Artificial Twinning in adoption
Artificial twins can create additional problems in adoptive families.

Creating artificial twins, also known as virtual twins, through adoption is a bit of a sticky wicket in adoption circles. Artificial twinning means having two children in the family that are closer than could occur through birth where at least one child is adopted.  This can happen through the adoption of two unrelated kids at the same time or through the adoption of one child that is close in age to a child already in the family through either birth or adoption.  Melissa Fay Greene writes about her family’s experience with artificial twinning in her wonderful new book No Bike Riding in the House Without a Helmet when they adopted a preteen boy the same age as a son they had adopted a few years earlier. We talked about her experience on this week’s Creating a Family show.  Creating a Family provides plenty or resources for those thinking about artificial twinning or those who are raising virtual twins.

A Virtual Twin’s Experience

Up until now, however, we haven’t heard from an adult who was raised as an artificial twin.  As you probably know, I am a huge believer in listening to adult adoptees; however, I caution that no one adoptee speaks for the diverse whole.  Below is one woman’s experience.  Please share your experience as an adoptive parent or an adoptee with virtual twinning in the comments.


All my brother and I had as young children was each other. At six years old, our adoptive parents divorced over dad’s alcoholism, which had resulted in domestic violence. My adoptive mother was raised in a strong religious family where children played such an important role in their beliefs. By all appearances only being able to conceive one much older bio son and then to adopt two babies so close in age was a desperate attempt to fix an already broken marriage. However, we shared a tight connection as brother and sister up until dad walked out of our lives.

Not that most adoptions start out like ours did or continue to get much worse, but it’s what I experienced from having a non-bio brother so close in age that might in some way help other adoptive parents.

1. My adoptive brother and I were as different as night and day in every way possible. Being forced to tell anyone who asked that we were twins but had different birth dates caused a lot of unnecessary gossip and confusion as we got older. I still have friends from Junior High who ask me on Facebook if we were really twins. There is no simple explanation as to why I wouldn’t have been telling the truth.

2. Until my 13th birthday, I remember only celebrating our birthdays together. There was nothing in our lives that represented each of us being unique and special. Mom would probably say it was done to not cause jealousy and was less work. My suggestion would be that if you are going to have one birthday party, to have a significant day set aside for each child that represents for example—the day you adopted your son or daughter. I remember with fondness my grandfather that lived out of state being able to randomly recite the date of my birthday and I wondered how that was possible when he had so many other grandchildren. He is the only relative or father figure that ever took me somewhere without my brother.

3. Looking back, I see where there were many times that my brother and I fed off of each other’s feelings/emotions, especially during the first six years of our lives. If he cried non-stop on the first day of kindergarten, I felt I must as well or vice versa. Although my brother was academically smarter than me if he had applied himself in school, I was more social and made friends easily. Our parents never focused on our strengths separately. Our identities were so closely meshed together that our individuality often got lost.

4. I don’t believe it was healthy for the adults in our lives not to see that as young children we couldn’t always be each other’s counselor and to try and process the difficult issues that face all families at some point. I am just starting to be able to, as an adult, put what I felt deep inside into words.

5. Tragically, after our parents divorced, my brother has struggled over the years with some serious mental health issues. Even as youngsters, I could see that he wasn’t and couldn’t totally bond to anyone in our family. The brother I had once thought I was close to has caused me a lot of shame and embarrassment with his repetitive bizarre behavior. I still remember back in elementary school grabbing him out from underneath a fight with a group of boys and pleading with them to just stop, even though I knew that he had probably provoked it from constantly antagonizing others. But still deep inside me there is this unspoken loyalty because I have felt those forbidden feelings of abandonment from a not so perfectly ideal adoption, as well as not being able to grieve over an absent adoptive father. My adoptive mother would always just say that I was jealous because my brother would get so much negative attention. What I needed from my parents is for them to have realized that not only did my brother desperately need psychological help, but that I also felt alone and confused. Regardless, if a child is adopted or not, a sibling, especially one so close in age, can feel at fault somehow for not being able to fix a family member that they are trying to love and not hate.

6. As if it was our fault, my adoptive mother would often say, “I raised all three of you the same, but you all turned out so differently.” The truth is none of us shared the same bio mother or bio father. My birth siblings say I am so much like my late birth mother in her mannerisms right down to her laugh. My adoptive family could have certainly been a textbook case where nurture verses nature proved to not just be a fantasy.

From my perspective, you have only failed as adoptive parents if you try to mold us into that child you couldn’t have or somebody we are not.

Image credit:  pauldevoto