Are they identical?
Over the past three years, I've learned that there is no easy way to answer this question asked often by well meaning and curious people (friends and strangers alike).
If I say "No, they're fraternal," the response is "No, I think they are identical." If I say "Yes, they are," the response is "No, I don't think so. Look, his face is much rounder. And he is just a little taller." Either way, I never win. And honestly, I don't even know which answer is right, myself.
What do I mean? Well, let's take a brief detour for a quick science lesson, shall we?
Identical twins, technically known as monozygotic twins, are spontaneously formed when one egg and one sperm have joined together and start dividing, just like any normal pregnancy. However, at some point in this division process, the cell splits into two, which results in not one, but two embryos. Because of the split, the fetuses will typically end up sharing either a placenta, an embryonic sac, or both, all depending on how early/late in the process the cell splits. Identical twins, do not "run in families," are not a result of fertility treatments, and do not result in perfect carbon copy children. While it's true that they share the same initial DNA, there are a other factors that are involved: environmental, lifestyle, etc. Many of these affect how the twins look over time, however identical twins can come into the world differently too. Especially since they are more at risk for Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS), which is when the two fetuses receive a disproportionate amount of the blood supply.
Fraternal twins, technically dizygotic twins, are formed when the mother's ovaries release two eggs and both eggs are individually fertilized by sperm. These twins are genetically no different than any other sibling pair. They just happen to share a birthday. However, that doesn't mean that can't look a ton a like (Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen are fraternal twins). Think about it. How many times have you heard/seen parents compare pictures of their non-twin children around the same ages and proclaim "They look identical." My best friend's sons look so much alike that I literally thought two side by side framed pictures were of the same baby.
So, which kind are my boys? Well, when my doctor found out I was having twins, the first thing she did was look for two sacs and two placentas, because she was concerned about TTTS. She was glad to report that they did indeed each have their own of both. She then quickly explained that they were most likely fraternal, with a very small chance of being identical. I could have a DNA test done, but they are very expensive. At the time finding out they were most likely fraternal was really good news to me. I wish I could say it was because I was worried about TTTS. But really, it was because I was really hoping for one boy and one girl. And identical twins alway have the same sex.*
*Okay, not always, but almost always with very very few freak exceptions.
Fast forward a few years. I have two boys who I was told are fraternal, but really do LOOK identical. And it's not just strangers who can't tell them apart. It's our friends, our family, and sometimes us! Curiosity takes me to the internet to find out what is the statistical likelihood that they could in fact be identical despite having all their own "parts". Imagine my surprise when I found out that the liklihood is not 1% like I thought, but more like 20% (they just have to have split within the first 72 hours)!. It's still not huge, but it is 1 in 5. Those are much better odds than 1 in 100.
So now, I'm thinking "maybe they are identical." Which then leads me to search for blood tests. I find out that there are a lot of websites that offer DNA testing for twins. And, the tests aren't $500 like my doctor told me. They run about $160 (including shipping). You order your kit, swab both boys' cheeks, package the swabs up, send them back, and in about 7 days you receive your results. Easy-peesy. I'm psyched! I've got my credit card out and am ready to order.
But something holds me back. When we got married, Superman and I made a pact not to spend over a certain amount of money without consulting the other. This was over that amount. So I put my credit card away and started building my case for why I'd spend $160 on a blood test for absolutely zero medical necessity. I should have built a better case, because I was DE-NIED! It was an 'unnecessary expense." I couldn't argue that it was necessary, because was it? Really?
With my head hanging low, I called the person with whom I most like to bitch about Superman's stingy nature... my mother-in-law. Yes, believe it or not, my MIL is my favorite confidant for my complaints about her son. See, Superman is just like his dad. And if there is one person who understands my frustrations, it is the woman that has been married to the older version for 40+ years. Every one of my "ughs" is followed with a reassuring "I know, he does the same thing."
But guess what? MIL is really interested in the test. She too thinks they might be identical and really wants to find out for sure. She offers to pay for the test. Hmm, so that would take the money issue off the table.
Then I mention the issue to my own mother. She too wants to find out. She offers to split the cost with my MIL.
So back to the husband.
And he says... "Nah". What? "Nah." But you said it was an 'unnecessary cost.' Now, it would be free. "I just don't want to."
After much "discussion," I can best explain that Superman doesn't want the boys to take the test because he doesn't want them to be identical. He doesn't want them to be one unit split in half, but rather two separate beings with separate identities. I explain that the test doesn't make them identical. Whether they are identical or fraternal was determined a long time ago in my uterus, the test would just tell us... But he won't budge. He doesn't want to know. He wants to just go on assuming they are fraternal. What I don't know doesn't hurt me kind of thinking.
My mother and MIL both encourage me to try and convince him to let the boys take the test, but just don't tell him the results.
Uh, so how does that work? It'd be like saying "Honey, can I find out the sex of our unborn baby? I promise I won't tell you." Meanwhile I'm picking out pink paint for the nursery and buying frilly dresses. !?!?!?! There are certain things that are all or nothing.
So far, I've been unable to convince him to change his mind. And really, should I try? I mean, isn't it I who complain that people don't treat them as individuals?
In the end, we made a compromise. When the boys are older. If they want to find out for themselves, we will have the test done. If they don't really care or don't want to know, we won't. We'll leave it up to them to make that decision.
And I guess I'm happy with that compromise.
Mostly because I'm 100% positive they'll want to find out.