Jigsaws can be frustrating and confusing but as more and more pieces slot into place you feel a mounting sense of excitement. Adapting a Forrest Gump quote, he might have said “Life is like a jigsaw, except you don’t have a picture on the box to know how it’s going to turn out.”
My life has been very much like that jigsaw which has become difficult to complete because a key piece was removed at the time of my birth. I had a twin brother or sister who was undiagnosed before delivery and in the distant days of post-war obstetrics, my birth was very problematic, with the result that both my mother and I almost died. After I was delivered the midwife realised there was a second baby and that is all I know, other than he or she did not make it.
Interestingly I only learned of this situation when I was in my early 40s and my wife commented during a programme on twins on the TV, “Well, as a twin you would understand that feeling.” I was extremely puzzled and asked her what she meant. My late mother had told her of the circumstances of my birth but had never told me! I queried this with my brother and sister who both commented that they were surprised that I had never spoken of it. Strangely, I had always felt a huge sense of something missing and when I qualified a counsellor, I specialised in counselling twins, followed anything about twins on TV or literature and always knew it was really important to get the names of twins correct.
Some years later I discovered a UK organisation, The Lone Twin Network (LTN) which exists to support surviving twins who have lost their sibling. I always felt that as my twin had died at birth, I would probably be less affected than other people but I have never been able to shake off the sense of loss that I felt. Because my father died when I was seven years old, I always put my sense of loss down to his death and my attempts form close friendships to combat loss and loneliness was due to his death. During my childhood and adolescence I was not at all close to my younger brother and sister or to my mother so we drifted apart when I was 19 and I hardly saw them for some years.
After over 60 years I decided to address the issue finally. I had been a member of the LTN for several years and even set up a website for them but had never attended a meeting. On Saturday I went to a LTN regional meeting and met with some 25 or so other surviving twins in central Manchester. Although about half those present had attended previous meetings, there was a slight tension in the room but gradually as members started to share their stories, led by the organiser of the event and the chair of the LTN — both are named Jill coincidentally — everyone relaxed. Although the stories were deeply moving the meeting never became mawkish or depressing. I was shaken by the number of stories from the surviving twins who, like me, had lost their twin at birth. Most significantly I began to recognise traits in myself that the others spoke of. For instance, several had experienced real relationship problems with siblings which sadly had continued throughout their lives. Fortunately I’m now quite close to my brother and sister.
The biggest light bulb for me was a realisation that the real closeness I have never been able to find in friendships is probably unattainable. The simple reason is I was trying to replicate the intimacy of a relationship with my twin. Many of you may feel that because I never knew my twin after birth and indeed had never even been told about my twin until the second half of my life, my expectations are unrealistic. I can only say that nine months in the womb is a long time in a very small place. All of the other birth-lost twins expressed a similar view.
The recurring theme that was expressed time and time again in the group was how helpful it was to be an environment where everyone understood the unique loss that is only experienced by a twin losing their sibling. Several spoke of other family bereavements but none came close to the total devastation felt at the death of a twin.
BBC TV carried a programme recently in a couple of English regions about the LTN which resulted in 400 immediate hits on our website and a large increase in membership enquiries. With one birth in 50 being twins, it is no wonder that the work of the Lone Twin Network is so needed.