Doubling the challenges

Doubling the challenges

BIDDEFORD – Kelly Foss Root of Biddeford was born 39 years ago under the sign of Gemini – the twins. Eight minutes after she came into this world, her identical twin sister Kerry arrived. Their mother had no idea whether she was having a boy or a girl, let alone twins.

“There’s another one in there,” Kelly says the doctor called out after she was delivered. “My mother cried for three days. She already had four girls at home.”

When Kelly became pregnant four years ago, she learned at 13 weeks that she was having twins.

“The nurse was doing an ultrasound and just stopped and said, ‘Oh, there are two.’ I said, ‘Two what? Two hands? Two feet?’ My heart leapt into my throat.”

She “knew” they would be girls because earlier in the year two of her aunts had died, one right after the other. She called her mother to give her the news about the babies and told her, “I think Aunt Carol and Aunt Rita are coming back.”

Her mother asked why.

“I said, ‘Because I’m having twins.’ I learned they would be girls at about 20 weeks, but really, I already knew,” Kelly said.

On Oct. 21, 2009, when she was 32 weeks along, Kelly gave birth to identical twin girls. Savannah weighed 3.3 pounds and Avery 3.15 pounds. The babies had to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit at Maine Medical Center for about a month before they were strong enough to go home.

The odds of anyone having twins are 1 in 85. The odds of having identical twins are 1 in 250. Kelly’s odds of having twins were the same as any woman’s. If she had been a fraternal twin, they would have been 1 in 17.

Identical twins happen when a single egg is fertilized and then divides into two, a supposedly random and spontaneous occurrence. Non-identical, or fraternal, twins happen when two separate eggs are fertilized, and can run in families because some women have a genetic predisposition to producing more than one egg when they ovulate.

Identical twins share the same DNA, which contains the hereditary information that makes each of us unique. Even though they share DNA, it doesn’t mean every piece of information is identical. In other words, identical twins may be impossible to tell apart, but they are not truly identical.

Kelly knows from experience that most people don’t see it that way. Growing up, it was challenging for her and her sister to forge individual lives, partly because people often saw them simply as “the Foss twins” instead of Kelly and Kerry. It didn’t help that they were both strong athletes in high school and played on the same sports team.

“In sports we just had that ability to play very well together,” says Kelly. “We sort of could read each other’s minds and know what each other was doing all the time, which is a really cool thing. It also created confusion for referees and other players. Sometimes that worked in our favor, sometimes it didn’t.”

It wasn’t until she became the mother of twins that Kelly began to analyze what it was like for her growing up and to realize the importance of making sure her daughters were treated as individuals.

“My girls have very different names, for instance,” she says. “They have different personalities and I treat them different. I hope that once they’re in school it will be the same. My twin and I were very dependent on one another and that can be very difficult when you finally break that bond. We broke it probably in college. It was really hard.”

Kelly and Kerry both live in Maine now, but after college they moved to opposite parts of the country. No matter what, they have always had an unspoken bond and been each other’s best friend. Kelly says that often, without even knowing it, they will do or say the same thing.

“Our parents told us we used to call 15 minutes apart although one of us was in Boston and the other in Texas,” she says. “We’d come home and we’d be wearing the same color shirt. It does happen. And you already know whether your twin is doing OK or not. You just know. It’s a weird thing.”

She notices similar “weird things” that happen with Savannah and Avery. For instance, early on, they started communicating in their own language, both spoken and physical, something Kelly and her sister did, as well.

Knowing what she does about being an identical twin, what does Kelly hope for her daughters?

“I hope like any other parent,” she says, “that they become successful, individual, healthy girls. On the other hand, that they realize how special it is to be a twin. It’s a unique thing that you can’t really understand unless you are one.”

By the way, Kelly’s sister Kerry has three children no twins.

Twins run in the family. Here, identical twins Kerry Foss Mariello, left, and Kelly Foss Root pose with Root’s identical twin daughters, Savannah, left, and Avery Root.

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