• Womb twin survivor is the term used to describe individuals who may be the sole survivor of a twin or multiple pregnancy

  • Therapist Lisa Bodenstein, who specialises in working with WT survivors, explores how therapy may help

According to Charles Boklage Ph. D (1995) 1 in 10 of the population is a womb twin survivor. If this statistic holds true today, then it’s likely that you or someone close to you is a womb twin survivor.

What is a womb twin survivor?

Womb twin (WT) survivors are the sole survivor of a twin or multiple pregnancy (includes a vanishing twin pregnancy, still birth, miscarriage or abortion). Althea Hayton (2012) explains that many WT survivors may not know about or be aware of their experience of loss in the womb. They may however find that they carry with them unexplained emotional distress until they are able to process it.

While they often have a deep knowing, WT survivors don’t always have evidence of their lost twin. Many of us were born before ultrasounds become part of the pregnancy journey. What is important is that you can continue to seek help if you are struggling, even if you do not have evidence. I hope that WT survivors and their parents have avenues to seek and receive support without being judged.

Here are some examples of symptoms WT survivors experience. Do any of these relate to you or someone you know?

  • something feels like its missing
  • unexplained sadness and loss
  • survival guilt
  • self-sabotage
  • unexplained anger
  • difficulty building close relationships
  • fear of abandonment

This is by no means an exhaustive list and it's important to note that these symptoms could also be linked to other factors. Whether you have evidence of being a WT survivor or whether you have a deep sense of knowing that you lost a twin, it might be worth doing a bit of research to find out more.

If WT survivors take the time to acknowledge and explore their journey, then they can often move on with their lives with greater ease and follow their purpose with more flow.

Without understanding their experience or processing their emotions, WT survivors’ sometimes find that their symptoms of loss can hold them back from living a fulfilled life. Let’s take a brief look at a client Eva’s (pseudonym to protect confidentiality) story to get a glimpse of what this might look like. It may provide WT survivors with a bit of hope that they are not alone.

Eva’s story

Eva had a wonderful childhood and grew up with a supportive family, but she struggled with a deep unexplained sadness that gnawed away at her self-worth and confidence. She could often sense other people’s pain and was always eager to help others and ensure their comfort and safety, yet she had trouble fitting in and finding a sense of belonging. 

As a toddler she had regular inconsolable tantrums. She found comfort in her imaginary friend and nature. This connection felt so natural to her, unlike the connections she was trying to build with her peers.

Growing up she often felt an impending sense of doom; she would fight sleep at night in case something bad were to happen while she was dreaming away. She found it difficult to choose which life direction, studies, career and relationships to commit to and ended up changing paths a few times, because she never felt she was reaching her full potential. 

Eva felt incredibly grateful to be alive and excited by the many options and possibilities that lay ahead, yet somewhere inside she felt a constant sense of longing or dissatisfaction, often thinking: ‘I could have done that better’ or ‘surely this should all feel more fulfilling’ but somehow something was missing.

Fast forward a few years and the ‘somehow something missing’ had now been found.

While WT survivors share some characteristics and symptoms, their stories and discoveries are unique to them. Some have had evidence or know from birth, while others piece it together over time on their own. Eva uncovered a big piece of her experience at a Dance of Awareness* meeting and that’s when things began to fall into place and make sense. Dance of Awareness is a group movement practice that moves through various sequential phases/waves that follow the developmental themes from pre-birth to around five years of age. For Eva this was profoundly powerful as she was able to allow pre-birth and pre-verbal memories to find a place to surface.

While they were moving through the pre-birth phase Eva came to realise a deep sense of knowing – she felt like she was back in the womb existing alongside her twin for the first time. She noticed a sensation of finally feeling whole and experienced instant joy, deep connection and understanding. Yet in that moment of joy and understanding she realised that her twin couldn’t be born to life and was then met with a deep sensation of loss and mourning. She began to grasp where the feeling of ‘missing’ had come from and felt like she had finally met her unexplained sadness. A tangible wave of forgiveness gently washed through her; it was not her fault, it was not her twin’s fault, it was not her mother’s fault. It was no longer her responsibility to try and bring her twin back to life. 

Somewhere inside Eva had always known loss, but this experience enabled her preverbal material to surface and allowed her to make sense of her deep emotional pain. In being able to acknowledge her pain and her story she was able to process it. A few months later her impending sense of doom began to fade and she was able to make adjustments to habits and behavioural patterns that were no longer serving her and also to manage them with more compassion and greater flow.


Meeting other WT survivors can help them feel less alone

Soon after this experience, Eva met another WT survivor. It was such a huge relief for her to be able to share her loss with someone that could empathise and didn’t think she was completely crazy. She was not alone in her experience and felt hope. Hearing other people’s stories opened her eyes to symptoms that she had not been aware. Not all symptoms are negative, and some symptoms can become helpful. It was then that she noticed her sensation of having enough energy and thoughts for two or more people and was able to channel them in a more productive way. Her healing journey continues with each new day.

Everyone is different, let them find a way that works for them, that feels safe for them

Some WT survivors might not need or want to investigate their experience further, some might find ways to manage their WT survivor symptoms on their own, while others may prefer to find help. They might find it easier to gain perspective when they are reflecting their thoughts with a good listener or may need or prefer to see a therapist or other professional to explore things further.

If you or someone you know might be struggling and want to process the experience, there are avenues of support. It is important that you find a therapist that is open to working with your womb twin or vanishing twin survivor experience. My approach to therapy is welcomes those with experience of twin loss and allows clients to process their journey on a verbal as well as non-verbal level. This can be incredibly powerful as the loss of the twin was first experienced in the womb at a pre-verbal phase of your development.

Where to go from here

This is a brief article, offering an anecdotal snapshot into the womb twin survivor journey; there is still much that could be explored. While the topic might be obvious to some, it might also be fairly new or still sound farfetched to others. The aim is not to convince people but rather to shed light on what WT survivors might be going through. This could help them, their parents, partners and friends to find the inspiration or courage to seek support should they need to.

Working through their WT survivor experience has provided many with a huge sense of relief and hope to move forward. Working alongside an understanding professional can be of incredible value in supporting this process. Sometimes exploring self-help options is enough for WT survivors, sometimes they feel the need to reach out for extra support from a professional, particularly if you begin to feel overwhelmed. Ensure that you get the support you need; you do not have to do this on your own. Please feel free to explore the links below or get in touch with me if you have any further questions.

Therapy can offer a safe and embracing place to explore your WT survivor experience. Ensure that you find a therapist who has an understanding of this and is happy to support you through this.

Lisa Bodenstein is a verified welldoing.org therapist in Pershore and online

Further reading

Identity and character work in therapy

Working with the body in counselling

Birth order: does your position in the family really make a difference?

References and resources

Charles E. Boklage Ph.D (1995) Frequency and Survival Probability Of Natural Twin Conception. Chapter 4 in Keith, L.G., Papiernik, Keith, D.M. and Luke, B. (eds) (1995) Multiple Pregnancy: Epidemiology, Gestation and Perinatal Outcome. New York: Parthenon.

Helain J. Landy et al. (1986) The "vanishing twin": Ultrasonographic assessment of fetal disappearance in the first trimester. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Althea Hayton (2012) A Healing Path for Womb Twin Survivors. UK: Wren Publications.

For more information about Dance of Awareness go to https://www.embodiedtherapy.org.uk/copy-of-dance-of-awareness

YouTube and Facebook can also offer alternative forms of support and information, like: https://www.wombtwin.com/