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“We always agree don’t we? We’ve got the same ideas. We often have the same dreams. We always have the same thoughts. It’s like talking to the same person. It’s like we’re one brain.” Christie and Louise Miller
Secret Life of Twins opens the doors into this fascinating world, by meeting different pairs of extraordinary identical twins, from those separated at birth who are so similar that they have an uncanny bond, to those with such surprising differences they raise profound questions about the nature of twins. Remarkable stories, including a twin sister who made the life-changing decision to become a man and a twin who risked his own life to save his brother, cast a light not only on what it means to be a twin, but also on what it means to be human.
After months together in the womb and sometimes decades outside, twins are physically, mentally and emotionally entwined. With more twins born now than ever before, science is unravelling their secrets, helping us discover what it means to be a twin.
Twenty-six year old Anais Bordier was born in South Korea, but grew up in Paris after being adopted by a French couple.
Anais recalls her childhood, saying: “A lot of only-children have imaginary friends. I had an imaginary sister, I don’t know why. She’s a person you don’t have to explain everything to because she knows you, you know her. So it was comforting.”
Anais knew little about her biological parents. Her records stated that her mother was unmarried and that she was an only child.
Anais came to London to study fashion and it was here that one of her friends alerted her to a girl he’d seen online. Anais says: “I assumed someone had just posted a video of me online. When I watched it, I realised it wasn’t me but I was like, ‘Who’s that?’”
After much searching, Anais finally tracked the girl’s name down online as Samantha Futimar, a 26-year-old actress who’d starred in Memoirs of a Geisha. Samantha lives in Los Angeles, but Anais discovered that she too had been born in South Korea and shared her birthday.
Bewildered by the information she’d found, Anais says: “In my mind, I was sure that she was my twin sister and I had to find her.”
After contacting Samantha on Facebook, Anais had found the sister she had always imagined. The sisters talked on Skype and then decided to meet in London. Samantha recalls: “I think we spent five minutes looking at our teeth, and our nose and our eyebrows and hands.”
Anais adds: “Getting our DNA results was the last stitch in the pillow. Knowing that everything we’d hoped for, and already knew, was actually true.”
After nine months in the womb together, Samantha and Anais were adopted by different parents, divided by countries over 5000 miles apart for 26 years. Reunited by pure chance, their bond, their tastes and mannerisms are far greater than the distance or time that kept them apart.
The 22-year-old Brazilian Menezes twins, Vitor and Guilherme, took up dancing aged nine. They say: “We had a very special childhood, like when you have your best friend with you 24 hours a day. We do everything together.”
The twins leapfrogged their rivals to simultaneously win scholarships to dance for the English National Ballet.
The brothers say: “Sometimes you end up learning something faster. By watching, I learn from him. I become a better dancer. We push each other. If I see that he’s working really hard, I feel like I need to be on the same level so we push each other a lot. I think that really helps.”
When they were children, their mother sometimes struggled to tell the twins apart. They recall: “It got to the point where she just couldn’t tell us apart. Once she broke down because she didn’t know which one was which. She had to call a friend to come over, ‘I’ve got two babies and I don’t know which is which’.”
Having a constant best friend with an identical passion, equal physical ability and matching talent, has put these twins on a fast track to success.
In Britain, 40% of twins say they can feel what their twin is doing, even when they’re apart. The Miller twins, Christie and Louise, often reflect each other’s moods and experience each other’s emotions.
The sisters say: “We always agree don’t we? We’ve got the same ideas. We often have the same dreams. We always have the same thoughts. It’s like talking to the same person. It’s like we’re one brain.”
The sisters were born, like one in four twins, physically mirrored. Their embryos split later than normal, the effect is that Louise is left-handed and Christie is right-handed. This means that when they’re playing the guitar together, they perform the mirror-opposite way.
Louise and Christie have an extraordinarily close relationship. They have exceptional empathy as a result of their genetic bond and their shared time together. With their fine-tuned understanding of one another, they’ve even learned how to predict what the other will do.
Twins, like everyone else, usually have asymmetrical faces. Some ‘mirror twins’ have faces that match up with their siblings almost perfectly, even down to their freckles.
Twin brothers Louie and Lucas have a symmetry that is more than skin deep. The 14-month-old boys are both healthy and active, but Lucas’ heart is on the right side of his body, which is opposite to Louie’s. His spleen and liver, normally on the right, have switched sides too. The brothers’ single embryo split at a very late stage, around ten days after conception. If the embryo had split any later, the boys would be conjoined twins.
Toddlers Malcolm and Andrew form a tight-knit unit, having a clear bond even before they’re able to communicate through speech. Mum Lucy explains: “If we’re tickling and having fun with Malcolm, Andrew is happy too. If one cries, the other one starts crying too a few seconds later.”
One evening, after putting the boys to bed, Lucy was alarmed by a distressed cry from their bedroom. Andrew was screaming inconsolably. Rushing into their room, in between Andrew’s screams she heard another sound, which turned out to be Malcolm struggling for breath.
Lucy says: “Andrew was really distressed; he was leaning over Malcolm’s side of the cot reaching out to him. I think he was trying to tell us that Malcolm wasn’t right.”
As a qualified nurse, Lucy knew Malcolm was in serious trouble. She says: “When I picked him up he was quite limp. I had my finger in his mouth, trying to clear his airways. “
Malcolm had developed a serious viral infection. He was treated with steroids before being allowed back home. Andrew was still very upset. Lucy remembers: “He was reaching through the bars (on his cot), trying to look for Malcolm. He just wasn’t settling. It wasn’t until he saw Malcolm was ok that he settled and went to bed.”
By raising the alarm, it’s likely that Andrew saved his brother’s life.
Tim and James Brown were born six weeks prematurely, in January 1977. Tim says: “The first 20 months of our life pretty much was spent in and out of Great Ormond Street Hospital. We were both suffering from kidney problems. The doctors were a little pessimistic in regards to the potential outcome, for both of us.”
The toddlers had the same illness and were treated with exactly the same medicine, but only James recovered.
Tim continues: “James responded really well to the treatment and I didn’t, which resulted in me losing a kidney when I was about 18 months old.”
While James remained well, Tim’s health continued to suffer. In 2012, Tim’s only kidney began to fail. He says: “I always kind of knew, that despite being in this situation and despite needing a transplant – which is a very serious operation – I was immeasurably lucky, because I had an identical match who I knew would help me and save me.”
James agrees, saying: “People say it was a brave thing to do, but I don’t think it was, it was just something I had to do.”
It was unlikely Tim’s body would reject James’ kidney as their blood and tissue types are the same. While an operation like this can sometimes take months to recover from, Tim was back on his feet within days. The twins now expect to have exactly the same normal lifespans.
Tim is infinitely grateful for his brother’s selfless act, saying: “When I went down for the operation, my son was one year old. What future was there for him without this. It wasn’t just my life (James) saved, it was my whole family’s.”
51 years ago, Brenda Bowers was born in the American mid-west, seven minutes after her identical twin sister Bonnie.
“It was rare that I could say ‘I’, it was always ‘we’. I always answered to the name Bonnie as easily as Brenda. I just don’t remember being a separate entity. You don’t question it… until something changes.”
Brenda continues: “When we were younger, we would be dressed in pretty dresses. I can remember pretty outfits that I thought were so beautiful, I felt like a princess.”
These twin sisters shared the same upbringing, always played together, attended the same school and the same church.
“All our activities were together and people looked at us as a unit. We did have the same tastes. If I didn’t like something, I’m positive Bonnie didn’t like it either. I always knew where she stood, what she was thinking and feeling.”
Brenda continues: “Somewhere around eleven years-old, I started to find boys very interesting and I turned into a giggly mess around them, but Bonnie was not at all like that. I saw her walking down the hall at school and asked my friend ‘Do I walk like that?’. It was a bit masculine, I was a bit alarmed.”
After school, Bonnie stayed at home while Brenda left for college in Seattle.
Bonnie called Brenda out of the blue to say that she was attracted to women. Brenda recalls: “I did not get the sense that she was attracted to other women, not until she told me. I just remember being in utter shock. I felt a big sense of betrayal after that. I thought ‘We’re identical, we’re the same, and you’re messing with that. You’ve just flipped my world upside down, because this is all I’ve known, this is my identity.’”
This was not the only revelation Bonnie had in store for Brenda. Brenda recalls: “(Bonnie) said, ‘Remember when I came out as a lesbian, I felt like that was only part of who I am and something still wasn’t quite right.’ I’m listening to this having absolutely no idea of what else there could be. And Bonnie said ‘I want to transition to be male’. This is when I have a hard time talking about her, because I don’t know what pronoun to use. It felt really scary and I was in shock for a long time.”
In 1998, Brenda’s identical twin sister Bonnie, became Aiden. His choice has had a huge effect on both their lives.
Aiden says: “Who wants to be a transgender person? Who wants to actively take a step to live a very marginalised life and one that could be significantly loaded with hardship?”
Brenda says: “People were even saying we weren’t identical any more and I say ‘oh yes we are’! You can’t change that, that’s a fact; it’s a biological, scientific, genetic fact.”
Despite Brenda’s initial shock, Aiden’s choice has actually brought the twins closer together. “We grabbed on for dear life, to go through this together. It made me hold on even more to the idea that we’re twins. I can easily say it’s just a name change. There’s that core connection that can’t be broken.”
• More twins are born now than ever before
• Only one in 250 pregnancies will be twins
• A quarter of twins are mirror-twins
• Some areas of Britain have more than others, but so far no one knows why
• Twins fingerprints differ from each other, even at birth
• Writhlington School in Somerset has nineteen pairs of twins
• In Britain, 40% of twins say they can feel what their twin is doing, even when apart
• It’s rare for twins to be the same weight at birth. This weight difference has a surprising effect: heavier twins are more outgoing and tend to dominate the lighter one