Things You Should Know About Being a Twin

I thought this topic would be easy for me. After all, I have been a mom of twins for the past 10 years. How hard could it be to just interview each of my twins and have them tell me all about their experience? This article was going to be a breeze, I thought. It will practically write itself, I thought. However, after days of trying to pin them down and asking my twins over and over what it’s like to be a twin, I kept getting answers like, “Be prepared to fight all the time,” and “Ugh, it’s so annoying [insert eyeroll here],” I knew that simply asking my 10-year-olds to tell me about their experience wasn’t going to give me the answers to the questions a potential mother of twins might have about actually being a twin.

Here’s the thing: no matter what questions we ask, no one can fully know what it’s like to be in another person’s skin. Nor does one necessarily know that their experience of the world isn’t a normal one. It’s normal for that person. The question, “What’s it like to be a twin?” is like, “What’s it like to be a girl? or a boy? or a person with a certain ability or disability?” Whatever it is, that’s the reality of life for that person.

With that understanding, I will give you the full answers I received from each twin (one boy and one girl) over breakfast this morning when I asked, “What’s it like to be a twin?”

This is what I got from my son: “Being a twin is sometimes hard. You get into a lot of fights for little reasons. But it’s sometimes fun. When you play together it feels good. You get to say ‘hi’ a few times a day at school, then we forget about each other, then we say ‘hi’ again. At school, the teachers always ask, ‘Are you so-and-so’s brother?’ I don’t know what’s different about between a twin, because I don’t know what it’s like to be an older brother or a younger brother.”

This is what I got from my daughter: “It’s weird being a twin. Because everyone’s always asking what it’s like to be a twin. (Like you, Mom.) We treat each other horrible because it’s fun. When we’re out of the house, it’s not weird at all. It feels like we’re singular people.”

What does it mean to be a twin?

There are a lot of misunderstandings about what it means to be a twin and what types of twins there are. I get a lot of people asking me whether my twins are identical—even after they meet them, or I tell them one twin is a boy and one twin is a girl. Ummm, no, they’re not identical. If they were identical twins they wouldn’t have the differences that make them boy and girl (if you know what I mean).

Biologically speaking, there are two types of twins—identical and fraternal. Identical twins come from a single egg which is fertilized by a single sperm. The combination of sperm and egg is called a zygote. The zygote then splits to form two separate embryos. Because identical twins both come from a single zygote, those in medicine use the term monozygotic (mono- means one) to describe them. Identical twins will never be a boy and a girl because they have exactly the same DNA. Boys and girls have different DNA—for starters, XX and XY. Out of every 1,000 births, three to four of those births will be monozygotic (identical) twins.

For fraternal twins, it’s different. Each one develops as a zygote on its own. That is to say, two separate eggs are fertilized by two separate sperm. Fraternal twins are called dizygotic (di- means two) twins. Fraternal twins can be two girls, two boys, or a boy and a girl. They have different DNA. Out of every 1,000 births, six to eight of those births will be dizygotic (fraternal) twins.

Do twins run in your family?

I get asked this all the time. The answer in my case is, yes, identical twins do run in my family. My grandmother on my father’s side was an identical twin as were my twin great aunts on my mother’s side. However, my husband and I had difficulty conceiving, so we went through the process of in vitro fertilization (IVF). In IVF, the eggs are extracted from the mother’s body before being fertilized in a petri dish with the father’s sperm, thereby creating many separate zygotes (egg/sperm combos). Each zygote is a potential fraternal twin because each separate egg is fertilized by a separate sperm.

Don’t twins run in families?

Having twins can be genetic, but it’s more likely that those twins would be dizygotic, or fraternal, twins. Scientists are still looking into the genetics of twinning. Factors that increase the likelihood of having twins include hyperovulation (producing more than one egg per menstrual cycle), age, and body composition. Also, many twins these days are the result of assisted reproductive technology like IVF, as was my case, intrauterine insemination (IUI), or even medication like clomiphene that stimulates the ovaries to produce more eggs per cycle.

Wonderfully complex

I surveyed everyone in my little nuclear family for ideas for this article. When I asked my husband for his thoughts on twins in general, he answered that they are ‘wonderfully complex.’ His observations of their relationship are that at times it’s chaotic. They get angrier at each other than it seems humanly possible. But in times of need—illness, being afraid of the dark, discussing how unfair mom is in her punishments—they can’t survive without each other.

As for me, I would say being a twins’ mom is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s also the most gratifying—a wonderfully complex life.

Janette DeFelice
Dr. Janette DeFelice is a writer currently focusing on how the changing environment affects our health. She holds a Doctor of Medicine degree from Chicago Medical School where she taught clinical and diagnostic skills to beginning medical students, and a Master’s degree in Humanities from the University of Chicago. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Her writing can be seen online at BeTheChangeMom, ChicagoNow, and Medium, and she’s very excited to have published her first novel, Delia Rising: A Ballet in Three Acts. She lives in Chicago’s west suburbs with her school-age twins, her husband, and a family cat named Clara Barton.

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