My Twin Lives Inside Me
“Now, you are family. Okay. All my life, I had a lump at the back of my neck, right here. Always, a lump. Then I started menopause and the lump got bigger from the "hormones." It started to grow. So I go to the doctor, and he did the bio... the b... the... the bios... the... b... the "bobopsy." Inside the lump he found teeth and a spinal cord. Yes. Inside the lump was my twin.”
-Aunt Voula, My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Have you ever had the feeling that you were not alone when there were no other beings in sight? Have you ever felt like one of your thoughts was not yours? Many of us often get an “eerie” feeling that we cannot explain. There have been many explanations to this phenomenon, ranging from scientific to supernatural. Some say this feeling is just us humans picking up the vibrations of spirits and ghosts. Others say that it is just a psychological response to loneliness which is founded in nothing more than a human impulse to be with other humans. But what if for some these feelings were completely reasonable; what if some of us are not alone? A rare condition exists called “Fetus in Fetu” in which a person has their lost twin growing inside of their body. Perhaps some of us are truly never “alone,” and maybe that creepy feeling really is just a medical condition manifesting itself.
This condition is the source of a lot of attention in media and popular culture, but has recently been proven to have some actual validity. Fetus in Fetu is usually used by writers purely for entertainment purposes to provoke horror, like in Steven King’s “The Dark Half” which is about a man who has his “unborn twin” removed from his body, who later comes back to haunt him. Fetus in Fetu is not a horror story, but instead a rare condition which effects less than 1 in every 500,000 people (1). There are currently nearly 90 reported and documented cases (1).
Fetus in Fetu is caused in monozygotic twins, when one twin gets “absorbed” into some area of the body of the other twin, who begins to grow and develop normally. Initially they share placenta, and the absorbed twin becomes parasitic and lives off of its twin by using its body for growth (1). There does not exist many fully documented cases of Fetus in Fetu because most cases result in the death of both twins. The disease is usually found before 18 months of age, and the absorbed twin is usually, but not exclusively, found in the abdomen.
Fetus in Fetu was mostly thought of as an urban myth until 1999 when one particular case got publicized. In an ABC report, Sanju Bhagat’s condition was followed as he, as a 36 year old, at the time, from India went through a surgery to remove his twin brother. The growth occurred in his stomach, resulting in swelling in the area for most of his life. Before the removal, the growth had gotten so big that he was having trouble breathing and needed to be rushed to the emergency room. Sadly, Bhagat was teased for most of his life for appearing as if he was pregnant, and was in fact coined “the first pregnant man” by reporters, although this nickname was completely inaccurate. Today, although in good health he is still teased, some still ridiculing him by saying that he “went for an operation and [he] had the baby” (2).
There are many varying cases of Fetus in Fetu. Another case included the twin being a part of the baby’s brain. In Colorado Springs, Colorado, Sam Esquibel was found with a growing foot inside his brain while surgeons were operating to remove what they thought was a tumor. (3) Other cases in which the fetus was found in different parts of the body have been documented. However, no cases have been shown to have any fully developed twin inside of another, which is a result of the fact that the Fetus in Fetu does not contain bones, a spinal cord, hair, or teeth (1).
The media has certainly taken this disease to attract attention and has often reported incorrectly impossible cases. Mostly these cases include patients claiming they have twins in Fetus in Fetu who are the opposite gender from themselves. There are no documented cases of this sort, to date. The disease is considered to be restricted only to monozygotic or identical twins, which rules out the possibility of occurrence in fraternal twins (1). Therefore, there is no possible way, so far as research has shown, that any patients could have a differently gendered twin within their body.
Although most of the cases of FIF resulted in death, the few who have lived have had very effected lives. Bhagat got teased and still endures verbal abuse for his unwanted condition. But what about the others? How does FIF affect people psychologically? Does it result in the feeling of someone else’s presence? Each case differs, but generally people affects by FIF share the same psychological symptoms as those who have lost a twin. They call it “twin loss” or the people “wombtwin survivors” (4). The wombtwin survivors usually suffer one or more of the following symptoms: sense of loss without knowledge of what has been lost, severe loneliness, separation anxiety, and conscious or unconscious survivor guilt (4).
As well as symptoms, wombtwin survivors usually tend to share some common personality traits. WSs tend to be overly sensitive to the needs of others, and either have an overly loose personality or an overly strong one (4). Some tend to have trouble getting close in relationships, whereas others tend to become too close or “enmeshed” with others (4). Many are reluctant to see their twin who has been removed, and are generally undesiring of knowing any physical details (1). Many also prefer to not think of the experience as something current in their lives, and instead try to put in behind them.
To battle these effects, therapy and other psychological remedies are being used. There exist support groups for “Vanishing Twin Syndrome” which includes FIF survivors as well as people who have lost one of their twins (4). There is also a psychological approach to helping people with VTS or FIF. One such method goes with the theory that in a lot of cases a “state of mindfulness or hypnosis” is necessary. And that victims may need to “ ‘ drop into’ fetal awareness” to “gain access to the transcendent consciousness” which will help them to gain the knowledge and center to counter-act the sometimes sever psychological symptoms they may be enduring (4).
It would seem mostly that there are very few survivors of FIF, and therefore it is difficult to draw any real conclusions about the conditions. However, reading through case studies, it seems that most of the wombtwin survivors that have lost their twin before any real memories or psychological development could affect their lives, experience a feeling of “phantom pain” emotionally for their twin. However, people with FIF or who have lost a twin who has lived with them in some lasting capacity seem to feel feelings of guilt and anguish about the fact that they have survived while the other twin has not. However, no research has shown that any part of the absorbed twin manifests itself in the personality of the living one. Nor is there any research to support the idea that the living twin can “feel” the presence of the absorbed one. However, in many ways the absorbed twin becomes a part of the living twin’s life. And in at least that way people affected by Fetus in Fetu are never really alone.