What would you think if you found out in your thirties that you had an identical twin you never knew about? Imagine how meeting that person would change your life.
This is the story of Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein, authors of Identical Strangers, published by Random House in 2007. After seeing a video clip of these young women recently, I was curious enough to track down their book so I could find out why they were separated and how they found each other.
To my surprise, the book was all I had hoped for and more because both of the twins, who are talented and experienced writers, know how to tell a story that keeps the reader engaged. In alternating viewpoints, first one twin—Elyse—and then the other—Paula—reveals where she was, what she was doing, and how each step of the journey affected her life.
I can’t remember when I first got interested in twins because I grew up with the awareness that my mom, Lorena, had had a twin sister, Loretta. When her mother, Frances, was close to delivery, in the days before ultrasound, the doctor told her she was going to have a hefty boy. Imagine everyone’s surprise when she gave birth to two girls who weighed over five pounds each. Unfortunately, Loretta died of pneumonia when she was only a few months old.
Interestingly enough, after Frances was widowed and had remarried, she had a second set of twins, a girl and a boy, Lynda and Lynn. While it was commonly known that fraternal twins run in families, I also grew up hearing that fraternal twins skip a generation, which indeed happened when my mother didn’t have twins and my sister had a set, a girl and a boy, Jami and Jonathan.
There’s scientific logic behind the idea that fraternal twins skip a generation: a man who inherits the “fraternal twin gene”, which prompts a woman to release more than one egg at a time, does not affect him, but the gene continues down the line to his daughters, who may then give birth to twins. So, while fraternal twins have been observed to run in families, they may skip a generation but not always.
But I digress. As I followed Elyse’s and Paula’s quest for answers about their birth history and separation, where their potentially-shared childhood never happened for reasons that defy common sense and compassion, I sensed their frustration at obstacles along the way and their satisfaction when they finally came to terms with all that happened. You don’t need to have twins in the family to appreciate the gripping, true-life story of Identical Strangers.