Vanishing Twins NPR coverage of Vanishing Twins: A Marriage by Leah Dieterich. News, author interviews, critics' picks and more.
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Vanishing Twins

A Marriage

by Leah Dieterich

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A Marriage
Leah Dieterich

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Excerpt: Vanishing Twins

Maybe my twin would have danced ballet, too. I stopped when I was eighteen. Maybe my twin would have kept going.

Because of ballet, I spent a lot of time looking at my reflection. In class, we all clamored for the single panel in the wall of mirrors that inexplicably elongated the images of our bodies. The studio was large, but we crowded each other to dance in front of the skinny mirror. The teacher tried to spread us out but it was no use. Our only other option was to lose enough weight to look skinny in any mirror. And we tried that, too.

Twelve years later, I sit in the dark, behind a two-way mirror with my ad agency colleagues, watching a focus group eat hamburgers and talk about how they taste. It feels deceitful to watch someone when they think they are alone with their reflection.

We like to believe that a mirror shows our truest self, but it rarely does. If you're right up against it, with your nose touching the glass, you don't see anything at all.

That was the way I pressed myself to Eric. And Elena. And Ethan. I was too close and could not focus.


In all the articles about twins separated at birth, they always seem to share incredible similarities and quirks, no matter how differently they were raised. They hold their beer cans with just their thumb and index finger; they have moles on the left side of their rib cages. Neither of them likes ketchup.

I thought if I met someone with disgustingly fast-growing cuticles who liked the smell of burned toast more than anything in the world, it would prove I'd been my missing my mate.

If my twin was identical, it would have been a girl, but if it was fraternal, it could have been a boy or a girl. All this is to say I didn't know what I was looking for.


Giselle got a boyfriend at the donut shop where she worked and quickly experienced all of her sexual firsts without me. This threw off the comforting symmetry that had always made our friendship seem predestined. Ancient. Suddenly I felt like I was a foot shorter than her. At sixteen, her parents allowed her to finish high school via correspondence courses so she could spend more of her day at the dance studio, and she was gone. Jumped off the seesaw while I was still on it, letting me drop with tailbone-breaking speed to the dirt below.

Ever since we met in third grade, no one at school had uttered our first names separately. They were always linked with an and. Now there was an empty space next to that and, a vacancy. Sometimes the weather in that space was mild, just the sideways breeze of her being whisked away. Other times it rained for days.

I needed to sandbag it.

But instead of filling this void, I chose to build a structure around it. I got up at 6:30 a.m., was at school by 7:25, drank a Diet Coke, ate a Granny Smith apple for lunch, and finished my homework during study hall before driving myself to the city for ballet. This schedule was a scaffolding around my terror of being solo.


Vanishing Twin Syndrome. That's what the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology calls a fetus in a multiple pregnancy that dies in utero and is partially or completely reabsorbed by the surviving fetus.

This phenomenon has likely existed forever, but it wasn't until the late 1970s, when ultrasounds became sophisticated enough to detect twins as early as five weeks, that doctors began having the unnerving experience of viewing twin embryos one month, only to find a singleton the next.

The term vanishing twin was coined in 1980, the year I was born.

They say if the less viable twin is not consumed, it "exists in a kind of limbo, compressed by the other to a flattened, parchment-like state known as fetus papyraceus."

Papyrus, like paper.


The fact that it's called "vanishing twin" instead of "vanished twin" seems to indicate that the disappearance is perpetual, not completed, possibly not completable.

Obviously when one twin comes out and the other doesn't, it's over, in a certain sense. But grammatically, the vanishing twin never disappears; it is just continually fading from existence. This makes it harder to mourn, since it's never really over.