Why Do My Twins Look So Different?

5,500 words
February 16, 2022

"Joni Eastman, are you sure they're twins? They don't look alike at all!" Aunt Maisie exclaimed at an extended family get-together at my in-laws' house. "Why, Rosie looks like all the Eastman cousins did at that age. But this one!" Aunt Maisie pointed at Rebecca. "She doesn't look like anyone from our side of the family." She looked at me, her eyes disapproving.

I looked at my husband for help. She was his aunt, after all.

Jason shrugged his shoulders.

I was beginning to hate introducing my six-month-old babies because everyone remarked how mismatched they looked.

Rosie's hair was blonde, almost white, and her eyes light blue. Her pale skin was almost transparent. Jason and I had the same coloring. Rebecca, on the other hand, had always been dark and seemed to get darker as she got older. Even her eyes had recently changed, turning from hazel to deep brown.

When my parents first saw the twins, they joked the "Black Irish" coloring of my father's family had shown up in Rebecca. But no one had been able to explain the black hair that was coming in thick and fast. I couldn't, either.

I tried to keep my temper as Aunt Maisie made cooing noises over Rosie and ignored Rebecca. She's just an old lady, I told myself. Still, it seemed like everyone wanted to hold Rosie that afternoon, while Rebecca was left surveying the action alone in her stroller. I picked up Rebecca and sat her on my lap. She eagerly faced me and grinned. She has a beautiful smile, I thought, dabbing away a little bit of drool that had collected on her lip. She's my miracle baby, same as Rosie. So what if she looks different than the rest of us? Jason and I were desperate to have babies. Now we were so lucky, blessed with healthy twins. They had even begun to sleep through the night at four months.

Over coffee after dinner, my mother-in-law pulled out one of Jason's family albums.

Aunt Maisie crowed with delight when she found photographs of Jason as a baby. "See what I mean?" she asked, shoving the photos under my noise. I had to admit the family resemblance was striking.

"Yes, Rosie's beautiful, just like all the Eastman's at that age," I said. "And Rebecca is beautiful, too."

Aunt Maisie looked me straight in the eyes. "Honey, I don't know what you've been up to, but I know the truth when I see it. That child is black."

I've never hit anyone in my life, but I came close to hitting Aunt Maisie. I was not going to stay in the same room with that woman.

Jason's jaw clenched. "We're going home," he announced. What made it worse, no one tried to stop us.

I didn't tell Jason, but what Aunt Maisie had said made me start to wonder. The next day, I asked my mother to babysit. I didn't want to share my anxiety about Rebecca, so I told her I had some errands to run. Instead of getting groceries, I went to the library. I didn't know anything about genetics, but I was determined to learn.

What I read in the first book was disturbing. According to basic genetics, there are dominant and recessive genes. Dominant genes often show up in a child's looks. For example, in eye color, brown is dominant and blue is recessive. For a child to have brown eyes, at least one parent must have brown eyes. Therefore, Rebecca could not be the child of both me and my husband!

Something was very wrong here. I'd given birth to Rebecca, a brown-eyed child, but I'd never been with anyone but Jason. Surely, I must have misunderstood the information. I checked another genetics book, though, and it said the same thing. A third book confirmed the other two.

I wanted to scream and throw the books across the room. This couldn't be happening! It wasn't true. None of it. I left the library in a daze.

Driving out of the parking lot, I realized I wasn't far from the pediatrician's office. I decided to see Dr. Mason and ask her about Rebecca. Only two young patients and their mothers were in the doctor's waiting room. I explained to Valerie, the receptionist, that I didn't have an appointment, but I needed to speak with Dr. Mason about my twins. "It's really important," I insisted.

"Twins can be a handful," Valerie sympathized. "The doctor's not too busy this morning. I'll see what I can do."

"Thanks, I really appreciate that," I said. I tried to read Family Facts magazine while I waited, but I couldn't concentrate. When Valerie called my name, I jumped.

Valerie guided me back to Dr. Mason's bright and airy office. I sat down on a leather chair.

"Joni, how nice to see you. How are the twins?"

"They're fine." My mouth suddenly went dry. Now that I was here, how could I ask what I needed to ask? "Could I have some water?"

"Of course." Dr. Mason left the room and came back with water for both of us.

I took a sip and nodded. "Good water," I said, stalling for time. I squirmed in my chair. I just have to come right out with it, I told myself. "Dr. Mason, I have some questions about Rebecca. She doesn't seem to look like me or my husband."

"Genetics is an interesting science," Dr. Mason said. "You wouldn't be the first parent to wonder how you could produce a baby that looked different from you."

"You don't understand. It's more than wondering. How do you explain this: Rebecca has brown eyes and neither my husband nor I do?"

"Rebecca's eyes finally turned brown," Dr. Mason mused, as if she had wondered about it, too. She paused, then asked, "Is there any chance that someone else might be the father?"

My stomach cramped as if I'd been punched in the gut. I stared at Dr. Mason. There was no judgement in her face. To her, it was a simple question.

"No, it is not possible."

"Then I can't explain it. All children you have with your husband should have blue eyes. There may be some complicated reason that would explain Rebecca's brown eyes, but I don't know what it would be. Who's your obstetrician?"

"Dr. Acton at the Genetic Research Unit."

"Did you have any special procedures performed to get pregnant?"

I hesitated, still uncomfortable talking about it. Jason was an only child. His parents had started pressuring us on our wedding day to "continue the Eastman family line." And we did want children, very much so. When Jason's parents realized we weren't having any luck conceiving, they kept at us until we agreed to go to a fertility clinic. They even paid the bills, which were extremely expensive. My parents, on the other hand, were not supportive about the procedures we had to undergo, although they stopped complaining after the twins were born.

"My fallopian tubes were blocked," I explained to Dr. Mason. "I had surgery to open them, but it didn't work. So we opted for in-vitro fertilization."

The doctor had taken eggs from my body, then fertilized them with Jason's sperm, using a device like an eyedropper called a pipette. The eggs were allowed to develop, then placed in my uterus. It took three tries for the procedure to work, but nine months after that we had our beautiful babies.

"If I were you, I'd check with Dr. Acton," Dr. Mason said. "Explain your concerns and see what he says. I've known him for a long time and I know he's very honest. If there was a problem with the procedure, he'll explain it to you."

"Are you telling me there might have been some mix-up with the fertilization process?"

"Well, that would give you a logical explanation for Rebecca's brown eyes." She finished drinking her water. "I'm sorry. I'm sure that's not what you want to hear."

I left Dr. Mason's office more upset than when I'd come in. Was it possible that Rebecca was not Jason's daughter? Was she even mine? The obstetrician might have implanted the wrong fertilized egg in me and I had carried her for nine months thinking she was my own!

I raced home and told my mother everything, beginning with Aunt Maisie's suspicions.

"This is terrible," my mother said. "I knew nothing good would come from all that mumbo jumbo. If God had wanted you to have children, you would have gotten pregnant without all that intervention."

"Mom, please, you're not being helpful. I know you didn't approve, but how can you say nothing good came of it? We have Rosie and Rebecca."

"What are you going to do if you find out Rebecca isn't your child?"

"I don't know." I sat at the kitchen table and cried.

Mom patted me on the back. Finally, she said, "You'd better talk with that doctor at the fertility clinic."

"Mom, I need to talk with Jason first. He may not want to know the truth. I'm not sure I do, either."

Mom left, shaking her head over my dilemma. I fed the twins a late lunch, then cleaned them up for their naps. Keeping busy helped me from going crazy worrying.

I thought about calling Jason at work while the twins were sleeping, but decided against it. Better to talk with him when he got home and let him make his decision without having to face anyone at work right away.

I spent the babies' nap time cooking dinner and doing laundry. My mind was in a turmoil. How could I raise Rebecca if she wasn't my own? Wouldn't it be better not to know, just assume she was ours and continue on with our lives? Yet, I knew there would always be questions. The twins looked too different for people not to notice.

Once again, I felt sad my tubes had been blocked, that the surgery couldn't fix them. That we had to resort to in vitro fertilization. It had been my fault. But not my choice to be infertile.

The twins were still asleep when Jason got home. I let him eat his pot roast before I told him of my visit to the library and to Dr. Mason's office.

Jason covered his face with his hands and said nothing. His shoulders sagged.

"The question is, do you want to know? Is it better for us to let well enough alone or should we find out if there was a mistake of some kind?"

Jason put his hands on the table. "I don't want to spend my life not knowing if a child I'm raising is my child or not." One hand pinched the other, his nails digging into the flesh. "Don't you want to know?"

"I carried her for nine months," I said. "I gave birth to her. That is a bond that can never be broken. Maybe it's different with you. . . ."

Jason sighed. "We've all been through a lot together already, even though the twins are only six months old. Doesn't that mean we're a family?"

"Of course, we are," I said. "But don't you realize that if Rebecca isn't our genetic child, she could be taken away from us?"

"I don't like it, but we need to know. We can't base our lives on a lie, no matter how painful the truth may be. Somehow we'll get through this together."

With tears in my eyes, I hugged him. "Thank you," I whispered.

We decided to confront Dr. Acton together. It took two weeks to get an appointment with him. I couldn't sleep the night before the appointment. Jason couldn't, either.

"It doesn't help to worry," he said.

"I know. I can't help it. We're talking about the future of our family."

Jason held me as we listened to the clock ticking past the hours. Fortunately, the twins slept, unaware of the turmoil we were going through.

"What if he won't even test Rebecca? What if he just laughs at us?" I asked Jason as we strapped the twins into their car seats.

"We'll deal with that when we come to it."

It seemed strange to be back in Dr. Acton's waiting room with the babies. The last time I'd been there was for my six-weeks postpartum checkup.

There were four couples waiting to see the doctor. The women watched the babies longingly. The men read sports magazines, but I occasionally caught one or another glancing at the babies curiously. I remembered having similar feelings, wondering what it would be like to have a baby of my own and worrying that it would never happen. That was before our miracles occurred.

One man stared at the babies intently. He tried to get Jason's attention, but Jason concentrated on showing a board book to Rebecca. Finally, the man spoke. "Excuse me, are they twins?"

"Yes," Jason said.

"They don't look much alike," the man said.

Mercifully, Beverly, the medical assistant, called our name and we escaped into the doctor's office. We settled ourselves in the two chairs across from the doctor's desk, Rebecca on Jason's lap and Rosie on mine.

Dr. Acton smiled when he saw us. "Joni, Jason, I can't tell you how satisfying it is to see a happy couple come in with their babies. You're one of my success stories."

Jason got to the point right away. "Dr. Acton, we have some questions about Rebecca. As you can see, she doesn't look much like us."

"May I?" Dr. Acton held his hands out.

Jason passed Rebecca to him. Dr. Acton cradled her in his arms.

I added, "Dr. Mason said we should consult you. She confirmed it's impossible for a child of ours to have brown eyes."

"Yes, that's correct. Of course, it can be more complicated than that. I haven't seen Rebecca since she was born. She certainly has gotten darker." He stroked her black hair.

"Is it possible that she is not genetically ours?" I asked.

"That is not very likely. We take careful precautions to make sure all the procedures we perform are accurate. Let me check my records." Dr. Acton handed the baby back to Jason and thumbed through our file on his desk. "When did you get pregnant?"

"April, a year ago."

He turned back to that time period in the file. "Oh, I remember now. Normally, I do the fertilizations, but I had an emergency delivery. I asked my chief laboratory technician to do it for me. These are his lab notes." He frowned. "Everything seems to be in order."

"Is something bothering you?"

"Ummm, this person no longer works here." He paused, then added, "I fired him about a year ago."

"Why?" Jason asked.

"He wasn't as careful as I felt he should be," Dr. Acton said, evading Jason's stare. "Look, I'll do the genetic tests free of charge. I want to get to the bottom of this, too. My reputation is on the line."

"Rebecca's future may be, too," Jason said. He hugged Rebecca to him.

Dr. Acton drew blood for the tests from all of us, even Rosie. He assured us the tests were extremely accurate, but would take a long time to process. "I'm aware you want to know right now, but please be patient. In the unlikely event that Rebecca should turn out to be someone else's genetic child, she was born to you. Legally, that makes you her parents."

I said, "But surely you hear the news or read the newspapers. You know it's more complicated than that. Things are changing. We don't want to spend our life wondering if strangers are going to show up to take her from us."

"I share your concerns," Dr. Acton said. "Let's wait for the results and see what the tests show."

We went home and Jason went back to work. During the weeks we waited for the test results, I tried to push the problem out of my mind. But of course I couldn't. I would be making dinner and suddenly I'd find myself going over in my mind what little I knew about genetic parents and adoptive parents. I know there were cases where children had been taken from the only parents they'd ever known and given to strangers they were related to by blood. I didn't want that to happen to us.

I told my mother only about the genetic testing. I didn't want to share my fears because she hadn't approved of the way we'd conceived from the beginning. While Jason and I considered the procedures helping along a natural process, my parents saw it as "playing God." As for Jason's parents, we didn't want to tell them the procedures they had encouraged us to try might have given them a granddaughter that wasn't biologically theirs. Jason and I felt very much alone as we waited for the results.

When Dr. Acton finally called, he insisted we come back to his office for the results. "I can't give you this kind of information over the phone," he said. He gave us an appointment for the same afternoon.

My heart sank. "There must be a problem," I told Jason when I called him at work. "Otherwise, he would have told us we were the biological parents right away."

"We'll just have to go and face whatever it is," Jason said. That had been his attitude all along. I admired him for being so strong, but I was a wreck. I could have asked my mother to babysit again, but I couldn't bear to be separated from either one of the babies.

Promptly at 4:30 PM, we were escorted to Dr. Acton's office. His face was grim as he invited us to sit down. When we were settled with the babies on our laps, this time with Rosie on Jason's lap and Rebecca on mine, he said, "I am terribly sorry to tell you there was a mixup made during the fertilization process. Somehow Joni's eggs were fertilized with sperm from two different men. Rosie is Jason's daughter, but Rebecca has a different father. We are checking our records to see who the other father might be."

I gasped and held Rebecca tighter.

"The father couldn't be the lab technician, could he?" Jason asked.

"No, the lab technician was white. The genetic tests prove that Rebecca's father is black. That's why Rebecca has brown eyes and black hair."

I started to cry. I was hurt for Jason, because Rebecca wasn't genetically his. But I was relieved that at least I was her mother. That meant it would be less likely Rebecca would be taken away from us.

We left Dr. Acton's office with the promise we would be notified when they sorted out the mystery. Dr. Acton thought it was most likely the father was from another couple who had been treated at the clinic during the same time period we were there.

The next afternoon, while the twins were sleeping, I got his call at home.

"There was a black couple who had the same procedure done at the same time you did," he said. "We think the lab technician mistakenly used the same pipette for both fertilizations."

"I don't understand," I said.

"If the pipette isn't changed each time, there's a chance that some of the sperm from the previous procedure could be introduced. That's what we think happened in your case."

As if my baby were a case and not a child. "So you're saying the lab technician made a mistake."


"And you fired this lab technician for not being careful. How many more women are going to be giving birth to his mistakes?"

"Please, Joni, this is difficult for all of us. As I told you, most of the time I did the procedures myself. He was fired for making mistakes in lab results, not for something as serious as this."

"What happens now? Will my daughter's genetic father be notified that he has a child and that some white woman he's never met is the mother?"

"Frankly, I don't know what to do. There are no guidelines for this kind of situation. You and the biological father have the right to confidentiality in your treatment. But, morally, the man has the right to know he has a daughter. I think it would be best for you and Jason to take time and think about what you want to do. If you decide you want me to contact the father, I will."

"And if we don't?" I asked.

"Then the father will never know," Dr. Acton said. "Perhaps that would be best."

And easier for you, I thought. "I'll be in touch."

When Jason, got home I let him get through dinner and bath time with the twins. When they were finally nestled together in their crib, I couldn't wait any longer to explain what the doctor had said. I ended with, "Rebecca is not a mistake."

"Of course not. But you have to admit it's a complicated situation."

"I know. But, Jason, I can't give her up. I can't take the chance she'll be taken from us. Are you willing to raise her, anyway?"

"Absolutely. I love her as much as I do Rosie."

My heart swelled with love for this man. "I don't want the other man to know," I said. "I don't want to open the door to someone outside our family simply because he's the genetic father. Rebecca belongs to us. I don't want to share her."

"Joni, I don't like it, either, but how can we do that? The only thing we know about him is he and his wife were having trouble conceiving. He wouldn't have been a client there otherwise. He may not have another child. How can you deny him the right to know Rebecca exists? Don't you remember how difficult it was for us, not knowing if we would ever have a child?"

"How can you ask me that? I remember every month we tried and nothing happened. All the empty years. But how can we allow some man we don't know to jeopardize our family? He could sue us for custody of Rebecca. He might win. Especially if he doesn't have other children." I turned away from him. "Some judge could decide we have Rosie and we don't need another child. Rebecca would have to live with people she'd never seen before. Is that what you want?"

"No, I don't. But I know what it's like to want a child of my own. I don't like what's happened and I wish Rebecca was genetically my child, but I won't deny Rebecca's father the chance to know his daughter. I'd want to know if it happened to me. Besides, as much as I hate to say it, Aunt Maisie was right on one point. To the world, Rebecca is black, even with a white mother. I don't know how to teach a child how to live in a white society. Do you?"

"No," I said, "But . . ."

"Maybe Rebecca's father could help us."

"If he takes her away, we won't need any help."

"That's a chance we have to take."

"How can we?"

"I don't see that we have a choice. I won't live a lie. I don't think you can, either. I know you're scared. Your fear is pushing you to be dishonest. But that isn't a way to live. It's not right for us or for our children."

"I can't lose Rebecca, Jason! I won't!" I was so angry with him, I slept on the couch that night. Nightmares chased me as I called for Rebecca and I couldn't find her. I startled awake and ran to the twins' room. By the night light, I could see the two of them peacefully asleep, each curved around the other, like ying and yang.

Jason and I danced around the issue all week. I continued sleeping on the couch. Jason didn't push me, for which I was grateful. Eventually, though, with time I calmed down and realized he was right. There was no grand epiphany, just a slow understand that I didn't want to live a lie. Still, I wasn't happy about it.

"Fine," I snapped at him one morning. "You call Dr. Acton."

"I will," Jason said. "Thank you." He kissed me before he left for work. I clung to him and tried not to sob.

Jason called me that morning. "Dr. Acton asked what he should tell the man about us. I told him whatever he wants to know. If we're going to be honest, we ought to be totally truthful."


"Dr. Acton will let us know afterwards."

The hours crawled by. Jason was home when Dr. Acton called back.

"You answer," I said.

Jason picked up the phone. "The man's name is Marcus Washington," he whispered to me. "Married with one son, born a week after our twins."

I sighed with relief. At least he had a child with his wife. That was a good sign.

"Dr. Acton said he took the news pretty well. He'd like to meet with us."

Alarm bells went off in my head, but I nodded and mouthed Okay to Jake.

I thought wryly, Well, here's something else I won't be able to explain to my mother. How do you make someone understand that you're going to meet the father of your baby for the first time when the baby is old enough to crawl?

Jason set up an appointment for the following afternoon. After he got off the phone, he hugged me. "I think it's going to be okay," he said. "Marcus's first question to the doctor was, 'Do they love the child?'"

Relief flooded my body.

"He wants to meet Rebecca. He'd like to see Rosie, too."

"Why would he want to see Rosie?"

Jason shrugged. "I have no idea."

Later, as we got ready for bed, I said, "Meeting Mr. Washington will make it more real that Rebecca is part black."

"Yeah. But that's something we'll have to deal with all of her life, assuming he doesn't get custody. . . . Think about how I feel. Today I overheard some people at my office discussing the twins. They're sure you slept with someone else and I'm just too stupid to notice."

I hugged him. "Jason, I'm so sorry."

He sighed. "I'm sure it won't be the last time I hear that kind of talk. But I know the truth, so what they say doesn't matter.

"Right now we have to hope Rebecca's father won't try to split us up."

"Yeah, I know."

We didn't sleep well that night, either. Rebecca seemed to be cutting a tooth, which made her fussy. Her crying kept Rose awake. As we took turns walking the floor with the babies, we worried about the next day.

Mercifully, the twins slept most of the morning. In the afternoon, we were half an hour early for our appointment. Dr. Acton's medical assistant, Beverly, took us right in to his office. They'd rearranged the office with four chairs, two against each wall, with the doctor's desk and chair in it's usual place. We settled in the chairs facing the door, so we could see whoever came in. I had Rebecca on my lap and Jason had Rosie on his. "Let me know as soon as Mr. and Mrs. Washington come in, Dr. Mason told Beverly.

"Mr. Washington was very understanding about the situation," Dr. Mason began.

The intercom buzzed. "Mr. and Mrs. Washington are here," Beverly said.

"They're early, too. Good, bring them right in," Dr. Mason said. "Apparently, they are anxious to meet you as well."

Mr. Washington came through the door first. He was older than I thought he would be, somewhere around forty-five, with lots salt mixed in black hair. I recognized his eyes, darker than my child's, but with the same spark of liveliness as hers. His wife, perhaps thirty-five, carried a pudgy baby who held on to a shiny red boat. The baby looked remarkably like Rebecca, but several shades darker.

Dr. Mason jumped up. "Marcus and Grace Washington, I'd like you to meet Joni and Jason Eastman." We shook hands all around, then sat down.

Mr. Washington broke the silence. "I can see why you questioned whether or not Rebecca was your child. I didn't realize . . . ." He searched for the right word. "I didn't realize all of you had such light coloring."

Jason said firmly, "Mr. Washington, it's been obvious for some time that Rebecca looks different from the rest of our family. But she's our child and moreover, she's Rosie's twin, and I don't want them to be separated. I'll do anything to prevent that."

"Don't misunderstand me," Mr. Washington said. "May I call you Jason?"


"Please call me Marcus. My point is simply this: Anyone looking at you and your wife will know right away that Rebecca is not your genetic child. In some cases, it isn't so obvious if one of the parents has black hair or brown eyes. But in your case. . . ."

Marcus began again. "People will speculate. That can be difficult to deal with on a daily basis. Rebecca is your child. I'm not disputing that. But if you ever want her to live with us, for any reason, we would be glad to have her."

I said, "Thank you. But we don't think that will be necessary." I changed the subject. "Why did you want to see Rosie?"

Marcus smiled. "I wanted to see how you interact with each other."

I said, "To make sure we treat both of them the same way?"

"Frankly, yes."

"We love them both equally," I said.

Marcus said, "I can see that."

I put Rebecca on the floor. She crawled to Marcus. Marcus picked her up and held her. The resemblance was there, no one could deny it.

"What's your baby's name?" I asked Grace.

"This is Marcus, Jr.," she said. "We call him MJ."

"He's beautiful," I said. Another miracle, just like our girls, I thought.

Knowing that Marcus wouldn't press for cusody was a tremendous relief. But we knew we still had a bumpy road ahead. At home that night, Jason and I talked about how to deal with other people knowing Rebecca is part black.

"What are we going to do when people don't like Rebecca simply because she's mixed race?" I asked Jason. "What about our parents?" I cried. "How are we going to tell them?"

"We'll tell the truth. And we'll have to be strict with everybody. All of our relatives will have to treat both of the children equally or we won't visit them."

"But it would be awful to give up seeing our parents," I objected.

"Do you want to spend time with anyone who would prefer to be with Rosie because she's white and wouldn't want to be near Rebecca because she is black?"

"No, of course not," I said indignantly.

"It's their choice," Jason said. "We can't allow favoritism by race. It's up to us to protect the girls. We just have to be firm and tell them what we expect."

"Okay," I agreed. I hoped our relatives would understand.

We've met with the Washington family often since the day we met. They've introduced us to interracial couples who are helping us cope with the stress of being a mixed-race family. It hasn't been easy. Our parents, when informed of Rebecca's parentage, were upset. They're doing their best to treat the girls the same.

We never hear from Aunt Maisie.

In spite of the problems, we still think of our children as miracles and we're glad both Rebecca and Rosie are part of our life. We've moved into an integrated neighborhood so Rebecca will feel more comfortable as she starts realizing there are different races. We plan to tell the children about their birth when they're older. We'll explain the genetics, but stress they are still twins and sisters. Of course, the Washington family will always be a part of our lives, too, and Rebecca's genetic father will always be a special, supportive friend.

Both Jason and I have become involved in community race relations projects in our new neighborhood. Now we have a specific reason to work to change the world. We want both our children to feel welcome in a society that too often can be unfair to people because of their color.

© Copyright 2021, Bonnie Ferron