The question that has dogged my life was asked again a few days ago. I guess people are curious, they want to understand, they find it intriguing, a novelty. To me it is just how it was or is, I have never known different. Even at this stage of my life others still ask and want to know, what it was like to grow up as a twin. I usually reply by turning the question on its head, what was it like to grow up as a singleton?
I came into this world as one of two, the difficult one, the needy one, the one who fractured a new family by having to spend her first six weeks in an incubator. I was born in a state of the art hospital in New York under the supervision of an extremely good obstetrician, had I been my born in my native Ireland there is little doubt that I would not have made it. For although I was a fighter, I was very small and fragile, my skin still translucent, my nails as yet unformed, I fit in the palm of my father’s hand on my release from hospital. In Ireland, at that time they would not have had the facilities to save me.
For six longs weeks my mother trekked across the city with a newborn in her arms to visit her other child, whom she was not allowed pick up, cuddle, feed or change. Any intervention by parents was, in those days, strictly prohibited. I was a sickly, colicky and fractious baby and frequently drove my mother to distraction. My twin sister on the other was the perfect child, slept and fed, gurgled happily, an altogether placid soul.
Having had three children of my own, I know how hard those early days are, especially in a strange country with no support from family and few friends to call on, so I do not blame my mother in any way for finding it difficult she had not one but two newborns to look after one being particularly difficult.
There were days when my screaming drove her demented and she would wheel in me in my pram into a darkened room and leave me there. Her excuse being that nothing comforted me, she tells me I didn’t like being held so all she could do was leave me to scream.
So, I grew up the lesser part of a package of two, when we met new people we were always introduced as the twins, to this day some of mother’s elderly relatives still do not know my name, they know me as one of the twins and so embedded has this idea become that even when I tell them my name they shake their heads and mumble twins. We were dressed the same until we became old enough to choose our own clothing, even still people would buy us the same top or jumper. On birthdays and Christmas we were frequently given presents or money to share, often of the same value our siblings received for themselves alone. It was hard to establish my own identity, to work out who I was when always I was regarded as a half, part of another person, never a whole being in my own right.
Nothing I ever did compared to my sister, I could never reach her high standards of diligence, compassion, responsibility, so I gave up trying and immersed myself in an imaginary world of books and stories of my own making.
I was a nervous and fearful child, afraid of my mother’s wrath, eager to please but regularly failing to do so, I dropped things, broke things and made a mess of everything I tried. Nothing I did was good enough for my mother and I was frequently told that I was “a lazy good for nothing” and asked why I couldn’t be like my sister.
Throughout my childhood I felt that my mother wished in some ways that I had never been born, I reminded her that she too could be vulnerable, unable to cope. In later years she admitted that she had never bonded with me as a baby, and as a child I felt she did not like me, I have no memories of ever being comforted or consoled by her, of being hugged or cuddled but remember well dodging her striking hands.
On the other hand, I had ally, a ready-made friend, someone to share with, to talk to late into the night, to tell my stories to, who sometimes understood my frustration and anger. It was not easy on her being the perfect twin, whereas little was expected of me she was burdened with expectations and responsibilities beyond her years. To this day we are still close, and when together often know what the other is thinking before it has been said. Sometimes we even start to speak at the same time uttering the same words.
So I guess my answer to the question of what is like to a twin would be that being a twin is in many ways wonderful but in so many others very difficult.