The girls were born in China, separated by circumstance and parceled out to two different families.The families noticed that their referral pictures seemed to be of the same child and contacted their agency:
Whether by fortune or design -- no one will ever know -- the couples who adopted them were both from Ontario. And they figured it out.
Kirk and Allyson MacLeod adopted their daughter, Lily, 12 years ago and brought her home to Keswick, north of Toronto. Mike and Lynette Shaw adopted their daughter, Gillian, 12 years ago and brought her home to Amherstburg, just outside Windsor. When the parents discovered the connection, they vowed to raise them as sisters.
The situation is as rare as it is fascinating: Lily and Gillian are one of only a handful of twin pairs in the world known to be growing up in this way — apart, yet together. They are an accidental experiment, giving researchers a new window into human behaviour by allowing them to study the effects of nature and nurture in real-time. For science, Lily and Gillian are a treasure.
And for the people raising them — strangers thrown together by extraordinary circumstances — the unusual arrangement has made them pioneers of a whole new kind of blended family. They are making up the rules as they go.
The two families contacted the adoption agency and asked coordinators to look into the matter. At first, the parents were concerned the orphanage may have inadvertently assigned one baby to two different families. Adoption documents even gave the girls the same birthday. If there were two of them, could they be twins?These aren't the only twins raised apart that are known to researchers, of course:
Word came back from the orphanage a few days later: there were indeed two babies. Workers said the girls were found in different locations, brought in separately. They were not twins, just look-alikes.
And so the MacLeods and Shaws found themselves, two months later, at a hotel in China’s Hunan province, waiting outside an elevator with three other couples. When the doors opened, five nannies stepped out with five little girls in their arms, babies bundled into so many layers of clothing they could hardly move. Only their heads peeked out of the hooded zip-up suits they wore.
It was immediately clear to all that two of the babies were identical.
Officially, the orphanage still insisted the girls, then 8 months old, were unrelated and could not be adopted together. If the parents didn’t take the baby assigned to them, they would go back into the adoption pool. And there was no guarantee they would end up together next time.
Maybe workers at the orphanage really didn’t know. Maybe they didn’t care. Or maybe, as the girls’ parents like to think, they couldn’t afford a DNA test and did what they thought was the next best thing: place the twins with families near each other.
Over the past decade, Segal, now a psychology professor at California State University, has found about 15 more sets of adopted twin children being raised by different families, most of them Chinese girls.The article has lots of stories about separated twins, and about commonalities between Lily and Gillian as well as between other separated twins.
Researchers attribute this phenomenon to China’s one-child policy, which led to the abandonment of thousands of female babies. Though China’s official adoption rules state that twins should be placed together, pairs like Lily and Gillian prove things don’t always happen that way.
Twelve pairs are part of Segal’s ongoing research on reared-apart twin children, a project that promises to open a new window into human behaviour. Every few years, for as long as they are willing, the twins and their parents will complete a giant questionnaire packet that tracks their behaviour, attitudes and health as they age.