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Twinless twins

Althea Hayton

"My fear of love and intimacy has affected any deep relationships I have. The consequences being I have never married or had my own children. This feels as if a part of me has never had the chance to blossom and bear fruit." [The Lone Twin, Joan Woodward]

Being alone and yet being half of a twin pair is essentially contradictory, particularly if one is the remaining half of an identical twin pair. It is known that identical (MZ) twins feel a greater sense of affiliation to their co-twin than fraternal (DZ) twins. [1]

On this web site, when I talk about "twinless twins" I am discussing those twin survivors whose twin died at birth or afterwards. I know that the term has been used elsewhere for twins whose co-twins died in the womb [2] but I want to distinguish the two groups, ( i.e.. pre-birth or post-birth) One of the most profound discoveries I have made as a result of my research is that the age at death does not have much effect on the emotional distress of the survivor, so my research and the therapeutic work described on this site does not make any distinction between the two groups, apart of course from the explanations given in this section. Nonetheless I will continue to use both terms in the way described here, for the term "twinless twin" is now in common use and it is important to be clear.

A thesis published in 2003 [3] was based upon in-depth interviews with 51 surviving adult twins whose co-twin was lost before or at birth and who had medical proof that their twin had once existed. These were referred to as "twinless twins." The term "wombtwin survivor" was not used, but then it was created later that same year. The study revealed that this group of "twinless twins" did experience emotional distress, particularly if the real basis of their sense of loss and grief was not understood and validated.

My research appears to validate a finding [4] by Joan Woodward, founder of the Lone Twin network [5]. She found that the loss experienced by the survivor when their twin died near birth or during pregnancy was experienced with no less intensity than by twins whose co-twin died much later in life. This finding appeared to go against common sense and therefore remained un-examined in her book "The Lone Twin." [6] Recent research is beginning to validate it.

Blocked grief

When one twin is stillborn or lost in the first few months of life, it seems that many parents are unsure if they should tell the surviving twin about their co-twin. Where the lost twin has never been fully acknowledged to the survivor as a separate person, there is invariably a lifelong feeling of blocked grief that seems to have no natural or logical outlet. However, when the real nature of the loss is fully acknowledged, the grieving process can begin. At that stage the release of long-suppressed feelings can precipitate a period of reactive depression.

As teenagers, twinless twins may hide away weeping for hours, not really knowing why. As adults, they may plunge into "black dog" depression that comes and goes with no apparent cause. They are sometimes overachievers who always want to make changes in life and never settle on anything.

In my view the most important aspect of this inability to settle is a constant search, but the person the survivor is looking for cannot ever be found: it is the lost twin. Along with this restlessness there is a terrible sense of loneliness and isolation. It is a strong sign of a twinless twin's motivation to heal if he or she does dare to reach out at last for help. The overall result is a life of persistent self sabotage, driven by survivor guilt, and this is a negative cycle that is not easily broken. However the reassurance that they are not crazy is a good start!


Having courageously decided to face the reality of their loss, the twinless twin may feel ready to take a hold on life after all. Having grieved fully, in many ways they can feel stronger than before. Twinless twins in the process of recovery have to give themselves permission to live, and come to terms with their true identity, -each one is a whole, living person with a bright future, not someone in a sense "half dead", caught in a self-sabotaging cycle of mourning after a long-lost relationship.

This means that twinless twins do need to spend some time in mourning as part of their healing, however strange that may seem to outsiders. Once they have done that, they can begin to live life to the full. Crucially, they can make available to others their not inconsiderable gifts of empathy and extraordinary sensitivity to others. Only about 10% of the world population are sole survivors of a twin or multiple pregnancy, so the possibility of any individual being a twin survivor can easily be overlooked by those who do not share that experience. Unfortunately, most twin survivors do not realise the cause of their distress, which is why I have created this web site.


1. Segal Nancy L. Meeting One's Twin: Perceived Social Closeness and Familiarity Evolutionary Psychology 1:2003 pp 70-95

2. There are various Twinless Twins organisations world-wide providing advice, support and help.

3. Dawn C.M The surviving twin: exploring the psychological, emotional, and spiritual impacts of having experienced a death before or at birth. PhD Dissertation, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology Palo Alto California 2003

4 Woodward J. The bereaved twin Acta Genet Med Gemellol (Roma). 1988;37(2):173-80

5. The Lone Twin Network P O Box 5653, Birmingham, B29 7JY UK

6. Woodward J The Lone Twin: A Study in Bereavement and Loss Free Association Books 1998

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