“Is he your first child?”

This question follows us around wherever we go: playing at the park, buying shrimp at the grocery store, hanging out at a mom’s group, or celebrating a friend’s birthday. This is the question I have to answer most frequently. Coincidentally, it’s also the one I find most challenging to respond to.

Most often, the truth feels too time consuming to put into words; it carries with it awkward responses and a lingering emotional toll. So I take the easy way out and simply say, “Yes.”

I know that in a few years, I won’t be the only one struggling to find an appropriate answer to this question. Alistair will have to find his own words for this story too.

“How many siblings do you have?”

This is the question my son will have to answer for homework as he draws out his family tree in school. Kids hanging upside down from monkey bars, and adults standing in line at the grocery store will all ask him if he’s “the oldest.” These are standard, every day, get-to-know-you questions. Unfortunately there just aren’t any standard answers in our family.

Understandably, being a twinless twin comes with its own array of challenges.

By definition, a twinless twin is an
individual who had a twin who has died.

A twin bond is strong. We’ve all heard about twins who can tell what the other is thinking or feeling, perhaps even experiencing each other’s pain from miles apart. Twins do everything together; right from the very start they are uniquely invested in each other’s lives.

But what about twins that were separated in the womb? Do they still feel that acute sense of loss as they grow older?

I remember sitting in the NICU, staring through the walls of a glass incubator, and wondering if my three-pound son knew that his brother was gone. Certainly he knew that something had changed.

As he grew older, I wondered if this was why he didn’t sleep well by himself. Why he has to squish his face against mine so tightly in the middle of the night. Perhaps he’s just lonely, missing the comforting sound of his brother’s heart beating alongside his.

It’s difficult to find an abundance of research on “twinless twins” and the resulting grief during infancy. But from the meager studies that do exist, they seem to say that when it comes to grief, it doesn’t matter at what stage of life the death occurs. Even in an early twin loss, the surviving twin can feel a prolonged sense of grief. Some say that the only comparable grief to losing your twin, is to that of losing your spouse.

But what exactly does grief look like in an infant or toddler?

It’s challenging to pinpoint grief in an infant. Other parents of twinless twins say that their child is more clingy, has a higher than normal degree of interest in pictures of themselves or mirrors, or has difficulty sleeping alone. Just like adults, children grieve uniquely.

I can not say with certainty how deeply Alistair has felt this loss. I do not know what future importance he will place on it (if any). By the time he is able to fully understand this loss, he may feel that he has already sufficiently grieved or he may require more time to process it.

Regardless of the way he eventually acknowledges this grief, we as parents want to be there to support him, to be open, and to talk about it.

While some twin parents chose to delay telling their survivor about the loss, we have talked about Landon from the very beginning. Alistair has and will continue to grow up with the understanding that he had a twin brother.

We do not hide this part of our family history. In the search for healing, we have allowed ourselves the opportunity to openly grieve as a family. At the same time, our family does not revolve around this death – our focus is and always will be primarily on loving and parenting the giggling munchkin in our arms.

Losing someone you love is difficult no matter your age. As parents, our job is to be there for our son throughout the ups and downs and to hopefully model for him a healthy way to work through his grief. In his pain, we will point him to the One who makes us whole.

Although our son may identify as a twinless twin, this is not his sole identity. Our identity is found in One much greater than the trials we’ve walked through or the grief we’ve experienced. Our identity is found in the God who mends broken hearts, and who has been a part of this journey with our sons from the very beginning.

Our son is a twinless twin. But he’s also so much more.

19 replies
  1. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    I’m a twinless twin. My fraternal twin died during the first trimester of my mother’s pregnancy. People ask me how it could possibly affect me, but even though I had only eight weeks with my twin, I knew him.
    I know he would have been a boy, not a girl.
    I know he would have been (a few minutes) older than me.
    I know he would have been stubborn, and energetic, and funny,
    And that we would have gotten into all sorts of trouble.
    I loved him with all my heart. I still do.
    When people ask me how many siblings I have, I answer that I have two (we have a younger sister).
    I think of myself not as the oldest, but as the middle child of three.
    Nothing ticks me off more than when my mother calls me her firstborn.
    Sometimes, when I do those unintentionally humorous things in life (like spilling jellybeans or looking for my sunglasses while I’m wearing them) I swear I can hear him laughing.
    My twinship, like all twinships, isn’t all of who I am (far from it), but it’s an undeniable part of me. A part I’m very proud of. Because despite all the heartache that I’ve felt from my brother being gone, I wouldn’t change those eight weeks for anything.
    On the downside, my parents refuse to talk about their twin pregnancy, preferring instead to pretend like he didn’t exist. In the past, when I’ve voiced that I’ve missed him, they’ve told me that I’m selfish and insensitive to how that makes them feel, because they don’t want to face the fact that they’ve lost a child. While I understand where they’re coming from, it’s put a greater crux on our relationship then either of them know. So trust me when I say that, from a twinless twin’s perspective, you are giving both of your children an amazing gift by keeping Landon alive in Alistair’s heart. <3

    You're amazing and I wish I could do more than just applaud you. If there is a God, I hope he blesses you tremendously. <3

    • Liz Mannegren
      Liz Mannegren says:

      Thank you for sharing this! The way you’ve described your twin connection is just so beautiful – and such a great help for me, as a mother, to understand a bit more of what Alistair may feel as he grows older.

      I’m so sorry that your parents didn’t feel able to talk about the fact that this was your loss too. With your permission, I’d love to share your comment with a group of moms who are also raising twinless twins. I think it’s so important for us to learn from one another and for us, as parents, to understand our children’s grief better. This is such an honest, heart-wrenching but yet beautiful glimpse into what it’s been like.

      Thank you.

  2. Jill
    Jill says:

    Where does one find a group for Mom’s raising twinless twins? We are raising a fine little girl who misses her twin daily. Would love to be connected.

    • Liz Mannegren
      Liz Mannegren says:

      Hi Jill, I know how difficult it can be to find support groups for twinless twins! My best suggestion for finding support groups is: Facebook. Even if you don’t use Facebook regularly (or at all), I’ve found that this is the best way to connect with mom groups.

      If you’re on facebook, try searching for “Parents of Twinless Twins” or “Twinless Twins Support Group Intl” (or if you’re not on Facebook, check out their website.) Besides the online connections, I think they also do meet-ups and conferences.

      There are also several other “more specific” Facebook groups for families of twinless twins. I joined one specifically for families who experienced loss due to TTTS (twin to twin transfusion). These groups are usually a bit smaller and good for connecting with moms in your local area, or just general discussion about life after twin loss. Just search “twinless twins” on Facebook.

      Hope you find something!

  3. Lu
    Lu says:

    My twin died for trimester and my birth certificate says I am not a twin. My mom says I am not technically a twin because he died so early. She doesn’t know his gender but to me he is a boy. I feel love for him and pain everyday from losing him. I want to talk to my mom but she pushes me away when I try. I hurts most when I’m alone. I lay awake late at night talking to him. My friends don’t get how I could miss him because I don’t “know” him. But I do. I call him petah and to me he is caring and goofy he is the kind of brother who know when I feel sad and I feel his arms wrap around me. I want him back so bad. I look in the mirror and hate my self for being the one who got to live. I’m not suisidal just sad. It makes me happy to think of him smiling. No one in my life understand and it makes me feel even more alone than I am. I’ve never had a good relationship with anyone they always seem to come and go. But I want to be able to understand my situation better I read about a syndrome that twin survivors have. I know I have it and it helps to know a little about it. But I can’t talk to anyone

    • Liz Mannegren
      Liz Mannegren says:

      Hi Lu,

      The twin bond is so strong. I am so sorry for your loss and for the lack of support that you’re feeling. I have heard of many twinless twins who lost their siblings early on in the pregnancy and yet still feel very connected to them. The grief that you’re feeling is normal, and it is good that you’re trying to work through the pain rather than avoid it.

      I would suggest visiting the website: http://www.twinlesstwins.org. They have many, many resources available. (You may also be able to find a similar Facebook group online.) This would be a great place to connect with other twinless twins, or to find a specifically trained twin-loss counselor who could talk with you about it. Many twins have experienced survivors guilt, just like you. There are also many stories on their website (and email updates) about individuals who are going through this type of loss. I’m not sure where you live, but they also regional meet-ups and annual conferences. I think this would be a great way to find another twin to connect with on a deeper level.

      It’s difficult, but you are not alone in this. If you ever need someone to just listen, please feel free to send me an email or private message on Facebook (MommyMannegren.)


  4. monicagvelez
    monicagvelez says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. As a twinless twin mom myself, I’m comforted by your words and the thought that I’m not alone in this journey. Learning and listening to others has helped me tremendously – and I thank you for this. My heart goes out to you and all the other twinless twin moms out there.

  5. Regina
    Regina says:

    Another twinless twin mom here. One of my baby girls died in the NICU when she was one month old. Her surviving sister cries every night in her sleep and I have to rock her all night. I found this page tonight because I finally realized it might not just be bad memories oh the painful procedures of the NICU that haunt her dreams, that she may be missing her sister even though she only knew her in my belly. Thank you for posting this and I’ll definitely check out the Facebook pages.

  6. Celian
    Celian says:

    In my culture, all twins go by either of two surnames, Twin 1 or Twin 2 (translated). So you can imagine the nightmare of losing your twin. Every time you meet someone and introduce yourself as say Jane Twin 2 or Peter Twin 1, the next question you are asked is about your twin. My nephew who lost his twin brother at three years has incorporated it into his self introduction. Its goes something like: Hi, my name is James Twin 2 and Twin 1 is dead. I cant imagine how he feels having to say that all.the.time.
    I am sorry for all your losses.

  7. Nicole Haugh
    Nicole Haugh says:

    Thank you for writing this article. I am a twinless twin mommy. My son is 3 1/2 and we lost his twin sister, Maia, when they were 6 months old. I have my oldest daughter who’s 5 and we live a daily struggle. My oldest misses her baby sister dearly and doesn’t understand why she’s gone. I cry every day and night. I miss my baby girl. I miss everything. My son, Maia’s twin brother, is having extreme tamper tantrums and I don’t know why… whether it’s the introduction to preschool, him not getting this own way or the fact that he misses Maia and doesn’t know how to handle it. He’s become aggressive in his tantrums and my husband doesn’t want to deal with it. I told my husband about this, twinless twin, and he doesn’t want to hear it. I don’t know what to do. Gavin is very sweet yet he can be so unruly. Please any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Liz Mannegren
      Liz Mannegren says:

      Nicole, my heart aches along with you for the loss of your precious daughter. This is such a difficult topic to navigate as a family because it affects each of us so differently. Conversation with your children is so key and it sounds like you are doing a great job at allowing your littles to speak out about their feelings and questions — keep encouraging that. I know from my experience (and talking with other loss parents) how difficult it can be to know whether a child is reacting to grief or something else entirely. It might be a good idea to look into a child counsellor (or a family counsellor for each of you.) They will be able to help both of your children work through some of those confusing emotions and help them to find healthy outlets. This isn’t something that will happen overnight as grief takes a long time to process. So stay patient and if they bring Maia up, keep being open with your children (at an age-appropriate level). I know that this isn’t something you’d thought would be a part of your motherhood. It’s not easy to parent after loss but even the fact that you’re thinking about this is a great place to start. Don’t give up. You’ve got this, mama. ❤️❤️

      If you want to chat more in depth, feel free to send me a private message on the MommyMannegren facebook page! Or use the “contact me” portion of this website as I would love to talk more.

  8. Chasitee
    Chasitee says:

    Thanks so much to every one for sharing their stories! It’s a blessing to know there are others out there who so keenly feel the ‘twinless twin’ grief.

    My Mom lost my twin in the first semester. I grew up knowing about the loss ever since I can remember. And I also always grew up having an empty spot. As I grew old enough to understand, I finally was able to place it with my missing twin.
    My parents were always open about it, and always there to talk when I had questions.
    To me, I have always been completely sure he was a boy.
    Though they never officially named him, they had a name that they would have named him had he lived. That was Matthew, and to me, that’s who he is.
    He has an indescribable special place in my heart, and I miss him alot. This sounds crazy, and very few people understand. After all, I never really met him, did I? But I did. We were as close as close can get for the first many weeks of our lives. The same chemistry, the same womb…developing together – that’s something incredibly unique and special.
    My parents have been very supportive, and care and understand as best as they can. Though they’ll never truly be able to understand, (since you have to be a twin to know) they’ve been a huge help in the process of healing and dealing with the loss and pain.

    Definately, let the twin live on in your child’s heart. Let him treasure keepsakes, and anything that’s special to him because of some connection to his twin. Be open, and let him talk about it! Don’t think he’s foolish or wierd for loving and missing his twin. That’s how were built…I’m convinced were meant to be loyal to our twin, no matter how old (or young) we were when we were separated. If you’re a Christian, and believe in God Who created us and loves us, and has a special plan for us, even from the womb, it’s a huge comfort to know you’ll meet him again/in person some day!


  9. Kristen
    Kristen says:

    I’m the mom of a twinless twin. The girls were born only a few months ago, and I know that my youngest, who is still with us, could tell that her sister was gone right away. I hurt as much for her as I do for my husband and myself. I worry about how being twinless will affect her, and I also don’t have a clue as to how to parent her in a way that shows her how much we love them both and also not allow the shadow of her sister’s not being there to loom over her. We will never be able to fully grieve because we are joyful to have our bundle of joy at home, but we also can’t fully be joyful because we should have brought home two bundles. There are very little resources for parents. There are much more for the twinless twins themselves. I feel very alone as a mom. I know other women who have had miscarriages or stillborn babies, but it’s different-bringing home one child instead of two.

    • Liz Mannegren
      Liz Mannegren says:

      Hi Kristen, I’m thankful you’ve found your way onto my page but I’m so desperately sorry that this is the reason why. Reading your comment brings me right back to those first few months. I remember all those feelings — how deep that pain is, and how isolating and confusing that time can be. It’s such a challenge to fully grieve when you have a newborn but also such a challenge to be able to actually celebrate and enjoy that new mother experience when you’ve been robbed of so much of it. The loss touches all of it. My heart is with you. I’d love to chat more if you’d like. Feel free to use the contact page to send me a message here or to find me on my MommyMannegren Facebook page and send me a private message there. I’m here to listen or to talk if you need it. I know how lonely this loss can feel. ♥️

  10. Helen
    Helen says:

    Thank you so much for this article. I’m so glad to know that my daughter isn’t the only one that shows residual grief after loosing a twin in the womb. When I miscarried I didn’t even know that I was pregnant with twins. On mother’s day in 2013 I woke up to heavy bleeding and cramps. When I went to the ER they told me that I was having a miscarriage. I was 14 weeks along and just days before my scheduled ultrasound. The ER physician actually asked me to confirm how many weeks I was because the blood test showed very high hcg levels and that they were dropping fast. When I confirmed when my last period was he calmly said then there were twins and you’ve just lost one or both. We won’t know for sure until you can follow up with your OBGYN. I was so scared and heart broken. This was my second miscarriage. Thankfully at my next appointment they confirmed that my daughter was still alive. He stated that he also thought that there must have been a second baby and that’s the one we lost. We didn’t know whether the baby was a boy or girl, but none the less we grieved the loss. As an infant she refused to sleep unless she was laying on my chest or her father’s. To this day my daughter who is 6 is very clingy. She doesn’t like to sleep alone or fall asleep by her self. She asks every night to cuddle with me or to sleep in my bed. Most nights I have to hold her hand until she’s almost asleep. At first I didn’t know that a surviving twin who lost their twin so early would have this type of connection. I always wondered if her behavior was caused from our loss. So recently I started to research it. At least now I have a few answers thanks to your article. Like one of the other commenters my daughters birth certificate lists her as a singleton but deep down I know that she was a twin and so does she. I try to keep it open as much as possible when it come to discussing with my children about our losses. I will answer their questions the best that I can. But like the author when asked how many children I have I have a hard time explaining. I never know if I should say 4or 2. Most of the time I say I have 2 that I’ve been blessed to raise and 2 that God chose to raise in heaven.
    Thank you for letting me share.

  11. Rose Reichle
    Rose Reichle says:

    My son is almost 5 and he is a twinless identical twin. His brother died at 6 1/2 weeks old. After I delivered both boys at 33 w 4 d they both were in the NICU and I ended up in the ICU. I struggle with my own loss and wondering how this will affect my son long term. It is hard sometimes to have conflicting emotions of celebrating a milestone and grieving his brother not being there to walk through life with him.

    Thank you for this piece … I haven’t seen much regarding twinless twins.


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