Someone Else’s Twin: The True Story of Babies Switched at Birth
by Nancy L. Segal. Prometheus Books, 2011
In 1973 identical twins Delia and Begoña were accidentally separated in the Canary Islands hospital where they were born. Begoña went home with her parents and an unrelated baby, Beatriz, who was raised as her twin. Meanwhile, 50 miles away, Beatriz’s parents brought up Delia as their daughter.
Fast-forward 28 years, when a local store clerk mistakes Begoña for Delia. Convinced the two are twins, she arranges a meeting. The meeting fundamentally alters the sisters’ sense of identity—as well as that of their parents and siblings.
In Someone Else’s Twin, Nancy L. Segal delves into this extraordinary, tragic case to tackle both the scientific significance of identical twins and the humanistic questions they spark about identity. Segal, a fraternal twin and psychologist who directs the Twin Studies Center at California State University, Fullerton, gained access to the women in exchange for acting as an expert witness in their lawsuit against the Canary Islands Health Services. Her position is clear: “Suddenly finding a twin in adulthood revises everything about one’s personal identity—who one is and who one should have been.”
She bolsters her position with findings from the 20-year Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart, in which Segal was an investigator, and other research. Regardless of how they are raised, identical twins are more alike than fraternal twins in height, weight, health, intelligence, athleticism, social attitudes and job satisfaction, underscoring the influence of genes on these qualities. Indeed, the relationship between identical twins is so unique that a Spanish physician contended that Delia and Begoña’s separation violated their “fundamental right to personal identity.”
Segal describes how Beatriz, too, suffered a devastating loss when the switch was discovered. The twins’ parents also were shattered. Research on maternity certainty—a mother’s confidence that a child is her own—has shown that new mothers perform better than chance when trying to recognize their newborns within a couple of hours using senses other than sight; fathers are better at picking out their babies visually. Failing to spot a switch or to act forcefully on that instinct only adds to the grief of the new reality. “Saying your child has been switched,” the father of a switched pair tells Segal, “is like saying she’s been killed.”