Workshop Review: Wombtwin Survivors: Review Article of Workshop

by Sarah Kay

November 1st 2008 was a beautiful Saturday and the grounds of the Emmaus Retreat Centre in Swords were carpeted with crinkled leaves of every autumnal shade. Massive oak and beech trees shimmered vivid hues and colours in the sunshine. The workshop took place in a spacious sun-filled room with large windows opening on to the gardens described.

Maria Moran who organized the workshop welcomed us by saying how appropriate it was to be here on this day; Samhain, the Celtic pagan feast of the dead, when the veil between darkness and light is at its most transparent and we move from summer into winter. An appropriate time for womb reflection. After a brief moving personal narrative, Maria introduced the first speaker of the day, Althea Hayton. Althea is from England and the author of Untwinned: Perspectives on the Death of a Twin before Birth, and A Silent Cry: Wombtwin Survivors tell their Story. In 2007 she founded Wombtwin.com, which is not only her website but also a non-profit organization dedicated to providing information, help and support to wombtwin survivors, their families and to therapists.

Althea shared her own experience as a womb twin survivor and wondered how many people at the workshop felt they too were womb twin survivors. About half the group raised their hands. She went on to hypothesize that, as far as can be ascertained, at least 10% of the world’s population are womb twin survivors of a twin or multiple pregnancy and that the survivors seem to spend their lives reenacting the life and death of their womb twin. Nothing appears to be more important than that, even life itself. Once the real pre-birth scene which is being constantly re-enacted is made clear, then the re-enactment tends to diminish or cease altogether, greatly to the benefit of the survivor.’

Althea started off the first half of the morning by giving us the scientific background to her findings. There are three main types of womb twin survivors:

  1. 1. Identical (monozygotic), one egg that splits into two separate entities in just 2 weeks of gestation. An identical womb twin survivor might split inwardly and become totally absorbed in the self (narcissistic).
  2. 2. Fraternal (dizygotic) develop from two eggs. When one dies the survivor feels forever forsaken and yearning for the missing someone out there.
  3. 3. Multiple conception (more than 2 embryos) is any combination of identical and fraternal twins and can be – one or more identical pairs from a single egg or 2 eggs – 1 split into 2 identical and a fraternal or  several individual eggs such as in IVF treatment. Multiple survivors can feel alone among friends and have a desire to heal the world and everyone in it.

Then there is the vanishing twin phenomenon where the mother has bleeding in the first trimester. The dead twin might serve to nourish the surviving one. There are survivors of attempted abortion where their twin might have been aborted. There are stillborn twins and fetus papyraceous found wrapped like paper in a separate placenta. There is the parasitic twin or conjoined, the most well known being Siamese twins, but many people are born with an extra leg, toes, and fingers, evidence of a possible twin. There are people with different-coloured eyes;  two types of blood; teratoma cysts (which contain remnants of teeth and bone) , signs of the opposite sex (including genitalia) and the post-birth arrival of a retained placenta which are all further evidence of a womb twin. Clomid, a drug which is used in IVF to stimulate ovulation, may result in the production of more than one egg. Because a multiple fetal pregnancy is high risk, fetuses are aborted by injection to reduce the number of live births. This also leaves womb twin survivors. The affects on the survivors is as yet unresearched.

At the end of this first session Althea took questions from the floor. Does the medical profession take this seriously? A small minority does, but poor records have been kept to-date. What research methodology does Althea use? She uses a questionnaire and only collates the answers, which register a full A. The research is difficult as womb twin parents may not recall expecting twins or may be deceased. The research is anecdotal and qualitative as it is subjective and in many cases impossible to quantify ‘scientifically’ because what has taken place is pre-verbal.  Images, primitive expression and intuition are ways of ‘remembering’.

The top five statements collated with an A response are the following:

  1. 1. Deep down, I feel alone, even when I’m among friends (70%)
  2. 2. I have been searching for something all my life but I don’t know what it is (64%)
  3. 3. I fear abandonment or rejection (62%)
  4. 4. I know I am not realizing my true potential (62%)
  5. 5. All my life I have felt in some way “incomplete” (61%)

Other questions included – Apart from cysts and other remnants what were other possible signs of a womb twin? Post-natal depression could be a symptom of a mother being a womb twin where symptoms were triggered by giving birth. Cerebral palsy, trauma, schizoid personality, suicide, depression, inexplicable grieving and autism may also be linked to being a womb twin.

The coffee break gave the group an opportunity to discuss some of the information and there was a great buzz of energy. Althea continued her talk, entitled the Dream of the Womb, focusing on the psychological effects of being a womb twin survivor. Her research into this started in 2002. A lot of different things happen in the womb but she has identified three predominant types of survivors. The M type is for mourning because they identify so much with loss, grief and death – you could say an extraverted type. The C types are captive and stuck and become inward looking. The D types are preoccupied with death and develop depression. She also felt there was a link with a group described as indigo children who are particularly sensitive and compassionate people – wounded healers like Cheiron, the mythical Centaur who was half man, half beast.

The traumatic effects of being a womb twin survivor affect a person’s sense of self in the world, their relationships, their sexual identity and gender confusion, behavioral problems or acting out, mood and motivation including boundary issues, eating disorders, grief issues, isolation and addictions: all the problems therapists would encounter in their work. Althea has worked with people one to one, but prefers groups where a creative approach using drama, movement, art and non-verbal activities seem to have better results.

Before we knew it lunch was upon us. The Centre provided us with a very good three-course lunch and an opportunity for people to exchange views. For those of us who were therapists but not sure whether we were womb twin survivors it was clearly useful to find out more about this fractal dimension going back as far as conception. I remember reviewing a workshop on The Fractal Dimension in Healing Conception presented by Amethyst back in 1994 and being fascinated then by pre and peri-natal discoveries. We now have medical research and literature describing the effects of alcohol (alcohol fetal syndrome), drugs (heroin, nicotine, etc…), poor nutrition, physical and sexual violence on fetal development. The womb twin research would appear to be the beginnings of yet another important dimension or fractal of pre and peri-natal psychotherapy which has been up and running for thirty years in this country thanks to the work of Amethyst. It certainly strikes a chord when one considers the amount of inexplicable yet deeply felt loss, grief and relationship trauma that psychotherapists deal with on a daily basis.

After lunch Maria introduced the next speaker, Father Jim Cogley. Jim has been working in Kilmore Quay in Co. Wexford for thirty years as a priest, therapist and a wood turner. Although not directly a womb twin survivor he experienced a friendship with a womb twin survivor, which gave him insight into the personality, pathology and fueled his interest in family systems and ancestral healing. He called his talk Adventures in Womb-Twinning and brought his experience of working with clients to our group. His findings supported Althea’s statement that the womb twin survivor’s fate is to continually re-enact the unresolved patterns of their primal experience and how this affects their being in the world. Again this fractal dimension ties in with what we now know of pre and peri-natal psychology.

Jim focused on the suffering of the womb twin survivor and how their inner world creates their outer world. Therapy and an understanding of this deep psychic inheritance ‘puts an end to strife’ and benefits not just the womb twin survivor but also their families. He used his beautifully and intricately carved pieces of wood as symbols and metaphors for his healing work to illustrate our inter-connectedness and paradox of vulnerability and strength, fragmentation and wholeness. Jim gave us many examples of womb twin suffering: the sense of isolation and solitude, how loss becomes a hallmark for life, goodbyes are horribly difficult, anxiety is experienced as catastrophic along with a fear of abandonment. Boundaries in all relationships are a problem and many womb twin survivors stay in relationships long past their sell by date rather than face the pain of separation. Other feelings include intense grief, guilt leading to self- punishment and self-destructive behavior, resentment and a lack of forgiveness, deep-seated anger and rage often towards the mother, shame and feelings or worthlessness and low self-esteem. Behaviour would include hoarding, addictions and a pre-occupation with self as a victim with low energy and motivation and becoming a magnet for dysfunctional relationships. Jim felt that certain pedophilia fixations and obsessions might be a consequence of womb twin loss. He also pointed out that in his experience ‘replacement children’ also carry similar symptoms; children who are born after miscarriage or stillbirths and who carry their parent’s grief. He made an interesting point about anger when connected to grief. He felt it was the sacred part of self, which had split off and seeks to come home and reconnect. Anger is the transforming fuel, which provides the energy for discovery, change and creativity. It is essential to befriend anger and use its force for change rather than suppress it where it can erupt into dangerous rage.

Jim’s talk offered hope and possibility to move from the stuck frozen/schizoid place of the womb into a life of awareness. Through understanding their story a person can leave the self-absorbed life of a victim and achieve their creative potential.

There was then a short plenary session where some people shared their personal experiences and some asked questions. One question posed by a scientist asked if any research had been done into whether in fact a woman might naturally produce more than one egg monthly. Could natural selection in fact take place in the womb? Are womb twins and multiples in fact the norm and single births the rarity? Are we more than just our physical DNA? Do we also carry a psychic inheritance?

We ended the day, which had already transformed into dusk sitting by candlelight and reflecting on our journey into the womb. The day was clearly too short for such a fascinating topic, which needs more research and more debate. For womb twin survivors this is clearly a healing breakthrough and life changing experience. For skeptics and therapists it is a reminder of how much more there is to uncover and how important it is to keep an open mind. We never know what or whom or how many people we are going to meet in the therapy room/womb!

This was a very well organized workshop and a fascinating introduction to what I am sure will eventually become part of mainstream development psychology. Some residential experiential workshops might be the next step. We need to go beyond the ‘talking therapies’ and be trained in forms of creative expression that would facilitate the pre-verbal dream time in the womb.

I later found out that Althea and Jim both gave their time and energy gratis, which was extremely generous and showed their on-going commitment to this exciting work. Maria Moran deserves a big thank you for bringing these two speakers together in such pleasant surroundings.