The day I woke up - Althea Hayton
On one amazing day a few years ago, I became aware of something about myself that had never occurred to me before. Until that day, I had been trying very hard in life but getting nowhere. Somewhere in the back of my mind, there was Something I had to do. This feeling haunted me always. All my life I had been trying to find out what it was. It felt like I was on a treadmill and I couldn’t get off. I knew I had gifts and talents but however hard I tried they never came to much. I had a great sense of “mission” but I did not know what it was. Day followed day, year followed year. I was getting nowhere fast, still yearning for that elusive Something, which seemed to be the source of all happiness and yet was always just out of my reach.
On that wonderful day, standing in my own kitchen, I experienced a life-changing moment. I suddenly just KNEW that in the womb I once had a twin. This idea resonated into every corner of my being. Intuitively, I felt this was real, even though there was absolutely no proof. Everything was clear at last.
That single, incredible discovery has changed my life completely. A process of healing was triggered almost at once, for at last I knew what that Something was that I had been searching for all my life: it was my lost twin brother. I had only known him in the womb, so I called him my “wombtwin”. In that moment, a new idea was born. If I was a wombtwin survivor, then there may be many others like me in the world. I could try and find them.
It gradually became clear that every day I had been reliving my lost memories of the womb - which I called “My Dream of the Womb.” In this dream was a sense of loss and emotional pain that was very familiar but until then had never been explained. I left my counselling job and decided to take a sabbatical to explore this important but neglected mental health issue, which had never been mentioned in all my years of training.
Clearly, talking therapy was not going to help me with an issue previous to birth, so for two years I worked alone with my thoughts and feelings. By then I had gone as far as I could by myself, so I joined a drama therapy group, still doubting the veracity of my inner experience of being un-twinned before I was born. After many weeks of self exploration in the group, my twin seemed more real to me. Then, with the support of this wonderful group, I held a funeral ritual for him. In that moment, I let him go and set myself free.
After that, the way forward was clear. I am a qualified counsellor with many years of professional practice behind me; I am a writer and have researched and published books before. Therefore, I could make good use of all these gifts to help other wombtwin survivors like me. Unfortunately, I found the people around me strangely reluctant to talk to me about my lost wombtwin. I became increasingly isolated as my research extended across the world and deep into embryology, fetal development and the creation of embryonic neural networks.
Over the next three years I began to discover more of the biological events that were the real foundation of the vague feelings and sensations that seemed to be “hard-wired” into my brain. I tried to discover what medical evidence there may be that a twin had once existed in the womb when only one baby is born. I found dermoid cysts, teratomas and genetic chimeras. I found unusual placentas, complicated pregnancies and premature birth. I found fraternal twins, identical twins and mirror twins. I was told about additional fingers, ribs and bits of bowel - the residue of a lost twin.
Then there was the fetus in fetu and the fetus papyraceous. As discovery followed discovery, these little pieces of medical evidence began to cohere, until the possibility of a twin lost in the womb seemed quite reasonable. Here was a common, medical phenomenon that was unrecognised as important and obviously had enormous implications, but no one wanted to discuss it. These tiny twins lost before birth had been ignored completely for generations, as had the emotional needs of the survivors : I decided to try and change all that.
Then I came across the work of Charles Boklage (see Chapter 9) and I discovered that there are many millions of wombtwin survivors in the world, far more than I first suspected. I soon discovered a distinct group of wombtwin survivors: they had little or no medical evidence of their twin but they had very strong feelings about being a sole survivor. Clearly, I was not the only one to have an intuitive knowledge of my twin but no medical evidence. I knew how I felt, so I decided to ask other wombtwin survivors about their feelings, beliefs and attitudes and see if a readily identifiable set of personality characteristics might emerge in time.
WombTwin.com: a research project
I set out to find some other womb twin survivors and compare notes with them. The internet seemed to be the ideal way to reach people from all over the world for a minimal expense, so I built a website, wombtwin.com. On this website I set out a little of what I had unearthed:- first, the “vanishing twin” phenomenon and how it happens; second, twinless twins and their grief and loneliness and third, a group of people who, like me, had no evidence but had for many years felt “different” and been looking for some validation and explanation of their strange and irrational feelings.
I was sure that they were wombtwin survivors, but how could I prove it? Fortunately, a few years previously I had been part of a training programme for on-line counsellors, so I knew a little of what is involved when working by email. Gradually, I developed a way to help wombtwin survivors to progress as I had. Together, we moved on beyond the crazy feelings, into the grief in the moment of realisation and onward to healing, which brought renewed strength and creativity.
Over the last five years, more than two hundred people have contacted me voluntarily by email and helped me to develop a diagnostic form, which now lists some of the feelings and beliefs that seem to characterise the womb twin survivor.
I quickly discovered, through the wide range of questionnaire responses and the stories they told me, that wombtwin survivors are not all like me, as I had first imagined. There was a rather confusing mass of differing attitudes represented. But then, I reasoned, the womb story is a complex one and almost infinitely variable. If we do all carry an imprint of life in the womb (see Chapter 13) then that imprint will of course vary considerably. As I continue to unravel the coded messages that this diversity represents, two things are becoming clearer: firstly there are many people who think they must be crazy but are not crazy at all - they are wombtwin survivors. Secondly, as we debate whether it is nature of nurture that makes us who were are, we ought not to dismiss entirely the formative experiences in the womb.
A fear of abandonment, a painful sense of isolation and underlying depression are very common among wombtwin survivors, but that is quite reasonable when you consider that the surviving twin truly was abandoned, bereaved and left alone. Also common is low self esteem, addiction and suicidal thoughts:- these too are predictable when we consider that the survivor has already known death in the womb and may long to join their twin in death. It has been my experience that when wombtwin survivors find that they are not crazy and they are not in fact alone, they begin to heal at once, as I did. For instance, as I write this, an email has just arrived from Canada with these words: I sincerely thank you for your website and cannot express what a profound effect the knowledge that there are others like me, has had on me.
The same level of grief
My website is also visited by twins who lost their twin at birth, or shortly afterwards. When twin survivors tell me their stories of grief and loss, it is amazing to see it demonstrated that, no matter how far back into pregnancy we go, we find the same level of grief and loss in the survivor. I have no idea how this can be possible, but from the questionnaire responses it is now clear to be seen. When I tell wombtwin survivors that I believe them, they feel validated at last in being un-twinned. All kinds of things come clear for them almost at once. They begin to awaken from their Dream of the Womb, just as I did on that wonderful day in my own kitchen, when I discovered the truth of my own womb twin.
Finding a language
This anthology is intended to explore whether the death of a co-twin before birth does in fact have a demonstrable psychological impact on the survivor, or whether these feelings perhaps have some other origin. The contributors have been encouraged to tell the truth as they see it, so the perspectives do vary considerably, which is perhaps to be expected. However, these articles do seem to agree that losing a twin does matter in some way to the survivor regardless of when the loss occurred. That simple agreement, in my view, is significant.
Collectively, these articles tell a story of a largely unacknowledged secret tragedy, which underlies the feelings and attitudes of many millions of people throughout the world. This anthology is my attempt to find a way to articulate the ineffable and lasting impression of Someone Else There, who strangely is also Someone Else Dead, or Gone Away.
In recent months it does seem that these little vanished twins and their grieving survivors have at last attracted the attention of the German public at least, in that two books on that subject were published in German in 2006, within weeks of each other.(1),( 2) It takes courage for a publisher to invest in an incredible idea such as this, and it is my hope that many more publishers will follow this lead.
Thanks to all the contributors to this book, we are discovering new ways to describe the indescribable. This volume will be the first of many I hope, which will in time lay bare some of the physical and psychological difficulties associated with being a surviving twin.
1. Steinemann E. (March 2006) Der verlorene Zwilling. Wie ein vorgeburtlicher Verlust unser Leben prägen kann. (The vanished twin. How a prenatal loss can shape your life) Kösel, Germany.
2. Austermann, A.R. ; Austermann, B. (May 2006) Das Drama im Mutterleib. Der Verlorene Zwilling, (The drama in the womb. The vanished twin.) Königsweg, Germany.