The reality of vanishing twins was a real mind-bender for me. Not that it happened to me—at least not that I know of, but then again, when it happens most people don’t know it.
Imagine being pregnant, having an early ultrasound, and the doctor says, “Congratulations, it’s twins!” Imagine the surprise, the plans, the joy. Fast forward two months. Another ultrasound reveals only one baby. You didn’t feel any different. There wasn’t any bleeding or cramping, no signs of a miscarriage. What happened to the other twin?
The phenomenon of vanishing twins is not exactly common, but it does happy more than you might think. Doctors estimate that it happens in 21-30 % of pregnancies with twins. But why does it happen?
Since one twin survives, doctors speculate that most vanishing twins happen because of chromosomal abnormalities in fraternal twins. The deceased twin is usually reabsorbed by the mother, but sometimes two other scenarios occur, usually in the second or third trimester. The deceased baby could be compressed and somewhat mummified by the weight of the other twin’s body. It is then delivered as part of the placenta after the surviving twin is born.
The other, more unusual, scenario is when the surviving twin absorbs all or part of the deceased twin. This can lead to a chimera—a person who has more than one genetic code (DNA).
Chimeras were first identified when some individuals tested as having more than one blood type. Since then, chimeras have been found with different DNA in different parts of their body.
Would you know if you were a chimera? Most of them don’t.
One mother, Lydia Fairchild, fought for custody of her three children when a maternity test revealed they weren’t genetically related to her. The DNA tests of her hair, cheek and blood cells came back as not a genetic match to her children, but she knew they were hers. Finally, a test of her thyroid cells proved that her children were biologically hers (read more of her story here). Fairchild was essentially her own twin after having absorbed the cells from a vanishing twin in utero.
Some might question whether a vanishing twin, a baby destined to disappear, has a soul. I believe God bestows a soul on each human at the moment of conception. But even if you disagree, the vanished twin certainly had a life. A life that God controlled for the short time that it lasted, and even beyond.
References: http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=8905, http://www.babycenter.com/0_strange-but-true-vanishing-twins_10364948.bc, http://americanpregnancy.org/multiples/vanishing-twin-syndrome/
Photo Credit: ID 14506000 © Milan Martaus | Dreamstime.com