NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
Identical twins separated as infants, each unaware of each other's existence only to reunite much later in life, which you might recognize as the plot for stories from "The Prince and the Pauper" to "The Parent Trap." Today, we talk with two women who lived this unlikely story.
Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein both knew that they'd been adopted. Like many kids, Elyse sometimes imagined that she had a twin, a missing heartbeat as she sometimes described it. But they didn't learn the truth until they were 35 years old.
Then, they started asking questions and found out that they have been separated as part of an ethically dubious twins study. Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein join us in just a moment. Later in the program, the pornographic movie business - up until now a beneficiary of technology - finds itself threatened by amateur sites on the World Wide Web.
But first, Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein join us from NPR's bureau in New York. Their book is called "Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited." And thanks very much for coming in.
Ms. ELYSE SCHEIN: Thanks.
Ms. PAULA BERNSTEIN: Our pleasure.
CONAN: And, Elyse, you started the chain of inquiries that led to the all of the subsequent discoveries. Why did you start asking questions about your past in your mid-30s?
Ms. SCHEIN: Well, when I was living in Paris and I've reached the age that my mother was - my adoptive mother, that's my real mother - was when she died age 33, I began to realize that it was now or never. The time have come for me to inquire about the mystery that had shadowed my life - who was my birth mother and where did I come from?
Ms. SCHEIN: I was ready - I was a fully formed adult and ready to know more, so I registered with the nearest state adoption registry. And soon after, I received a letter saying that my birth mother was 28, an American and apparently not looking for me, so I gave up on that search. So imagine my surprise, six months later - that's a year after I first inquired - saying that I had a twin in the world.
CONAN: Paula, you were then in Brooklyn - and I think still now - a wife and a mother, a writer and the author, in fact, of a piece for Redbook magazine about why you didn't want to know about your birth parents.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: In fact, that's true. I had - while I was in college, I had inquired about non-identifying information from the agency, meaning that I wanted to know medical information, but I did not want to find out the identity of my birth mother. And later on, I did in fact write an article about why I did not want to find my birth family.
In fact, I wrote I have no craving for biological relatives. And the way I see it, I've got enough loving friends and family. Although I have no desire to find my birth mother, I often wish I could plant a thought in her brain: The child you bore is healthy and happy. You did the right thing.
So, I certainly was not looking for any biological relatives. But of course, I had - could not have fathom that I have an identical twin. That kind of a, you know, changed my thinking on the subject, although of course, I was entirely shocked to arrive home one day to my apartment and get a phone call from the adoption agency, telling me that I in fact had a twin who was looking for me.
CONAN: Elyse, you started that line of inquiry, too. You know, it all happened - it's a detective story in a lot of ways and…
Ms. SCHEIN: That's right.
CONAN: And sometimes it happened - you waited for a year for this response and sometimes things happened very quickly. In fact, you've got in touch with the agency that had placed you both. And within the course of an afternoon, you found out who and where your sister was.
Ms. SCHEIN: That's right. Well, they didn't give me her name, you know, for legal reasons. But we, you know, I went back and forth on the phone. They were - she said I will help you find her. I had no idea that the adoption agency, who had originally written me the letter, would help me find her.
So I thought this was an incredible quest, you know, a journey that would take me months or maybe years. I didn't even know if my twin was alive, if we were identical or fraternal. So it really was a detective story to try to track this - my doppelganger down. I mean, I started in New York because I knew that's where we were born, so I had to start saying we instead of me…
Ms. SCHEIN: …where I was born. And then the same day, the social worker - when she told me she'd help me find my twin, I felt brave enough to ask her, well, why were we studied? And she replied, for a secret twins study.
CONAN: Hmm. Well, there hangs another story. We'll get to that in just a minute. But, Paula, I know that when you got that phone call, you had some reservations.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: Well, certainly, my first instinct was just shock. You know, I was so shocked that I literally kind of felt - I guess not literally, but I felt that kind of ground quake beneath my feet. And I, you know, my natural instinct as a writer was to - and reporter - was to start jotting down notes almost as if it was an out-of-body experience, that I was interviewing someone else. This was not happening to me.
The woman on the other end of the phone, the social worker at the agency, kind of brought me back to reality when she said, well, I wasn't sure whether I should tell you, but what if you were walking down Fifth Avenue and you ran into someone who looks remarkably like you? And at that, you know, I started crying.
Suddenly, this fear that an alternate version of myself was out there in the world, and it kind of drove my paranoid thoughts, thinking, you know, did my parents know about this? Was this orchestrated in some way? What else is there about my life that I don't know?
You know, I thought I knew who I was, and suddenly my identity was - my sense of identity was, you know, changed dramatically in that one moment. And, I mean, I really broke down in tears. I just collapsed on the floor.
And then, once I calmed down a bit - and the woman at the agency had given me two phone calls. She gave, some sort of, two phone numbers - Elyse's phone number and her phone number. And I went to pick up the phone to call the social worker, thinking, of course, I have 50 zillion questions to ask. And I accidentally - or perhaps it was a Freudian slip - called Elyse.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: And you're suddenly hearing a voice, which is your voice.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: And I answered, hello? And I said, you know, is this Elyse Schein? And were you born October 9th, 1968? In a way, I've really still didn't believe it was true. I mean in a way, I still don't believe it's true. I still feel like we made the whole thing up. But then I look at Elyse and I realized, you know, we couldn't have made up such a crazy scenario.
Anyway, so we did talk on the phone and, well, I definitely had reservations and was still slightly, you know, afraid of what this meant for my life. At the same time, I was excited talking to someone who I did feel this - some intimate, immediate connection with.
CONAN: So eventually exchanges of phone calls, e-mails, you two finally meet at a cafe in the East Village in New York and are astonished by your similarities and by your differences, you know, gestures. You realize that gestures, all of a sudden, that you thought were uniquely yours, weren't.
Ms. SCHEIN: That's right. Two days after we first spoke on the phone, we were face-to-face. I was face-to-face and encountering, as Paula said, an alternate version of myself. And I felt like I was able - say that we both felt like monkeys in a zoo as we began to examine and compare every part of really what makes us who we are.
And, you know, Paula took out her notebook and began to scribble as she - she said, oh, your earlobes are attached. And I never realized that, you know, about myself just like hers are. And what Paula said that the reason that she pointed that out is that - Paula?
Ms. BERNSTEIN: Well, clearly, I paid attention of biology class because that was one of the key traits, just like whether you can tongue-roll - you can roll your tongue or not…
Ms. SCHEIN: And I failed at that.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: That's why…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. BERNSTEIN: …but we both are tongue-rollers and we both have attached earlobes, so that was - it was kind of my little scientific experiment. And then, it was interesting as we did find, as you've said, the similar manners is we both just stipulate a lot when we talk, we're both very animated and expressive, we're both - we both kind of mock-type while we speak, often as we're thinking things sometimes.
We each tilted our heads to the side as we were growing up. And then, what was also fascinating was, I mean, we really just hit it off immediately and started, you know, trying to catch each other up on the past 35 years of our life. And I felt like saying, you know, so Elyse, what have you been doing since we last saw each other in the womb?
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Which is an odd thought, but it turned out, again, uncanny similarities. You both suffered from depression in college. You both took up very broadly similar careers; both interested in the same kinds of movies. Elyse, you were studying to be a film director. Paula Bernstein, you write about film. You've found out later you could have run into each other in the same movie theater in New York - the Angelika.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: It is true.
Ms. SCHEIN: That's right. That was amazing. And when we spoke about our favorite films, at the same moment, we both, you know, exclaimed "Wings of Desire…"
Ms. BERNSTEIN: "Wings of Desire."
Ms. SCHEIN: …filmed by Wim Wenders.
CONAN: So a film - Wim Wenders is genetic.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: And, of course, speaks about alienation.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. BERNSTEIN: Is what?
CONAN: Appreciation for Wim Wenders is genetic.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: Apparently so. And then, we also had some of the same taste in books. You know, we both talked about Milan Kundera's "The Secret of Laughter and Forgetting" as a kind of a very important book in our life. But even more bizarre, we each found out later that we had collected Alice in Wonderland dolls and saved them in their original packaging. And my husband said, you know, what gene is it that predicted that?
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Through all of this, the sudden discovery of someone who could not be closer to you, in fact, someone who has the exact - Paula - Elyse, you write it - you wrote this after Paula came to visit you in Paris: Paula seemed to fear my judgment, while more often I sensed her air of superiority. I could almost hear her thoughts: If I were you, I would have a better apartment, I would. Well, I don't care what other people think about me, but Paula's judgment stings because she's my twin. Does she think I did a better job with our DNA?
Ms. SCHEIN: Does she think she did a better job…
Ms. SCHEIN: …with our DNA?
Ms. SCHEIN: Yes, I did feel that way at the time and I think that, you know, coming face-to-face with someone who shares - who is basically a genetic clone of you, you can't help but, you know, compare everything, and then, you know, question why you each made different life choices. And I did sense that though, you know, her line of questioning was, you know, wondering how I could live the way I did. And, you know, it was very disturbing to feel that I had disappointed this person or that she thought that I would be someone else more like her.
And I think that that we both - you know, it's hard to, you know, face someone else. And, I mean, it's such an odd feeling. It's, you know, varied - we tried to describe it in the book by coming face-to-face with your double, then you face - you're forced to confront certain things, the best and worst qualities of yourself, which is, you know, often quite painful. So we went through that difficult period, and luckily, you know, survived without killing each other at the end of the story…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SCHEIN: …and are still here to tell the tale.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: And this is Paula now. I mean, I think when we met, we were undeniably twins. We weren't sure whether we were sisters and what our relationship would be to each other. So I think since I was the one who was found as well and since I was at a different point in my life where I had a family and was kind of in a more settled stage, I did feel kind of, you know, afraid of where this new relationship might lead me.
And, you know, I think I came to realize that as different as our life choices were in some ways - even though, you know, we both had - we're editors of the high school newspaper, we both studied film theory and made short films and have traveled a lot - as different as we are, I came to realize that we do come from the same stock and that, in a way, we're variations on the same theme.
CONAN: And indeed that twin's study that resulted in your separation was a study of the influence of nature versus nurture. We'll find out more about that when we come back with Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein. Their book is called "Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited."
If you'd like to talk with Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein, give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us: email@example.com. And you can also join the conversation on our blog, that's at npr.org/blogofthenation.
I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein are with us, twins separated as infants. Their new book tells the story of how they found each other and the twins study they had no idea that they were part of. That study was led by Peter Neubauer and Viola Bernard for a time in the late 1960s. Lawrence Perlman worked for Peter Neubauer as a research assistant. Here, Perlman explains the adoption agency's decision to separate the twins.
Mr. LAWRENCE PERLMAN (Trustee, Carlton College): Apparently, Viola Bernard, who was a very prominent child psychiatrist and a consultant to Louise Wise Services, the adoption agency, had a really strong belief that twins should be raised separately. This idea that twins were often dressed the same and kind of treated exactly the same, she felt, interfered with their independent psychological development.
CONAN: That's part of a longer segment on Elyse and Paula that airs later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. They're with us from our bureau in New York. If you'd like to talk with them, give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And Elyse, this idea of a twins study - controversial in the 1960s, when it actually happened - it's almost horrifying to contemplate today.
Ms. SCHEIN: That's correct. But even at that time, it was not common practice to separate twins and certainly there was no other study of its kind because it's completely - as we all know, it's unethical to separate twins, you know, purposely for a study. All other twin studies that have come since are retrospective.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: And this is Paula, adding that in fact, Dr. Neubauer did try to recruit other agencies to be involved in the study, and none of them agreed. Also, it's interesting to note that Dr. Viola Bernard never had any substantiated research to back up this theory that she had. You know, so it was more kind of based on anecdotal experiences.
CONAN: Even more bizarre, it turns out all the conclusions and findings and the notes from these studies are locked up in academic archives until much later some of them will be available until you are both 98 years old and will, I'm sure, be most interested to look at them by that time.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. BERNSTEIN: It's Paula, and I'm determined that we're both going to - I think we have good genes and we come from good stock, and we're going to stick around until we're 98, and we're going to be crotchety old ladies, and we're going to go to those archives and find out what it was all about.
Ms. SCHEIN: Or even better, somehow, they will realize that they should be open to the twins and other - the triplets, and that we will gain access to these closed archives which are under the auspices of the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services, which, you know, for all intents and purposes exists to benefit these Jewish children and families.
CONAN: Benefit Jewish children and families. This was an extremely prestigious adoption agency as well. And at the same time, as you come away from your research into this and thinking about it, Elyse, I think it was you who mentions in your book, you can't help but thinking that you'd be candidates for research of Josef Mengele.
Ms. SCHEIN: Well, that's correct. Well, we both realized that, that we both - well, I think it was in Paula's section when she says that…
CONAN: Oh, Excuse me.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: But, but…
Ms. SCHEIN: …but we both studied the time period. Paula, would you like to comment?
Ms. BERNSTEIN: Right. And certainly, Mengele was fascinated by twins and did conduct obviously monstrous, twin studies, which were, you know, were far more horrific than anything we've experienced. But certainly - along the same lines and the fact that we are both Jewish and twins - you know, no doubt, we would have been of great interest to Dr. Mengele. And it is kind of horrifying to think that even after World War II that a Jewish agency like this in particular would not have, you know, looked to the past and really questioned the ethics of conducting such a study.
Ms. SCHEIN: We actually came face-to-face - we interview with Dr. Peter Neubauer, who was the impetus behind the study. And even today, he's a sprightly 93 and he expresses no remorse about the study that he conducted. And, you know, he seemed to express regrets simply about that he couldn't publish the results of his study of which he seemed to be so proud.
CONAN: Hmm. We want to give listeners an opportunity to speak with Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein. And why don't we start with - this is going to be Gina(ph). Gina is with us from Levering in Michigan.
GINA (Caller): Hello.
Ms. SCHEIN: Hi.
GINA: Hi. I'm interested in asking you about your inner experience. Did either of you have, growing up, a sort of any intuitive feeling or anything like maybe something was missing that became - that shifted after you discovered that you did have a twin? Can you characterize any inner kind of experience?
Ms. SCHEIN: Well, since my mother died when I was 6, then, you know, in my late 20s, and I began to say to friends I feel like I'm missing a twin. So then when I learned the news, my identity shifted and then, you know, I felt very relieved to answer - this is Elyse speaking - and that I felt relieved to answer a key element or, you know, resolve a key element of my identity that I - not only did I suddenly have a twin, that I was a twin.
But I had explained that feeling of - you know, loss or missing something as a simple metaphor and, you know, explain it that, you know, oh, that's because my mother died when I was 6. Or, you know, when I would repeat to friends, I feel like I'm missing a twin, it was simply a metaphor. And for all I knew that, you know, was something that all people felt as part of the human experience.
GINA: So you do feel that your experience as a twin is different from those who don't have twins?
Ms. SCHEIN: Well, when you look at images of twins on the sonogram, sonogram images of twins together in the womb, you often see them interacting. So to me, it's not surprising. You know, and there's a lot of psychological studies that show, you know, what occurs in the womb. We often have - can have memories of that or that has an impact on our lives. So it's not surprising that a twin, you know, that we might have had a sense, or other twins - you know, there are twins whose twin died in utero and oftentimes then, you know, their parents will discuss it with them and they said that they sensed it. It's hard to, you know, scientifically document that, but that we have heard tales of that.
GINA: And your sister?
Ms. BERNSTEIN: And this is Paula now. And I have to say, you know, it's so hard to look back and say - you know, I always had intense friendships, for instance, but it's hard to attribute that to having lost my twin. You know, in that, a lot of young girls have intense friendships, so I certainly had abandonment complex, I think, at times. You know, even with friends, leaving a party not saying goodbye, you know? I would feel rejected, and I sometimes attributed that to being adopted. But I didn't want to read too much into it.
And I think, truthfully, when one of the issues that Elyse and I had had early in the relationship was that as difficult as it was for each of us to adjust to this new identity in this new relationship, for Elyse, on some level, it made sense and it explained a mystery in her life. And there was this sort of elation that she describes in the book about, you know, unraveling this mystery that made some sort of sense, whereas it just didn't make sense to me and it felt so unreal in a way that it was hard for me to accept it.
CONAN: Yet, you write later in the book about, you know, the difficulties of accepting the, you know, the sequence of identities and the sequence of abandonment. You were separated from your twin - from your birth mother, then from your twin then from your foster mother, and then your adoptive mother died when you were young.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: Oh, that's Elyse.
Ms. SCHEIN: So I am the one, Elyse, who experienced all these separations. And in fact, I'm the one who, you know, felt that it did answer a key element of my identity meeting Paula - or not meeting Paula, but just simply learning that I had a twin. I was more relaxed knowing the truth about that I have had a twin.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: So - whereas I felt that I was less relaxed, knowing that it made my life, you know, that it brought more of a sense of anxiety about identity that in that, it - you know, it was, I mean, I think it was unnerving to both of us, but in some ways, it clicked for Elyse more.
Ms. SCHEIN: Well, it was unnerving when she became a reality. That was complicated. But when it was - when I got the letter and I found out I had a twin, I was elated simply knowing the truth.
CONAN: Hmm. Thanks very much for the call, Gina.
GINA: Thank you.
CONAN: And here's a comment from William on our blog: Have you met any twins since your discovery? How do you compare yourselves as not growing up as twins to those who did, growing up, always knowing this?
Ms. SCHEIN: Well, we actually, we had a funny experience - this is Elyse - of interviewing twins, you know, who were separated but also twins who were raised together, who are a constant curiosity for us. You know, we wonder how it would have been. You know, would we have been dressed in the same clothing? And when we interviewed one pair of adult twins, twin women, then, you know, we asked them if, you know, what they thought of Viola Bernard's theory, and if they agreed that being raised as twins then, you know, made it difficult for them to develop their own identities, and if they were a burden on their families?
And they said yes to both counts. But when we said, could you imagine growing up without your twin? They said we wouldn't trade it for the world. So we certainly have had to get used to, you know, being compared, you know, if I - so that, you know, I am the Bohemian twin, you know, because Paula is married and has two lovely daughters, my nieces, and I'm more, you know, on my own and free to travel and go about, so then, you know, we don't like to be pigeonholed. And that's something I'm sure even twins raised together don't like, but we're really not used to it.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: Right. And then - this is Paula now - we're seen in comparison to each other. And so, for instance, friends who knew me during my 20s, you know, saw me as kind of a Bohemian living in the East Village and being a freelance writer and going to, you know, film openings and that sort of stuff.
CONAN: Wim Wenders' movies, yeah.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. BERNSTEIN: Exactly. And so, it's funny for me to suddenly be kind of the conventional one.
Ms. SCHEIN: You're not.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: Like now, I'm the Park Slope mom.
Ms. SCHEIN: And then, we're prone to endless analysis, you know, so when we first met so - and even now, we're, you know, constantly continuing to learn things about one another. And so then, well, we - you know, so when we eat sandwiches, aha, so you don't put a pickle on your tuna salad sandwich, but I do. Why is that, you know, which is very frustrating.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: But clearly, that's a genetic trait that we both are prone to analysis and sometimes over analysis. And I think, you know, sometimes being with somebody who is so similar, you know, can be hard as well.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Dale(ph), Dale with us from Falmouth in Massachusetts.
DALE (Caller): Just - hi. I am the adoptive mother of two beautiful children. And I know that adoption has changed a lot over the years. I was wondering did your adoptive parents have any idea about the study?
Ms. BERNSTEIN: This is Paula, and no, we were relieved to know that our adoptive parents did not know that we were a set - one of a set of twins. They were not offered twins nor do they know anything about a study. And the way the study was able to conduct - be conducted without the adoptive parents' knowledge was that when children, who were, you know, one of a pair of twins or triplets were adopted, the families were told your child is already participating in a child development study.
They were not told what the purpose of the study was, so the researchers would often go from one home to the next, sometimes on the same day, seeing, you know, both, you know, each twin and a pair without the families' knowledge. In our case, I should say that we were dropped from the study quite early on so our - in fact, we were studied really well. We were in foster care, so our parents really knew nothing about the study because by the time we were adopted, we had been dropped…
Ms. BERNSTEIN: …because - and that is a question that we've never entirely been able to answer, which is one of the reasons we'd like to get into the archives as well.
CONAN: There was also this agency, it was later driven out of business in no small part because of lawsuits from people who weren't informed of their medical backgrounds, of their parents which might have helped them deal with things in their life. Indeed, it was a history of them lying to your adoptive parents, lying to you, until they finally came clean.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: Correct. In fact, in 1983, there was a law that, a New York state law that legislated that all adoption agencies in the state had to reveal all medical information to adoptees and adoptive families. And I, in fact, contacted the agency in 1987 or 1988 and they did not tell me at that point that I had a twin nor do they tell me that our birth mother did - was diagnosed with severe mental illness.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Thanks very much for the call, Dale.
We're talking with Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein, co-authors of "Identical Strangers." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Let's get Mimi(ph) on the line. Mimi's with us from Gridley in California.
MIMI (Caller): Hi. How's it going?
MIMI: I have a 6-year-old twin boys, and they're just starting their school career. And not that we were a part of a study when they were born because they did come quite early until we are watching all of that developmental stuff, but now we're kind of babbling in trying to decide - do we separate them in school? Right now, they are separated, but they are having a tough time with that, you know?
Is separating twins really the best thing to do for them, you know? Or, do they need to stay together so they can keep that connection, or is it really better to, you know, let them find their own identities.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: Well, this is Paula, and it's interesting. I have sort of first-hand experience with this. I was just - I just spent the morning with a very old friend of mine who has identical twin girls, who are four and a half. And we were discussing this very issue because they're going to be going to kindergarten next year, and she does plan to have them in separate classrooms. And we were saying that it really depend - I mean, she agreed with me that it really depends on the children and on their relationship.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: And I think, you know, you as a parent know that better than anyone else. You know, I think - if possible, I think it's great for them to venture around their own and be in individual classrooms. But I think the exception is if it really is going to be traumatic to separate them in which case, I don't think you want school to be a traumatic experience.
MIMI: Yeah, exactly. We ran into this problem last year. We tried and start them in kindergarten last year, but we were told within two days old - you are too soon, you know, you need to go back. And we, this year, we wanted to put them together and they - the school kind of wouldn't really allow us to do that. They were like, nope, we think they should be separated. When - we were thought - thinking, you know, they really should be together.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: And I think it's really up to the parents…
Ms. BERNSTEIN: …I mean, it should be up to the parents who know children the best.
CONAN: Mimi, good luck.
MIMI: Well, thank you very much.
CONAN: You write in the book - and of course we were aware of these other things, a twin days at whether it's a festival in Ohio, I guess, and Coney Island, not too far away from Brooklyn in Park Slope.
Ms. SCHEIN: Right.
CONAN: Would you ever consider doing one of those things?
Ms. SCHEIN: This is Elyse. Well, we'd never - we've been contacted by twin researchers and of course, we're very wary of being in any - included in any studies. And we've really don't, you know, we don't want to focus. Well, what kind of twins would we be at these kinds of festivals? You know, you have the oldest twins, the youngest twins, the fattest twins, the twins that - most of them are, you know, they pride themselves on dressing alike and on their similarity. And I think growing up separately or just because of our personalities, we're not really interested in it. I think now, personally, I would be interested in attending such as festival to gawk at the other twins.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: Yeah. And it's probably - no, I agree. I'm curious by these festivals in the same way that the public is fascinated by twins. I mean, so many people who would hear our story have said, I'm so jealous I wish I had a twin, or I always fantasized about having a twin.
Ms. SCHEIN: And this Elyse. You know, we - it's strange to suddenly be thrust into this new subgroup so that now we are, you know, we are twins, we are part of that…
CONAN: And celebrity twins.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: Oh, I don't know about that. We felt - we're not quite Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen.
CONAN: Not, yet.
Ms. SCHEIN: Who are, by the way, fraternal twins not identical.
CONAN: Let's get Ragnar(ph) on the line. Ragnar is with us from San Francisco.
RAGNAR (Caller): Hi. Can you hear me?
CONAN: Yeah. Go ahead, please.
RAGNAR: Hi. I was calling with a question that I'm almost terrified to ask, and it's about your politics. Not that I need you to go into detail about your respective politics, but I'm really curious as to how similar they are, and terrified because I'm afraid you're going to tell us that our political affiliation is very genetic.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: Well, you - it's Paula - and you happen to be right in that they are highly genetic and that not just anecdotal experience that Elyse and I do fall very closely on political and religious beliefs, but in research, the data has actually shown that that is the case as well, that they are largely hereditary, which is not to say you're born a Democrat or Republican, but you are born with a proclivity towards certain traits that will veer you in a given direction. You know, either you're more close minded versus more open minded -no, more free thinking, more traditional, those sorts of traits - more empathetic, more, you know, all of those characteristics lead one in a certain direction politically and religiously.
CONAN: Be afraid, Ragnar be, very afraid. Thanks very much for the call.
RAGNAR: Yeah, either you're more…
CONAN: We'll talk more with Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein in a moment. Plus, how new technology is killing the porn movie industry. Don't go away.
I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
As you heard - may have heard - in the promotional announcement, there's going to be a conversation tonight on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED about Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein, twins and co-authors of the book, "Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited." They're with us here on TALK OF THE NATION from our bureau in New York.
To read an excerpt and for a photo gallery of Elyse and Paula growing up in separate adoptive families, visit our Web site at npr.org/talk. And here's an e-mail question we have for you from Tammy(ph). Do you know why your birth mother gave you up for adoption?
Ms. SCHEIN: This is Elyse. Well, actually in the initial letter that I received from the adoption agency, it's said that she was 28, you know, quite old, I thought, at the time to, you know, relinquish me and then twins, ultimately, I discovered. And it also said that she suffered from mixed type - well, schizophrenia mixed type, which may have been misdiagnosed. It might have been bipolar or severe depression - we really can't be sure. But I can imagine that it, you know, was difficult idea and, you know, a concept for her to get her head around to not only have one child that she was not ready to raise but two.
CONAN: And later, you find out that she was in a mental institution at the time she gave birth.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: She had been in and out of the mental - this is Paula now - she had been institutionalized for many years and was really unable to take care of herself, so there's no way she could have taken care of us.
Ms. SCHEIN: This is Elyse. But she was pregnant with us while she was in the institution but we - our birth certificates show that we were born in Staten Island Hospital.
CONAN: And did you ever find any information about your biological father?
Ms. SCHEIN: No, we did not and as far as I know - as I write in the book, one of my early fantasies - this is Elyse - one of my early fantasies about a birth father with Bob Dylan. So as far as I know, he is not our birth father.
CONAN: He's still alive, you don't know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SCHEIN: So Bob, if you're out there, we'd love a DNA sample.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: I wonder, at least partly, that study of which you were apart and then not apart - that study was designed to test the question of nature versus nurture. And Paula, in your book, you had to go into a lot of research about how the pendulum has swung back and forth through the years about at times thinking it was all nurture and then at times thinking it was all nature or genetics. Now, we think it's somewhere in the middle. But you two have lived this intimately now. What do you think?
Ms. BERNSTEIN: Well, I think clearly, we're not born as blank slates as I once believed and as the general public once believed. For instance, when I was adopted in the late '60s, I think my parents really believed that that it was all nurture and all environment and - but at the same time, we're not born with a blueprint to, you know, our future personality. That, in other words, there is no mathematical equation, you know, that DNA plus environment equals identity or personality. And I think it's the interplay between, you know, between nature and nurture. But, I mean, really, this experience, I have to say though, has shown me that I had previously undervalued the role of nature.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Let's see if we can get last caller in, and this is Dawn(ph). Dawn is with us from Milwaukee.
DAWN (Caller): Good afternoon.
DAWN: I hear a difference in the voice quality of the twins, and I'm wondering if the explanation may be that one may have smoked and the other did not.
CONAN: Before you answer, let me read this blog comment from Amy Genova(ph). The women have different and similar voices. Paula's is melodious and very feminine. Elyse's voice is more strident, whisky and practical. Does that reflect personalities? Answer now, if you would, Dawn's question.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: Well, this is Paula. And Elyse did smoke, although she quit I guess almost a year ago. And then also, I think living in Europe changed her inflections in that she lived in Europe for a long time.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Elyse, do - also, the whisky aspect, is that part of it?
Ms. SCHEIN: Whisky, as in a whisky drinker?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SCHEIN: No, that would not be the case. And I certainly don't see myself as a very practical person, so that's interesting.
CONAN: Uh-huh. Indeed, one of the things you share in common - both light drinkers.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: Actually, we talk about early on that I - that I think Elyse is a hardier drinker than I am. I'm more of a lightweight when it comes to drinking.
CONAN: Uh-huh. Where do you go from here? Thanks very much for the call, Dawn.
You've found out most of the secrets that you're going to find out until these studies are unlocked from their various archives, it seems to me. Where - do you live near each other? Do you see each other every day? Do you talk every day?
Ms. SCHEIN: Yes, we do. And now, I move from Paris to Brooklyn. We're just a couple of neighborhoods away from Paula and her family, and I babysit for my nieces. And, you know, we exchange books. We talk about movies we've seen. We've been trying to catch up on all the shopping trips we missed. Neither of us are natural-born shoppers but, you know, doing it - twins together it's, you know, it's quite a fun outing.
CONAN: And good luck with the book. Thank you both very much for coming in today.
Ms. BERNSTEIN: Thank you so much.
Ms. SCHEIN: Thank you.
CONAN: Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein, they're co-authors of the book "Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited." They joined us from NPR's bureau in New York.
Coming up, pornography and technology.
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