Book Review: Untwinned Perspectives on the Death of a Twin before Birth

Edited by Althea Hayton

Wren Publications ISBN 09525654-9-8

This book is an anthology compiled by Althea Hayton who is a counsellor. She is founder and Project Director of the website www.wombtwin.com, a non profit making organisation, created to provide information, help and support to womb twin survivors around the world. She herself had a twin brother who died thirteen weeks into the pregnancy and miscarried.

The book consists of a Foreword by a medical doctor, an Introduction by Althea Hayton and four parts. Part One deals with the Death of a Twin; Part Two with the ‘Vanishing Twin’ phenomenon; Part Three looks at the question of womb memory, and Part Four outlines the psychological effects on the survivor. There are three useful appendices. The first gives information and support for surviving twins, for parents and professionals and for researchers into pre-birth psychology; the second lists indicators of a lost twin, and the third is a research questionnaire for womb twin survivors.

This book both touched and disturbed me. In my training in Prenatal and Birth work with Ray Castellino, a significant number of my fellow students discovered they were womb twin survivors. This proved highly significant in how they lived their lives and particularly in their experience of intimacy, or in some cases, the lack of it. In accompanying my fellow students I came to realise something about the depth of that imprint and how it can be healed.

In one moving contribution about the effects of twin loss on the surviving twin, written as a doctoral dissertation, survivors stressed the importance of :

Giving information truthfully, and allowing feelings to be expressed

  • Encouraging openness of communication
  • Educating the medical profession
  • Teaching parents how to deal with the survivor
  • Educating the public that this lost twin is a real force

Two cases are described in the book, which show the transformative nature of this work. In one case, nineteen years of anorexia ended in just six weeks. In another, a rational and logical reason was found for persistent suicidal thoughts in childhood. It seems that one in eight people is a surviving twin and a small proportion of these have a problem with this. A fear of abandonment, a painful sense of isolation and underlying depression are very common amongst surviving twins. Also common is low self esteem, addiction and suicidal thoughts.

Shirley Ward, of Amethyst contributes a helpful article on Suicide and Pre and Perinatal Psychotherapy. It gives an excellent overview of the field and the pioneering work which Amethyst has done over the past twenty five years.

Althea Hayton started her wombtwin.com website four years ago and began to work by email with two groups of visitors to the site. The first group knew about their twin already and were beginning to recognise that some of their psychological difficulties or problem behaviours might relate to this loss. The second and smaller group stumbled on the site. They always had a vague intuitive feeling that they may have had a twin, and needed someone to take them seriously. Some of these people had been diagnosed as twin survivors by a therapist and needed some more help, support and information. The book arises directly out of this research. It is a collection of articles, some of which have been published elsewhere, but many of which were written for the editor by some of the people she has worked with. The articles are interspersed with poetry by survivors.

This is a most useful and timely book in the emerging field of Pre and Perinatal Psychology. It should be recommended reading for all therapists as well as a wider public.

Anne Gill works as a therapist and supervisor with a particular interest in the area of pre and perinatal work.