and Kelly. xoxo

  3. It's posts like these that I read and wish I'd posted. Fact is though that I'm never gonna post anything that makes this much sense.
    Everything you said about having empathy is true of me too. This community is full of heartache, so many kinds, more than I ever knew.
    I feel the pain of so many, and I feel my pain too.

  4. Angie... all I can say is: WOW. What a post. Storytelling par excellence with a lot of heart. Love reading your stories. Preggo or not. Off to read the whole post all over again... xoxo

  5. Wonderfully thought-provoking post, Angie.

    I love the stories you tell in this space.

  6. Angie,
    You have a great voice. I'd love to have you contribute to the Share blog or write an article for our newsletter. I think many women can relate to your feelings and they need to hear from someone who is strong but tender at heart. If you are interested, our blog is and our website is Thank you for sharing your story.

    Megan Nichols
    Director of Outreach & PR
    National Share Office

  7. I was starting to worry about you with your recent silence. I'm happy to hear you are well, considering. :)

    It is hard to read a lot of stories, oftentimes because that person might have something we desire. And that something can vary for each of us. I can usually continue reading about a babylost mama's pregnancy because I know she cannot possibly take it for granted.

    When I first started blogging, I'd sometimes warn my readers I was about to talk about my living children. But my living children are so much a part of my life that doing so became a bit ridiculous. I hope that my writing reveals that I appreciate, love, and am grateful for all my children. I never want to appear flippant about any one of their lives.

    Last night at Compassionate Friends, a mom who is an identical twin talked a lot about her twin sister and how this mom's only son was able to experience a sibling relationship via his relationship with his cousins. I mentioned that I once knew identical twins who married identical twins. What do you call those cousins? Super cousins or something?

    Peace, my friend.

  8. Brilliant Angie. I am fascinated by the diversity of experience that I read in these blogs. x

  9. Thanks for filling us in on what it's like to be a twin. I have many twin cousins and have always been fascinated by it. I thought it would be the coolest thing to have a twin growing up!

    I can't imagine anyone ever thinking you are ungrateful. You are so loving and kind and that is always evident in your posts. I get that some people walk away when our paths diverge- I have had many readers "dump" me once I got pregnant and/or had Denis. Maybe they are tired of me whining about how sad I am over Hannah or maybe it's just too painful to read about Denis being born or maybe it's a little of both. I have stopped trying to figure it out though because I will never know. I feel badly that it's a much harder road for some of this community, but I am not going to feel bad about still being sad for the loss of my daughter and neither should you.
    Thinking of you in the coming days and sending you hugs. I found that the anticipation of the first anniversary to be much harder than the actual day. I will be curious to read how you find it to be.

  10. I have to say that I love being your twin, but probably it's because I am the goofy, dorky one. And considering your level of goofy (hello, gnome obsession), that probably means I was really really REALLY hard to be twins with growing up. As far as this journey in this first year of not having Lucy with us, I have felt that shared pain you wrote of every single day. And every single day I wished there was something I could do to take all of it myself....just for one day, just for one hour, to give you some relief from that. Sometimes I just say outrageously stupid shit, so coffee can come out your nose and we can laugh. But mostly, I hope you know, I am here with you always.

  11. Hey, that was a great post. My husband is an identical twin and has said the first couple of paragraphs to me several times over the years, including "I don't know what it is like not to be an identical twin". It took a while for a lot of that to sink in for me, as I've only ever been a singleton. You've really hit on the reality of it.

  12. Your sister's comment made me cry. You two certainly share something very special. I'm so sorry Bea wont ever share that with Lucy.
    Another great post. And I'd love to see a current photo of you both, see if I can spot the difference.
    Like everyone else has said, keep up the brilliant storytelling Angie. You are amazing.

  13. I wouldn't label it as jealousy or resentment, Angie. But this inability to conceive, this infertility, JFC sometimes I think I grieve it even more than the loss of my daughters, who were more dear to me than life.

    It isn't a "how dare you bear children when I cannot" it is more like a "how can I explain this deep, deep sorrow that permeates through my every pore" without pulling you down into it with me. Because for those among us that are pregnant, there is reason to rejoice. And I want to rejoice too! And I want to be the one who gets rejoiced on (ooh that sounds pervy) But sometimes that overwhelming sorrow is the first emotion that comes to the top and it takes a little while for the others to surface.

    This is the challenge.

    And as you said, for so many of us our blogs are that deep dark place, so, yeah, its where the really pathetic "why not me?" and "whens gonna be my time" and the "I am totally alone" feelings find voice. Here, because there is usually no place for them (or tolerance) elsewhere.

    And yes, what Tina said. What you described in your post is exactly what I had hoped to be a part of - the chaos, the love, the bond of two babies at once. This is why seeing a double-wide stroller will bring me to tears far faster than anything else.

    And I would never call you ungrateful. Or a bitch. Or a dork (although a gnome obsession, hmmm...)

    Angie, I love your writing, your voice and you. Big belly and all. You can't get rid of me if you tried.

  14. My first cousins are identical twin girls and are the closest thing I have to sisters, and they fascinate me.

    And really, Angie, ungrateful is a word that has never, ever entered my mind when I read your blog. Ever. I love your voice. xo

  15. like sally said...your sister's post made my tears well up too. it's beautiful that you two are so close. i always had a little envy toward my twin friends growing up, even when i couldn't stand my mom buying my sister and i the same clothes. and just today i was staring at the wall of babies at my ob's office and the twins were the ones i loved the most. i continue to tell arik how much i want twins...all that to say you are lucky to have such a special bond with your twin sis. and as always, i love reading your words angie.

  16. Ang, you're so..I dunno, funny isn't the word. But I smiled at your last line. Sigh. Sure wish I could've made the retreat. It thought about you guys all that weekend...a little jealously I might add.
    I too have noticed that I don't quite view strangers the way I used to. I find myself looking around sometimes, wondering how many of these women standing in the produce section at Meijer's has a dead makes me shudder.

  17. Thank you, thank you Angie. I have been feeling some of this so strongly recently and you have articulated it so wonderfully and graciously and compassionately. Sometimes I read a post and it's like breathing out when I didn't even know I was holding my breath. This is was one of those posts.

    P.S. Your twin sister sounds as awesome as you :)

  18. Like Tina, this is a very interesting post for me to read. Although J and G were not identical twins, I often wonder what it was that was lost when G died. Not only what was lost to me and to G but to J, the remaining only twin. A twin who will never be referred to as 'the twins.'

    'The first time she was sad, happy, anxious, silly, mean, kind, or compassionate, I was sitting there staring at her face' made me cry. I don't know if J ever even touched G's hand. But I like to think she did. I like to think that she knew her sister was there.

    And I would certainly never, ever consider you ungrateful. I have always been frightened of being tagged that myself, I worry that I am not sufficiently grateful for my surviving child. But I love her, I love her sister and I mourn for the bond that could have been between them. And I suppose part of me mourns for the experience that would have been 'the twins.' Both my experience and theirs. xo


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