Lessons learned from being part of a pair

“I think there's another one,” the doctor told my mother. She hadn't had any ultrasounds during her pregnancy. Now she was lying in the maternity ward, having just given birth to her first-born child, only to find out she wasn't done yet. “You THINK?” came the yowl. (Labor never sapped my mother's energy—or lung capacity.)

He thought right, and that's how I came to be born, feet first and not breathing, a few minutes later.

After that rocky start, I now have 33 years of practice at being a twin, and the experience has given me insights that singletons can find useful, too.

Genes aren't everything.

My sister Betsy and I are identical twins. Our DNA relationship is the closest possible. If we each had children, they would genetically be half-siblings, not cousins—this last fact tends to astonish people!

We both studied French for seven years, we both play the violin (poorly), and we both blew out our birthday candles wishing to grow up to marry Prince Harry. (Thank goodness for Meghan Markle sparing His Highness from a difficult choice between us.)

And yet we couldn't be more different. My sister lives her life as a quest, which led her from a stint in a convent to Harvard University, to Cambodia, and eventually down the aisle to her policeman husband. I prefer life at a slower pace. I went to a state college, graduated with a job near home, and married a local guy who works at a bank. She likes adventure, while it's more important to me to be rooted in a community. We respect each other, but if I had to live her life I'd break out in hives. And vice versa.

If two people who share more than 99 percent of their genes are so different, genes can't be everything. Family is important, but don't be afraid to look beyond your family to find out what you value and how you want to live your life.

Sidekick life is OK.

Being a twin means rarely, if ever, getting to be the star in your own drama. From baptism parties to graduation ceremonies to learning to drive, any recognition we were given growing up was automatically cut in half. As a result, Betsy and I learned not to crave attention. Sibling rivalry was not part of my childhood and, as an adult, I've been able to support colleagues and not feel threatened when other people make their dreams come true.

This lesson was brought into sharp focus when, as a young newlywed, I received a devastating infertility diagnosis. My twin sister sat on my couch and consoled me as I mourned this loss at the top of my lungs. The story worked it way around to friends, who started reaching out to comfort me. A few weeks later, Betsy called me with news of her own. She'd just gone to the doctor and received the same diagnosis.

As we shared our grief together, I felt the truth deep in my heart: owning the spotlight can't compare to never feeling alone.

Love is sharing.

And I don't mean sharing a room (although we did that, too).

Betsy has always been my go-to friend, secret-keeper, and advice maven. I've been the same for her. When I got married, I was surprised when she confessed she felt a little sad. Couldn't she just be happy for me? I didn't fully understand until years later when she announced her own engagement. It was bittersweet knowing that I would play a different part in my twin's life now that she was saying “I do.”

In the end, I realized we were still a team, and that being a good teammate means not hogging the ball . . . or your sister. Betsy's new life made her so joyful, and I gleefully cheered her on as she became a bride.

We've all had similar feelings when a friend or family member gets a new job far away or announces a new baby. It's okay to feel scared that they're moving on without us, but no matter how close you are, being a true friend means sharing the people we love with the world that loves them back.

Looking back, I realize that having a twin is a unique experience with lessons that are truly universal. It's a fabulous gift I'll never stop being grateful for.