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Place your bets: Are my daughters identical twins or non identical twins?

After two and a half year’s of hearing the question, “Are they identical?”, we are fed up of answering with, “I don’t know”. This obviously leads to numerous other questions, and when all you wanted was a pint of milk in the supermarket, that soon becomes annoying! Aside from which, I genuinely WOULD like to know if my twins are identical or non identical. I’d like to be able to tell them, when they are old enough to ask.

So, we are getting a zygosity test done, by DNA Solutions. Today we took cheek swaps, from both twins and packaged them into an envelope and sent it off for analysis. I don’t know how long it will take to get a response, but I’m excited about it.

For those who don’t know…

Identical twins are caused by one sperm, fertilising one egg, and then the egg splits into two embryos. The twins have identical DNA.

Non identical twins are caused by two eggs, fertilised by two sperm and have 50% of the same DNA – just like any siblings with the same parents. 

Semi-identical twins, although extremely rare, is caused by two sperm, fertilising one egg, before the egg splits. Meaning the twins carry identical DNA from the mother, and Non Identical DNA from the Father. Only one case of semi ID twins in the world, have ever gone public. 

The majority of people only get the straightforward ID / Non ID zygosity test, which is probably why there are so few cases of semi-identical twins in the world. But I am a curious creature, so I am having the full test done.

I personally, as Tiny and Fluffy’s Mummy, don’t think they look very much like each other. But there are some days, when they do. Some days, when we get them mixed up (but only for a split second!).

So here’s where you can get involved (just for a bit of fun)…

Here are some photos of Tiny and Fluffy. I would like you to guess…

Do YOU think our twins are Identical, Non Identical, or Semi Identical?

Why the question ‘fraternal or identical’ is important to all twins?

Twins come in two types: identical and fraternal. Identical twins result from the splitting of a very early embryo and share the same genetic sequence. Fraternal twins are as genetically different as any two siblings; they just happen to share a womb.

When twins are born, the first thing a parent asks is “are they identical?” If one’s a boy and one’s a girl, it’s easy – they are fraternal. With all the other twins, this is where things get complicated.

If we know for sure that the twins shared a placenta, there is a high chance they are identical. This leaves almost half of all twins who have a separate placenta and are the same sex and the only way to know for sure whether they are identical of fraternal is to get a DNA fingerprint (‘zygosity’) test done.

To complicate things even further, everyone, including strangers, family and friends seem to have an opinion about ‘identical or fraternal’ one way or another. Furthermore, many wrongly assume that identical twins always look and behave identical or that identical twins always share a placenta. These false assumptions have led to confusion, yet little research has been conducted with the twins community about understandings and assumptions.

So, at the 2012 Australian Twins Plus Festival, we asked for twins and parents of twins who were in any way unsure of their genetic identity. In one day we got over 100 pairs!

We asked for their best guess on ‘identical or fraternal’; we asked about the reasons for their assumptions and we asked about the importance of accurate knowledge. Responses were compared with twins’ true genetic identity determined from cheek cell DNA they provided on the day.

We found that many parents and twins had been misinformed in the past but that knowledge of their true genetic status provided peace of mind and made them and their families happy, if a little surprised in some cases.

The main reasons given for the importance of such knowledge related to feelings of certainty, a sense of identity and concerns about health implications. For these reasons we propose that all same-sex twins and their parents should be advised to seek the certainty of a genetic test to minimise confusion and to provide peace of mind.

In the meantime, we have gathered more evidence in favour of universal zygosity testing for same-sex twins and we have a manuscript under review. Watch this space!

If you would like more details, see our publication which is also available for personal use on request.

Sisterly Love: Reflections on Twinship

Identical twins are fascinating, not only to their parents but also to the public. On a daily basis, people on the street inquire about my daughters, from elementary school kids who assert, “They look like the same person!” to adults who say, “I always wanted to have twins.”

At almost five-years-old, M. and S. know they are twins, but they have only a vague understanding of how that relationship differs from other sibling relationships. Recently, as S. signed her name one day, she told me: “S-A-M, that spells Sam.”

I asked, “Do your friends at school call you Sam instead of Samira?”

“No,” she replied. “They call me [M.]”

“Why do they do that?”

“Because they’re silly.” S. thinks her friends are silly because she does not believe she and her sister look alike. Indeed, not all twins do, with fraternal/sororal twins (originating from separate fertilized eggs) being the more common type of multiple. My husband and I believed our daughters were sororal twins until they were six months old because that is what our obstetricians told us they were. Our girls were “di/di” in utero, which means that they had separate amniotic sacs and separate placentas. Most “di/di” twins are fraternal/sororal, while many identical twins share a placenta and possibly even the amniotic sac.

When our girls turned out to have the same recessive blood type and red hair color (a surprise to the South Asian side of the family), people started asking us if they were identical. So, we shelled out a fair amount of money for a DNA test to tell us what we seemed incapable of realizing for ourselves: “[T]here is greater than a 99% probability that the twins are monozygotic.”

Without that piece of paper, I might have been living in denial today — I have seen more than a few examples of parents being the last to know that their very-similar-looking twins are identical. As parents, we are attuned to seeing small differences in our children’s appearances, and so we make ourselves believe that differing birthmarks and slight differences in weights or heights are irrefutable signs of different underlying genes. The truth is that so-called identical twins aren’t really identical in every way, one of the many interesting aspects of twinning/twinship.

For those who are curious about this special sibling relationship, I recommend reading Abigail Pogrebin’s One and The Same. This non-fiction book is a mixture of memoir and interviews, a compilation of Pogrebin’s reflections on her own experience as an identical twin, profiles of other sets of twins, and conversations with experts on the science behind, and social aspects of, twinning and twinship. It is a well-researched, intimate look at the twin relationship that delves into the positives of closeness to the negatives of comparisons, competition, and loss. The book explores, for example, how some twins seek to enhance the sameness, while others struggle to differentiate themselves, sometimes to an extreme degree. Monozygotic twins may share the same underlying genes, but how those genes interact with the environment creates individuals who can be, in some cases, as different from each other as any other set of siblings.

This book has influenced the way my husband and I are raising our daughters. We treat them as two separate people who happen to look very much alike. Thus, we encourage them to wear different clothes, have different friends, and engage in different activities, while also encouraging them to spend quality time together and to cherish their sibling bond (without excluding their baby sister).

So far, M. and S. perceive themselves as individuals, and hopefully the rest of the “silly” world will recognize their individuality, too.

Parents of Identical Twins With Down Syndrome: It’s “Heartbreaking” So Many Babies With Down Syndrome are Aborted

There’s just something special about twins.

But no one can blame Jodi and Matt Parry for thinking that their twin daughters are extra special – and not just for the usual reasons.

Five-year-olds Abigail and Isobel Parry are identical twins who have Down syndrome. And because unborn babies with Down syndrome are aborted so frequently in their native England, the Daily Mail reports the twin girls literally are one in a million.

“When they were first born we grieved when we found out they both had Down’s syndrome, but now we wouldn’t change it for the world,” their mother told the Mail. “There’s nothing in the world that could convince me to change them.”

The Parrys understand the fears and negative perceptions that often come along with the news that a baby has Down syndrome. The Parrys said they were devastated when they first found out about their twins’ condition. However, they quickly began to recognize and celebrate their daughters’ value.

The British family said they are concerned about how the fears and negative attitudes that they’ve encountered may be influencing the rising abortion rate for unborn babies with Down syndrome.

According to the report:

Between 2011-2013, there was a 17.8 percent increase in abortions for Down’s Syndrome and Matt and Jodi are concerned that without balanced advice alongside a controversial new test for the condition, the number of terminations could increase.

Jodi said: ‘When Down’s syndrome is diagnosed prenatally it comes with: ‘This child has got Down’s syndrome, you can have a termination within the next 10 weeks. And that is kind of heart-breaking.

‘I think if you get the option to terminate straight away, and nobody gives you the pros as well as the cons, then people will terminate.’

The couple have created a charity called Twincess to try and highlight the positives of having children with Down’s syndrome. Jodi calls Twincess ‘a celebration of Down’s syndrome’ and a way to ‘dispel any myths’.

The Parrys said having children with special needs does involve more work, but it’s worth it. Both girls have health problems and learning disabilities, and the family runs them to medical appointments more often than they do their older brother, Finn.

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“Everything takes just a bit longer,” Jodi said. “I wouldn’t say I have made any sacrifices because of the girls being born. It sounds sort of sugar coated but the only things that they have brought into our life are positive. There’s nothing negative.”

The Parrys said their daughters do not need to achieve anything great to be valuable people: Isobel and Abigail are valuable just the way they are.

‘I’m not going to say we’ve got great expectations, that we think they will be the first person with Down’s syndrome to be a chartered accountant or anything like that,” Jodi said. “But as long as they are given a chance that’s all I could wish for.”

Parents of children with special needs have been pushing back against the eugenic push to abort unborn babies with Down syndrome and other genetic conditions.

Unborn babies with special needs increasingly are being discriminated against. In 2014, the Danish government reported 98 percent of unborn babies who tested positive for Down syndrome were aborted. In Iceland, medical experts report no babies with Down syndrome have been born in the past five years – meaning they all were aborted.

In a recent letter to the United Nations, the organization Down Pride questioned how these practices could expand to babies with other disabilities.

“The system of utilitarianism will not stop at Down syndrome,” the organization wrote. “Within the not too distant future other groups will be identified: risk for autism, schizophrenia, low IQ?”

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