Shirley: Hello Althea, it’s good to see you again after your successful and very interesting workshop in Dublin in November. There has been a lot of feedback from this workshop and discussion and I would like to talk to you about your work.
Althea: I would be delighted. There is so much to say!
Shirley: As you know, I have been involved in the pre and perinatal work for many years, and it has been fascinating to meet you – with your “new science” – for that is how I see it – of the wombtwin. Can you tell me how you became involved with this? Where did this idea come from? Was it out of your own work?
Althea: It came from my personal experience. I realised about six years ago that I am actually a surviving twin. It came after I had had some chiropractic treatment which outed some birth trauma: I was a breech birth and a very large baby, induced a month early. There was quite severe injury to my shoulder and back: it delayed my walking. I didn’t walk until I was two. I think I had quite a lot of medical treatment. So I had a very traumatic delivery, which should have been enough to explain… well, if birth trauma is your bag, I’ve had enough birth trauma to last me a lifetime!
Having had the kinesiology, I then found there were some psychological effects – mainly in the form of an overwhelming form of sleepiness – which were assailing me after every treatment. It was really bad after every treatment. Eventually, I learned to interrogate my body. I “asked” what this may mean and the answer was “death”.
It was about death. Logically, I had – as it were – cleared the trauma out of the way, so I was into something that pre-dated trauma at birth to something earlier, chronologically. So what is earlier in life than being born? So I began to understand that I had known death before birth. The only way in which I could possibly have known that, was if I had had a twin and my twin had died. That was the death, because I was very much alive.
I thought that this was an absolutely outlandish and ridiculous idea but, being a student of the Internet, I went searching. I discovered actually that the loss of a twin before birth is a great deal more common than I could possibly have ever imagined.
Shirley: That’s fascinating. Was the kinesiologist aware that this treatment could have taken you to these places?
Althea: Well, I was the one who diagnosed the birth trauma. I said, “This is birth trauma, isn’t it?” He said, “Well, maybe, yes.” But in terms of the twin, we never discussed that.
Shirley: I’m fascinated by the idea of how many therapists working in the field when they are working with a client, would actually be aware that when you go into birth trauma, you might find this. They obviously would not be aware of the twin stuff because this is your new work.
Althea: Well, it’s not just me: like all new ideas, there are people all over Europe and in America who are therapists and who are aware. An increasing number of people are coming to me who tell me through my saying, “I have just been to see a kinesiologist and they have diagnosed that I was a twin before I was born…” It’s very interesting that kinesiology has been the thread in this work, which I am looking forward to pursuing. I did ask one kinesiologist by email how they would diagnose a lost twin. One said that it’s usually centred on the navel, around the umbilical area. Another said that, insofar as they have an intuitive sense about all sorts of conditions, as they get more and more experience and there is more and more coming out in the literature about it, the more they are likely to diagnose this.
Shirley: So we are getting the hundredth monkey syndrome?
Althea: Yes, I’m a little bit concerned that it is going to be over-diagnosed. It happens with new ideas that come fresh into the field. I have out some safeguards in place. I have a very, very long questionnaire which I will keep very long, so the people who say, “Oh goodness! The kinesiologist said I was a twin” have got to provide some kind of pathological sign, which I know is characteristic of wombtwin survivors, before they can be taken seriously. But out of the 300 in the recent group – and about 750 over all – I would say there is only a handful that I am not sure about.
Shirley: Elizabeth Noble has been one of the people in pre and perinatal psychology who have mentioned the loss of the twin – the “vanishing twin” – in her book, Primal Connections. It’s an area I have worked in myself, but certainly not in the depth that you have. I look at birth scripts with twins, such as if they are the first twin or the second twin; or whether there has been a reversal in the womb and the birth script becomes the life script. As a matter of interest, how many people have contacted you over the Internet? How many people have you worked with?
Althea: The numbers don’t probably mean a whole lot – but since I set up the website in February 2007 I have had 16,000 hits. It sounds a lot, but there are some people who get that number in a day. So it’s very difficult to know if that is good, bad or indifferent, but then I am the only person doing this.
Shirley: It’s a very specialised area.
Althea: It is. And it’s quite difficult for people to find. Some people have been on the net for years and they trip over the web site at one o’clock in the morning and they send me an exultant email saying, “Hooray! I have finally found a place that understands me!” They are very pleased when that happens.
Shirley: You say yourself that you are not a therapist, but you are really. Do you see yourself as working in medical research or as a therapist? From what angle are you coming with this work?
Althea: At the moment, I am approaching this more as a writer and a wombtwin survivor than as a therapist because I am not convinced as to how efficacious therapy, in the standard sense of the word, is for wombtwin survivors. I think the most helpful thing I can do for wombtwin survivors is to facilitate their self-healing. So I see myself as a facilitator of self-healing. I am producing self-help materials and there’s a lot of stuff on the wombtwin website, so people can come to it, learn and understand. The understanding itself is 90% of the healing: once they know there is a good reason why they feel as they do, they become very much les anxious, less upset. They are much happier as people. They say, “At last! Here is someone who understands entirely what this thing is.” And then they know they are not mad.
Shirley: I can understand that, but there are also parallels, – overlaps – with some of the work you are doing and some of the other pre and perinatal work – which I would see as the fractal. There could be something that happened at conception, or in the uterine period, which may have overlapped with twin loss. How would you help someone to fit that in as well? It may be there in that area of the pre and perinatal work.
Althea: Well, I’m going back to what Balint called the “Basic fault.” I’m going back to the time in the womb, as far back as we need to know. For example, where you may have had a traumatic loss in utero, and then a traumatic birth, and then the traumatic loss of your mother if you were adopted: that may have happened three times to you before you were a few months old! And I can understand how one event reminding you of another can repeat the trauma six-fold, let alone three-fold, I can understand that entirely.
But my particular work at the moment, because there is so much ignorance of foetal development and the nature of the lost twin, is how this all works at a biological level. A lot of my research is to do with that. What I am saying is that I have found that the biology is reflected in the psychology. For example, if you have somebody who is the survivor of an identical twin, there are issues of the self – internal, introspective issues. “It’s all about me and how I feel about me”. But for the fraternal wombtwin survivor is about grief, abandonment and the loss of relationship and it can affect things like marriage and relationships. So there is a huge difference between how the identical wombtwin survivor reacts and the fraternal wombtwin survivor.
So I do know that the medical background is absolutely crucial. Furthermore, the wombtwin survivor should understand that, because it helps to understand the nature of the loss – and it could be a hundred different things. There are a lot of different variables, such as how long did the twin stay around after it died? How active or normal or weak was the twin? How long was the twin there before it died? Did the twin get lost suddenly or just die slowly and remain there until birth? There is a different script for every loss. It’s a very complex thing.
Shirley: Have you written about this in any of your books – Untwinned, or A Silent Cry?
Althea: I haven’t written about any of it myself, because those are anthologies of other people’s work. I have yet to write up my own material. What I have done is create an e-book called A Healing Path which is extremely rough, and I don’t think terribly efficacious, but it’s necessary to have something out there – a guide for people who don’t know what the way forward may be. I don’t have time to work with all the hundreds of people who come forward at an individual level.
Shirley: So there will be therapists reading this conversation and they would say, “Where do I go from here? How can I learn about this? I have a client who may be a wombtwin survivor.” Or even, “I recognise that I may have had a twin. What do I do now?” What would you recommend they do? How can they learn to incorporate this work with their client’s?
Althea: I think that the principle advice and counsel I would give to therapists who discover this, either in themselves or in their clients, is to go on their own voyage of discovery. The Internet is a wonderful thing. My website is very comprehensive, with links to other websites, so within half an hour on my website you can find out quite quickly what this is about, in order to be able to help the client. But the client really has to help themselves.
But the other point to be made is, as you know from your own work, that the body carries a memory. We know that and with surviving twins this is never clearer. The memory of the twin is carried within the body of the survivor and it only requires the survivor to begin to look at how they are with people and themselves; how they ruin their lives in all sorts of ways. How much of that is an expression of the fact that they are a sole surviving twin? This is what I am learning – that there is not much known yet, but there is a wealth of knowledge out there potentially.
Therapists will just have to use their own empathy and understanding to hear the client telling them a story – sometimes the client can’t hear that he is telling a story. It’s very much like working with birth trauma: – a skilled therapist will say, “Aha! Here is birth trauma” and in a similar way, the therapist can say, “Aha! Here is the lost twin.”
Shirley: So what five points could you give a therapist, if they have possibly got a client who is a wombtwin survivor? What guideline would you give them? What would they be looking for? What speech patterns would they be listening for in someone who is a wombtwin survivor?
Althea: If they have a client who is held absolutely captive in a very co-dependent relationship, be warned – that could well be a wombtwin survivor. If a client becomes excessively dependent on you as a therapist, they could be a wombtwin survivor. It’s often seen in relationships – particularly difficult relationships.
If a client is very narcissistic, that is a sign, and if the client has an un-healable wound – a wound that persists. Despite many years and thousands of pounds and euros spent on therapy, this wound persists. Then you may hear comments like, “I have been looking for years and years for someone who understands. I have been to every therapist in the book and no one seems to know what is wrong.”
And even if this is just one more idea let’s try it, because at the very least the client usually recognises it once it’s spoken. There is often an outburst of tears. Often the client is sent into a very short but significant period of reactive depression, like a black hole, in the days and weeks to follow.
Shirley: This may happen too with clients who have experienced trauma in the intrauterine period. What about therapists who find out that they are wombtwin survivors? Do they have to do some work on themselves?
Althea: One of the things they can be delighted about is that being a wombtwin survivor gives you empathy and a very strong intuition. That is a great gift. But the downside of it is that, if you find out in the process of working with a client who is a wombtwin survivor, things can get a bit muddled. So you would be well advised to separate out your own work. As long as they maintain their professional boundaries, therapists can separate their own work from their work with the client.
Shirley: That has given the therapists a bit more to work on! Now as I mentioned earlier, this is a very new science and there is a lot of work to be done. What are your hopes for the future of the work?
Althea: The next step is what I call the magnum opus – the Great Task. It is to summon all my energy, skills and dedication to distil, if I can, six years of research into about 150,000 words and offer them to a major publisher and maybe get an offer, which is highly unlikely. If they won’t take it, I shall do it myself. But I am prepared to promise that within twelve-months there will be The Book. It will be called Wombtwin Survivors: the Lost Twin in the Dream of the Womb.
Now the “Dream of the Womb” is my term. It’s a bit flowery I know, but it isn’t a memory – it’s too deep for a memory. It isn’t a vision and it isn’t imagination. It’s another time, another place. It’s just like a dream, so I have called it the “Dream of the Womb.” We all have a different Dream of the Womb, and if we study our relationship with others and ourselves, and how we live and think and see the world, we can find all sorts of clues about what was in the Dream – and it’s remarkably detailed.
Shirley: Althea, thank you for sharing your work with us. We look forward to reading and learning more about this in the future.
Althea Hayton is a writer, counsellor and project director of an internet based organisation, which aims to provide information, help and support to wombtwin survivors around the world. See www.wombtwin.com
Shirley Ward has been researching foetal consciousness for thirty years. She works internationally as a psychotherapist, specialising in the pre and perinatal period of life and its effects upon behaviour, character and human potential. See www.holistic.ie/amethyst