Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Someone Else's Twin: a review

I picked up Nancy L. Segal’s new book Someone Else’s Twin, in part, because a Wall Street Journal reviewer described it as an “engaging narrative.”
That, it is not.
The book is a case study, clearly academic in its structure, voice and format.
But it’s a fascinating and worthwhile read, regardless.
Someone Else's Twin tells the true story behind a lawsuit filed by identical twins and a singleton who were mixed up at birth in a Canary Islands hospital. The mistake was discovered somewhat by accident 28 years later when a store clerk who had met both twins and had noted their striking similarities insisted they get together.
The meeting threw two families into permanent turmoil.
One twin had been raised as a fraternal twin with the singleton. The other twin was raised as a singleton by a family that was not related to her. All three women struggled with their new relationships and identities and the results were heartbreaking.
It is a situation I can, thankfully, only imagine.
In reading Segal’s book, I had hope to learn more about nature-verses-nurture – about likes, dislikes, mannerisms, social preferences, habits and more that these reared-apart twins share despite their separate upbringings. I wanted to read about their differences, too. I had hope to learn more about my own twins and the influences we have, as parents, on their identities verses the natural influences of shared DNA.
I did come away with some of that.
The identical twins, for instance, developed an immediate report upon their meeting.
“Delia and Begoña accomplished in seconds what many sisters never achieve after a lifetime together – a mutually deep understanding of how the other thinks and feels,” Segal writes.
They found they had several remarkable mannerisms and gestures in common, like the way they ate and their physical reactions to anxiety. They both had an urge to clean and made careers of it while sometimes aspiring to more intellectual pursuits.
Yet one identical twin developed leukemia as a teen, while her separately raised twin did not, and their IQ scores differed more than Segal had expected. Interestingly, the women who were mistakenly raised as fraternal twins had closer IQ scores, a finding that seemed to surprise Segal.
But, when I finished this book, my interests in nature-verses-nurture felt selfish compared to what Segal’s truly explores.
As a result of the mix up, the Canary Island courts were faced with a daunting task, one which Segal was asked to help resolve. The courts had to place a price tag on the losses these women suffered and the pain they continue to live with as a result of their separation so many years ago. They had to decided how to make reparations and whether reparations could really be made at all.
In Someone Else‘s Twin, Segal touches on issues of nature-verses-nature, but she explores more deeply the very nature of family relations and their biological bonds. She dives into controversial questions about how we form a sense of self and how mothers identify and bond with their children. She explores the psychological bonds between non-biologically related siblings and the potential for harm when that lack of biological relationship is unknown.
Segal gives new evidence in the argument for openness with children who become one with families due to adoption, egg donation and sperm donation – all important observations in this world of high-tech fertility solutions we live in today. These children need to know who they are, where they came from or, at the very least, that they do not share their parents’ DNA.
With that knowledge, children have a chance to adjust to and appreciate differences in appearance, attitude, social preferences and behaviors. Without it – as in the case of the identical twin raised as singleton in an unrelated family – they can become lost – unsure as to why they are somewhat different, why they don’t fit in. Always struggling.
Though not the fastest read, Someone Else’s Twin is indeed fascinating and well worth reading. It is not what I had hoped. It is much more.

1 comment:

MotherRunner said...

Wow, this sounds fascinating. And heart-breaking. I cannot imagine my boys growing up separately.

Well done review, thanks for posting.