It may seem strange for a set of twins to be informing their own father that they are identical – 16 years after their birth. But this is what happened in my family, since the doctors at the hospital had never seen a case like ours before: two sacs but one cord. Typically, identical twins share a sac and a cord, while fraternal twins have separate sacs and cords. My sister and I remained an enigma until that day we got home from school and our mom handed us the long-anticipated envelope containing the precious DNA results from the cheek swab we had performed a month earlier.
I remember sitting at my desk that afternoon, contemplating what being an identical twin meant, and how this knowledge might change my life. Running through a photo album in my head, I saw my sister and me as babies, the very definition of identical and nearly impossible to differentiate between.
I saw us giggling as we put on the same outfit, determined to trick others. I also recalled us in preschool and kindergarten, shy and nearly inseparable. During this time we existed in our own microcosm – a single sac – uninterested in other children or activities. Since the womb, I had a built-in playmate, and the idea of stretching my world to accommodate outsiders was not appealing.
It was this memory – the two of us so attached and afraid to face the world without the other – that made me realize how much I have changed over the years. My sister and I have branched out, made separate friends, and defined ourselves as very different people. In fact, I believe that being a twin has been one of the greatest factors in pushing me to grow as an individual.
When we were put in separate classes in elementary school, the seemingly inseparable twins began to split, and I gradually learned to thrive in my own sac without a constant companion. I kept playing my trombone even after my sister quit the clarinet. I shrugged it off when my teachers called me by my sister’s name, and I expanded my boundaries and went to events alone until I gained enough confidence to walk into a room without her by my side. I fell in love with basketball, even when my sister moved on to volleyball. Talking to other kids got easier. I learned to laugh when people asked, “Where’s the other half?” Even the matching gifts under the Christmas tree gradually disappeared, replaced by ones catering to our different personalities. Today, the friends who struggled to distinguish between us in elementary and middle school have no difficulty identifying me.
Still pondering the sheet of paper that declared our DNA to match perfectly, I came to understand that my twin is just like any other sibling: we support each other, but we also require time apart. The word “identical” has no impact on my life now because I am a strong, well-defined individual.
This is not to say I will not treasure the DNA results. That manila envelope and its contents will probably sit in a memory book my entire life, a precious reminder not only of my genetic connection to my sister, but also of my own development into a unique and self-confident individual. As for the future relationship between us, I hope it will be just as it was in the beginning: two separate sacs, but one cord linking us together.
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