Nancy L. Segal Ph.D.


Theft of a Twin

When a twin is stolen

Posted May 01, 2014

Last year I met Karen Wagner. Karen is 47 years old and a preschool teacher from Orange County, California. I learned that Karen’s twin brother was allegedly stolen by hospital workers soon after the delivery. Her mother was alert throughout and recalls giving birth to two babies. First she was told that she had delivered only one child, but was later told that her second infant had passed away. The fact that a burial for this baby never took place strongly suggested that the infant had been stolen.

Karen explained that in the event of an infant’s death, a ceremony would surely have been arranged in the devoutly Christian Republic of Armenia where the family was from.

Karen (née Karine Kemdjian) was born on December 14, 1965. Her mother and father were Nazik and Karo Kemdjian; her mother passed away in 1996. Soviet Armenia (SSR) was then one of 15 republics of the Soviet Union, beginning in 1922. Then, in 1990, the SSR was renamed the Republic of Armenia until its official independence in 1991. A new constitution was adopted in 1995 (Countries and Their Cultures, 2013). Under the Communist regime, citizens could not ask questions, so accurate information (even about very personal matters) was not revealed. Karen emphasized that people outside such regimes have difficulty believing such things happen, but they do. Karen has thought about her twin brother over the years, but does not have much hope of ever finding him.

How old are people when they first learn that they have a twin sibling? How does this happen?  These are simple, yet difficult to answer questions, even by twins and the parents who raise them. Most twins raised together often say that they “always knew.” Thus, the precise moment at which they fully grasped the meaning of twinship is usually unknown. In fact, such knowledge is available only to reared apart twins who are reunited as older children or as adults. Interestingly, developmental psychologists have researched the timing of children’s understanding of conservation, gender constancy, and even death, but children’s comprehension of sibship and twinship have been largely overlooked. Thinking back over the years, Karen believed that she had always known about her twin because it was a “constant family story.“ However, she believes that it was not until she was seven years old that she fully understood the concept of twinship. 

Karen and her family left Armenia for the United States when she was 11 years old. However, she did not arrive in California until she turned 13 because the family lived in Italy for two years. Karen lost several years of schooling in the process, but matriculated easily into the American school system because of her advanced curriculum. She later enrolled in Los Angeles City College and Orange Coast College, earning Associate of Arts degrees and several professional certificates.

Karen is the godmother of fraternal twin girls and knows of four sets of twins at the school where she teaches. She regards twins as “fascinating and amazing” in how they look and in their interactions with one another. She is not bitter about not having her twin, but is very grateful for the benefits of living in the United States. Unable to have children of her own, Karen thought about adopting twins, but this did not work out. 

Karen remains curious about her twin brother. She wonders where he might be, assuming realistically that he is unaware of his multiple birth status. The Internet has helped many twins and non-twins reconnect with biological family members—some people unaware of being a twin suddenly discovered that they had one. Unfortunately, Karen has no information with which to work other than a birth date. The chances are slim that she will locate her twin brother, but perhaps this article will help find him.  

Karen’s story poses significant implications for health services and the importance of family. As I demonstrated in Someone Else’s Twin (Segal, 2011), more rigorous protocols need to be implemented in hospitals and nurseries to ensure that mothers receive the right babies, and that unauthorized individuals are denied access to infants. Progress has been made along these lines, and along the lines of patient empowerment, but much remains to be done. Every mother deserves to go home with the baby (or babies) she delivered. Individuals selling newborns for personal profit need to be severely punished. There is no excuse for such actions.

About the Author

Nancy L. Segal, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and the Director of the Twin Studies Center, at California State University, Fullerton.

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