Saturday, January 6, 2024

Two-headed woman


This is one of clerkmanifesto's longest blogposts, so buckle up for the ride.

Why is it so long? You ask. Well, it's really two different blog posts that ended up sort of stuck together.

That's a joke that will make sense as you read on.

This is a true story. And if you have not heard of these people, you might find it implausible.

Because it is implausible.


Unbelievable even. 

I, who knew of these people, and seen pictures of them in the past, still struggled to take it in in all its wonder and strangeness.

But I get ahead of myself. No pun intended.

My darling wife and I were in a pretty little Minnesota River Town out at the tail end of last year, which was also last week. It was a lovely weekend full of wine and coffees and rambling idleness. The little shops were full of nothing to buy but plenty to look at. It was warm for a Winter day, and there was no snow or ice to navigate. This is its own kind of bliss where I live when it's late in December. 

We were crossing the main street to head back towards a cozy and immaculate antiquarian bookshop called Black Letter Books. There was a group of five or six people on the sidewalk up ahead of us.

One of them had two heads.


Or... two of them had one body?

There was a two-headed woman!

I'm not trying to be unseemly, although maybe simply talking about it can't help. 

Do you want me to not talk about it?

Oh, that's insightful, but, a two-headed woman?

I ask you: How does one address such a thing? It was as unmissable as a troop of mooses walking down the street, or possibly as unmissable as seeing a single unicorn, which might make a more accurate analogy. But I didn't stare, or gawk, or intrude upon them. I didn't ask for an autograph for god's sake.

And, composing this, I even wondered: Can I call them a two-headed woman? 

Probably not? 

But that is pretty much... what they are.

They are conjoined twins with two hearts, two stomachs (inside) but one belly button, two arms, two legs, two noses, and one job as a school teacher, although they both have to do it. They teach fifth grade in a school that's in the County I work in, so cheaping out on a salary for one of them checks out.  About a decade ago a TV show followed them around for a year, but then the twins apparently had enough of all that, and utterly dropped out of the public eye.

I mean except wherever they are, where they would be the main thing anyone will look at whether they want to or not. Even not looking is looking.

Which seems like it would have gotten pretty old for these conjoined twins a long, long time ago.

Which is why I did not approach them on the street and ask:

"Have you read my occasionally sensitive (and occasionally insensitive- but let's not focus on that) blogpost I wrote about you two?"

Also, fairly speaking, I hadn't written it yet.

How rare are conjoined twins? I have done some research on this, and I discovered that... I am not that great of a researcher.

I'm kind of a low-hanging fruit researcher, and, surprisingly, there isn't as much low-hanging fruit here as one would think. But here's what I learned:

Conjoined twins occur once every 50 to 60 to 180 thousand births. That seemed pretty frequent to me. So I ran some math on it. This means that there are roughly 800 to 2,000 conjoined twin births every year! 

But... about 40% are not alive when born. And 35% percent die the day after. So I guess we're down to 200 to 500 a year. Any conjoined twins that can be separated are, but I am coming up blanks on how many that is. Which leaves us with, each year, a total of I-have-no-idea how many conjoined twins trucking along together into life. 

So, since I wanted to know how many conjoined twins there are just sort of walking around the world like the ones I saw, I tried looking it up from the other side: Who are the conjoined twins of the world?

Of the listings for conjoined twins born in the twenty-first century, I counted five pairs still attached. And there are seven still conjoined pairs alive who were born in the twentieth century. This gives us a total of 12 pairs of living conjoined twins. A pretty rare group.


This list from Wikipedia (I already confessed I'm not that great a researcher- Wikipedia is the ultimate low-hanging fruit) is a list of "notable" conjoined twins.


What conjoined twins, still together and alive, would not be considered "notable"?

So I'm going with an overall count of twelve or so pairs of conjoined twins, which makes them as rare as someone who is nearly eight feet tall or taller.  

Here is some context: As a child I saw Kareem Abdul Jabbar in a stairwell once and still remember it. He is 7'2".

In short, there are not that many conjoined twins to run into around town.

Everyone I have talked to about these conjoined twins has said something along the lines of: "I have so many questions". And, of course they do.

I have found the answers to many of them, but I'm just going to share a kind of general answer to a question that's not exactly asked:

Of the small group of conjoined twins in the world, they all seem pretty okay. They all seem to be doing fine. Someone even did a study and determined that conjoined twins are... I don't know, pretty happy. I mean, they didn't wake up one day and find themselves awkwardly attached to someone else. That's probably where we come at it from, but not them. And of course they know that they are missing some things in life most people take for granted. But all the conjoined twins I've seen have carried on and live life with a reasonable measure of contentment.

I mean, what do you want them to say about it all? So maybe stop writing blog posts about them! It's just life. They're just people living life with some unusual circumstances!

Oh, you're still here?

Me too.

You want more?


The twins my wife and I saw did a kind of documentary show a decade or so ago and you can see some of that on YouTube. One can find other conjoined twins from the 12 pairs I found who talk about life. But also, oddly, there's a sometimes silly movie by the Farrelly Brothers about a pair of conjoined twins, called Stuck on You, starring Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear. I've always loved that movie, but having learned a few things now about conjoined twins, I have to say, they actually kind of got it just right.

And one last thing.

You may or may not be amazed at the astonishing rarity and uniqueness of the phenomenon of conjoined twins that I witnessed on the streets of Minnesota the other day. It was amazing. But it is worth noting and remembering this:

You are even more rare.

So take care of yourself.

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