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February 17, 2007 9:24 AM   Subscribe

How can you have a normal life when you have to share your body with a conjoined twin? Some do remarkably well
posted by petsounds (45 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've seen that last video before... and I still can't figure out how they can type so fast. I mean... one twin controls one hand and one controls the other, right? That kinda blows my mind.
Anybody here ever read Chang & Eng?
posted by miss lynnster at 10:01 AM on February 17, 2007


wow, Awesome and profoundly humbling.
posted by nickyskye at 10:43 AM on February 17, 2007


So Many questions come to mind. Just for starters do they get to vote twice? Yeah, what if one is lib and the other con. The whole thing is as miss lynnster said, mind boggling.
posted by notreally at 10:47 AM on February 17, 2007


Check out Twin Falls Idaho sometime for an incredibly haunting rendering of life for two conjoined twins.
posted by docpops at 11:00 AM on February 17, 2007


I've seen documentaries on these two before. The awesomest part is they have TWO hearts and FOUR lungs! They can swim, run, and play baseball, which is crazy considering each controls their half of the body. What if ones an athiest and the other devout? Take that, god!
posted by Mach5 at 11:02 AM on February 17, 2007


They never know what it's like to be alone. Strange.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 11:23 AM on February 17, 2007


I guess I'm a pervert because I wonder how they deal with sexuality. They aren't unattractive... do they have boyfriends? Will they get married? What happens when they have children, if they can have them?

It does make me happy to see how well they function as a team and how much support they seem to have from their peers and the community.
posted by MegoSteve at 11:35 AM on February 17, 2007


Abbey likes math a lot better, Brittney wold rather write something

It's true what they say, two minds are better than one.

This is a truly amazing story
posted by Count at 11:44 AM on February 17, 2007


From the last video, the fact that they have different personalities is so interesting from a nature vs. nurture point of view. They share their genes, so nature can't be the deciding factor, but since they are conjoined, they clearly have shared the same environmental influences, too. So what made one outgoing while the other is more introverted? It seems to raise a lot of questions about how and why we are the way we are.
posted by gatorae at 11:48 AM on February 17, 2007


Wikipedia has some more anatomical details about these two.

Also see Chris Ware's brilliantly devastating tales of codependency and loss, the adventures of Quimbies the Mouse (seen here as a wooden toy.)
posted by otherthings_ at 11:52 AM on February 17, 2007


These guys choke me up. They're awesome.

Megosteve, apparently, according to that wikipedia article, they discuss dealing with puberty in the latest documentary, but I don't know if it's included in the clip above. (What would be a bit of a bummer is if one twin got all the fun, so to speak, and the other was just along for the ride.)

They should run for president/vice president in another 20 years. No more shadow governments in undisclosed locations!
posted by maxwelton at 12:04 PM on February 17, 2007


Well, they don't share EXACTLY the same environment; One has lived in a world where there has always been a person to the left of themselves, and the other vice versa... Who knows how much it shapes the personality to live one life versus the other.
posted by Catfry at 12:09 PM on February 17, 2007


(I'm vaguely imagining something about left brain half v. right brain half)
posted by Catfry at 12:10 PM on February 17, 2007


I still can't figure out how they can type so fast

The speed? I was more taken with the fact that two separate people were apparently typing without discussing what they were writing! Surely that requires, you know, telepathy.

British readers: the Hensel sisters are the subject of a documentary on Channel Five this coming Monday (part of the Extraordinary People strand, which has been less sensationalist than you'd expect from the channel).

(Also, was it awful of me to wonder if they'd read the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy? They even had a third arm when they were born.)
posted by jack_mo at 12:16 PM on February 17, 2007


What would be a bit of a bummer is if one twin got all the fun, so to speak, and the other was just along for the ride.

According to Wikipedia, they share one reproductive system, so it'd have to be a threesome.
posted by jack_mo at 12:20 PM on February 17, 2007


I remember they were the cover article of LIFE magazine in 1996, which is now archived on the TIME website. Also, some photos from that article.
posted by Xere at 12:33 PM on February 17, 2007


So Many questions come to mind. Just for starters do they get to vote twice?
When they reach age? Of course.
Yeah, what if one is lib and the other con.
Then one votes for the Democrat, and the other votes for the destruction of our society.
posted by Flunkie at 12:51 PM on February 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


That's totally heartbreaking and completely inspiring at the same time. As a parent, I'm not sure that I would have dealt with the situation as courageously as these girl's parents but I hope that I would have. I love how unembarrassed they seem, it makes most of the rest of us seem pissy and whiny in comparison.
posted by octothorpe at 1:23 PM on February 17, 2007


The speed? I was more taken with the fact that two separate people were apparently typing without discussing what they were writing! Surely that requires, you know, telepathy.
Well, that's actually what I meant. I don't get why they aren't having to discuss what they're typing word for word, how they can work together to type something so quickly (without being psychic) since one obviously controls one hand and one controls the other. As I said, that totally blows my mind.

In the book Chang & Eng, it described the twins marriages and stuff... they lived in separate houses. One of the twins was an alcoholic jerk. The other didn't really drink but he'd feel drunk anyhow because they were sharing a body. The good twin had a crush on the bad twin's wife & was angry with how she was treated. He didn't know how to deal with his feelings, but he had to be present for every moment of their marriage. It was really an odd tale.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:37 PM on February 17, 2007


Apparently they play the piano, too. I can see how they would be extremely suited for that. I, too, am baffled by the typing dilemma.
posted by ScottMorris at 2:34 PM on February 17, 2007


Now you've got me thinking about how is it possible two persons, sharing one trunk could type using both hands or, for that matter, even walk. Could it be something to do with an unspoken agreement on which twin performs which tasks? Because they both share one spine, it might be possible for information to be sent in neurochemical 'messages' from one twin to the other, sort of non-verbal permissions for one twin to do one thing and the other twin to do the other or for them to collaborate on certain body functions, like peeing or pooping? Who knows?

Types of conjoined twins.

Skeleton of Dicephalic parapagus type twins.
posted by nickyskye at 3:37 PM on February 17, 2007


Wow, I remember reading about the Hensel twins when they were 6 or so. Now they can drive! Eek, I feel old. : )

There's a really good novel called She and I, by Eileen Lottman, which is about a pair of conjoined twins who can't stand each other.
posted by SisterHavana at 4:19 PM on February 17, 2007


I guess I'm a pervert because I wonder how they deal with sexuality. They aren't unattractive... do they have boyfriends? Will they get married? What happens when they have children, if they can have them?

Are they attracted to similar types? Or dissimilar? What happens if one finds a particular person utterly hot and the other finds that person repulsive? Would each of them have veto power over the other's partners?

The Wikipedia page mentions that they share

# 1 bladder
# 1 ribcage
# 1 large intestine
# 1 female reproductive system


If they share a vagina, and one twin consented to vaginal intercourse with a particular partner and the other vocally and strenuously objected, would that be rape?
posted by jason's_planet at 5:43 PM on February 17, 2007


And while I'm on the topic, what if each twin developed a different sexual orientation? What if one were a lesbian and the other heterosexual? Would this be possible?
posted by jason's_planet at 5:49 PM on February 17, 2007


It was great to see them again. Last time I saw them they were about 11, I think. Good post. Big props to the parents, and some excellent thoughts here.
posted by puddinghead at 6:03 PM on February 17, 2007


While it is a work of fiction, an interesting movie concerning conjoined twins is "Brothers of the Head" [website] [imdb entry] I saw it this summer at the Pittsburgh film festival. Some of you may find it interesting.
posted by punkrockrat at 6:20 PM on February 17, 2007


According to Wikipedia, they share one reproductive system, so it'd have to be a threesome.

They share it, but do they both feel it?
posted by MegoSteve at 7:25 PM on February 17, 2007


As far as employment goes...would they get two salaries or one? I would think it would depend on the job. Intellectually, they are two people but in a laborer-type job position, they're really just one, right?
posted by nevafeva at 7:31 PM on February 17, 2007


It'll be interesting when (if) they get serious about sharing with us their concepts of self-identity. It'll be very interesting to learn new concepts regarding the body-mind duality.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:41 PM on February 17, 2007


In the video they mention that they enjoy spending time on the Internet. I assume they're doing the usual stuff, surfing, chatting with classmates and whatnot.

I wonder how long it will be before they start representing themselves with a broader public persona? Will they communicate with the world directly, or only through an agent? This will be a really interesting case for anyone interested in how people in their generation handle privacy and identity.
posted by otherthings_ at 12:17 AM on February 18, 2007


They're fascinating young women, to be sure. I'm glad they're among us.
posted by maxwelton at 12:18 AM on February 18, 2007


Amazing. The human brain is a remarkable thing. These two gals are awesome - I hope they live long and prosper, truly.
posted by davidmsc at 12:54 AM on February 18, 2007


If they share a vagina, and one twin consented to vaginal intercourse with a particular partner and the other vocally and strenuously objected, would that be rape?

Of course it would be!

(I'm actually feeling a bit troubled talking about this aspect of their lives now - if they hang out on the web a lot, there's a good chance they could happen upon this discussion)

might be possible for information to be sent in neurochemical 'messages' from one twin to the other, sort of non-verbal permissions

There must be something like that going on for the typing thing to work, musn't there? Which raises very interesting questions about the extent to which they are two individuals - certainly no two non-conjoined individuals could collaboratively express thoughts through typing. I wonder if this means that they, are, in a sense, two individuals who together make up a third, collaborative 'dual individual'. I'd love to ask them what the word 'we' means to them.
posted by jack_mo at 5:15 AM on February 18, 2007


It does feel wrong to talk about the twins in such intimate detail. Lord knows I'd be a little weirded out if the sex lives of FFFish were being discussed.

On the other hand, they surely know they're "special" and present unique challenges to our ideas of self. This conjoined lifestyle may be old hat to them, but it's unknowable and curious to the rest of us.

Frankly, if they do stumble across our corner of the web, I hope they grab an account and we can have a respectful and thoughtful conversation with them.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:11 AM on February 18, 2007


Lord knows I'd be a little weirded out if the sex lives of FFFish were being discussed.

While I, on the other hand, would be absolutely fine with people discussing the sex lives of MBomb.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:52 AM on February 18, 2007


Thanks for sharing; amazing story. I wonder what their lives will bring them as they enter adulthood; hopefully nothing but the best.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:53 AM on February 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Amazing. I hope these girls continue to be as happy together as they seem to be in the video.

It will definitely be interesting to see what careers they choose with such different personalities and the caveat that if one of them is there, well, so's the other. I wonder what they'll come up with!
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:07 PM on February 18, 2007


Excellent post, all the way around. I've always been fascinated with conjoined twins (and I've been meaning to get to the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia). But I think I've missed these girls' stories, so I'm glad you clued me in. It'll be interesting to see which way their lives go.

And I'm glad to know I'm not the only one to wonder what if one was gay or if one liked a certain type and the other did not.
posted by annieb at 4:23 PM on February 18, 2007


Frankly, if they do stumble across our corner of the web, I hope they grab an account

Two accounts, actually.
posted by ottereroticist at 4:37 PM on February 18, 2007


It does feel wrong to talk about the twins in such intimate detail. Lord knows I'd be a little weirded out if the sex lives of FFFish were being discussed.

I wasn't trying to creep anybody out, but as you mentioned:

. . . they surely know they're "special" and present unique challenges to our ideas of self. This conjoined lifestyle may be old hat to them, but it's unknowable and curious to the rest of us.

I couldn't agree with you more. Here we have two distinct people sharing one body which means that they have to make compromises in most areas of their lives. Sexuality is a way that we express ourselves through the body. When that body isn't the property -- so to speak -- of just one person, what kinds of compromises and negotiations do those people have to undertake in the sexual sphere?

I couldn't help but wonder about it.

I hope they grab an account and we can have a respectful and thoughtful conversation with them.

Me too. If they showed up, though, I wouldn't bother them with those kinds of questions. It is ultimately their business.
posted by jason's_planet at 4:43 PM on February 18, 2007


On the 'telepathic' typing question, they only covered it briefly in the Channel Five doc: the girls, when asked, said, 'When we're IMing or whatever, we say what we're going to say out loud, and they we type it' and we are then shown them clearly not doing that, just exchanging glances and laughs. They also say 'I think X' when talking online (which they seemed a bit uncomfortable with) unless they disagree on a point, in which case they'll refer specifically to themselves or each other, again collaboratively.

One of their doctors on the twins' collaborative abilities: "They have some greater form of perception, or proprioception, on the other side of the body [ie of the other person] that allows them to accomplish these extraordinary feats". He also mentioned that nervous signals shouldn't pass down one spine and then up the other, then raised his eyebrows and sort of left the point hanging, as if implying that something unusual is happening. There was also a fascinating moment when Brittany said something that embarrassed her, and both hands went up to her face, with no discernable delay, in a way that suggested partially shared emotion, or extreme, immediate sensitivity on Abby's part to her sister's feelings.

As for us wondering aloud about their lives, I'm guessing they'd be pretty cool with that - they made a point of saying that they liked it when folk stopped them and asked questions, as opposed to photographing or filming them without their consent (which, sadly, if understandably, happens a lot).
posted by jack_mo at 2:12 PM on February 19, 2007


It is at the edge of things that we learn the most. These sisters are remarkable from so many standpoints: physical, emotional, sexual, and "individual" identity, sure, but also mechanical biology, neurobiology, mind-body interactions, and socialization. Watching them in the video was almost hypnotic, because they are so unusual, yet so...usual. I raised two daughters, myself, and they seem so sisterly in a normal way, yet when I look, I don't believe what I see. Okay, now I'm tripping all over my own tongue and I'll shut up now. [/Walks away, mumbling]
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:17 PM on February 19, 2007


If they had a baby, who would be listed as the mother on the birth certificate?
posted by agregoli at 8:04 AM on February 20, 2007


Both of them? Makes sense to me.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:14 PM on February 20, 2007


Riiiight, and hospital policies make sense. I have a feeling it would be a huge hassle and they would insist on one person's name as the mother. What hospital would be able to put two names into their system? What about social security? So many questions here.
posted by agregoli at 7:59 AM on February 21, 2007


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