Imagine looking into the mirror and seeing someone else.
For many sets of twins on the Kenai Peninsula, that is an everyday occurrence.
Twins, both identical and fraternal, are each unique, though often their appearances and personalities are similar.
Identical twins are formed from one fertilized egg, which splits apart into identical halves that develop separately.
Approximately one-third of all twins born are identical. The twins, always the same sex, will have the same chromosomes, blood type, eye and hair color.
Fraternal twins are formed from two fertilized eggs and can result in two siblings of the same or opposite sex. One-third of all twin births result in same sex fraternal twins and one-third are different sexes.
Many factors play a role in a woman having fraternal twins, including the woman carrying the fraternal gene, effects of race, heredity, marital age and number of children previously born to a woman.
The increase in fertility treatment continues also to be a major reason of multiple births.
Jennifer Lancaster and Kristy Speakman were the first twins born at Central Peninsula General Hospital in Soldotna 26 years ago.
"It's strange," Jennifer said.
"Sometimes I wake up and think, 'Oh my gosh, I have a twin!'" Kristy said.
The twins, who are identical, both said the older they get, the more differences they notice.
As children, the twins were mirror images of each other, often confusing friends and family. Many times the family only could tell the difference between them by feeling the scar under Kristy's chin.
Erin and Erica Smith are "like two peas in a pod," according to their mother Virginia.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Jennifer and Kristy grew up in Soldotna and attended both Soldotna High and Skyview High schools.
Though their voices are similar, the women said they feel they are their own person, with different interests and life goals.
One interest they do share is their children.
Jennifer has a 5-year-old daughter named Jessica, and Kristy has two sons -- Trevor, 2, and Taylor, 5 months.
Jennifer said she thinks the children resemble each other so much that many people think Jessica is Kristy's daughter.
Growing up, neither Jennifer nor Kristy attempted to change their appearance to be individuals.
"I'll look in the mirror and I think it is her sometimes," Kristy said.
Their father, Soldotna Mayor Ken Lancaster, said raising the twins was quite a different experience than the six other children he has.
During the delivery, neither he nor his wife knew the twins were on their way. When he found out, he said, his mind raced.
"How are we going to do this?" he said was the first question that came to mind.
Raising twins was fun, he said, but the thought of triplets, quadruplets or more was too much to think about.
"Two was challenging enough," he said, "I could not imagine more than two."
Unlike some, Lancaster said he always has been able to tell his daughters apart. As the twins grew up, they became more individual, he said. Now, aside from their looks, he said his daughters are totally different.
And what if Jennifer and Kristy should have twins in the future?
"That would be pretty exciting," Jennifer said.
She said she would dress them alike and would like to see them have a relationship similar to her and her sister's.
"I would hope they would be real close," she said.
Erin and Erica
Erin and Erica Smith are identical 16-year-old twins from Kenai.
The teens are freshmen at Kenai Central High School and keep busy with extracurricular activities.
Erica said she thinks being a twin makes a difference in her life and that others probably look at them and think about twins differently than individuals.
Erica said she is asked a lot if she is Erin, but it doesn't bother her that much.
But their connection is undeniable.
There have been times they have come out of their bedrooms wearing almost the exact outfit. And although Erin said she doesn't think she and Erica look much alike, she admits she sometimes has a problem telling them apart when looking at old pictures.
Both girls said they are close, and their mother, Virginia Smith, said they are "like two peas in a pod."
Since the day Smith found out she was having twins, she has had an interest in multiple births.
"Multiple births are a fascination, even to me," she said.
Smith also had an older infant when she had the twins, so she said the experience was similar to having triplets.
Telling the twins apart was hard at first, she said. Luckily, birthmarks helped differentiate the infants.
Sometimes, Smith said, she still has a hard time telling the teens apart. Though their personalities are different, she confuses them quite often.
"It's such a weird feeling to me," she said.
One morning, she said, she was having a discussion with one of her daughters, who she thought was Erin. After a lengthy talk, she realized that she was speaking to Erica.
"It's kind of like a twilight zone experience," Smith said.
Erin and Erica have many similar interests, including music, food, clothing and sports.
Both participate in track and play on the basketball team. Because of their stature, they have been nicknamed the "Twin Towers."
Looks aside, Smith's goal always has been to make sure the girls had their own identity. As small children, she dressed them in similar outfits, yet different colors. They also had their own birthday cakes, and she never referred to them as twins.
As a single mom, Smith raised her family to be close-knit. She said raising twins has been a great experience -- and a matter of perspective.
She said she doesn't recall an age she didn't enjoy the presence of her children.
"(Some people) call it a fluke; I call it a blessing," she said.
Having a twin for many can be strange. But for parents of multiples it can be an overwhelming ordeal.
For many women, support groups help ease the initial scare of multiple births.
Regina Theisen, 38, a mother of fraternal twin boys, helped get a group started in 1997 called the Peninsula Parents of Multiples.
Though the support group meets on a regular basis, due to frantic lives and busy schedules, the core group of about five women does benefit from occasional meetings.
"The first year is stressful," Theisen said, "It is nice to have the support of people who know exactly what you're going through."
When she first had her twins, it was overwhelming for her.
"I felt that I was all alone," she said.
Soon after her twins were born, she was asked by the public health nurse to start a group. In the beginning, whole families participated, the group gathered on major holidays to celebrate with families.
Later on, the group became a way for mothers to get together and discuss issues.
Theisen said the group found fathers need less support than mothers, so eventually the meeting turned into "mom escapes," with lunch or dinner meetings for just the mothers.
The meeting has an open agenda and the mothers, all with twins ages 6 and younger, discuss their frustrations in the sharing, supportive environment.
"We share war stories, basically," Theisen said.
Monica Musgrove and her husband, Dan, have a lot of experience to offer the support group. They found out about their twins when she was six weeks pregnant.
Musgrove, with twins in her family tree, said the thought of having her own set was always in the back of her mind.
"I wasn't nearly as shocked as my husband was," she said.
The twins came 5 1/2 weeks early on Christmas Day 1997.
Morgan and Mallory, who are identical, joined the couple and their 2-year-old daughter, Kayla.
After the first year passed, Musgrove said, she was excited, hoping life would become easier, but she found her excitement unnecessary because the phrase "the terrible 2s" became a reality.
Musgrove said now that the girls are 3 years old, life is a bit easier.
Like some parents of multiples, the Musgroves dress the twins alike about 50 percent of the time. But even at their young age, they have acquired a style of their own.
Morgan is more of a tomboy, where Mallory has more qualities of the typical little girl.
Musgrove said she receives more attention in public when the twins are with her. Also, because Kayla is small for her age, many mistake her girls for triplets.
Musgrove said the support group helped her out a lot in the past three years. She said she enjoys being in contact with other parents who have been in the situations her family is facing.
"It was very helpful," she said.
Cindy Shuler, 34, also had the thought of twins in the back of her mind. But she and her husband, Gordon, were still shocked when they found out she was having twins.
Their 2-year-old identical boys, Wesley and Kyle, were Shuler's fourth pregnancy.
With three other children, Shuler said, she thinks the twins are not singled out as much as other twins. They are just one more individual in the group, yet they do share a unique bond with each other.
For the family, and many others with multiple births, distinguishing marks came in handy in telling the boys apart. For the Shuler family, a mole located on Kyle's left knee has been helped in many instances.
Instead of dressing the boys exactly the same, the Shulers tell who is who by dressing them in the same outfit but different colors.
Shuler attended the Peninsula Parents of Multiples support group two months before she gave birth. She liked knowing others were there to share in the experiences they already had been through.
"It was good to know there was support there," she said.
For her, the group was more of a friendship than a monthly meeting.
The latest member of the group is Becky Hilbrink.
She and her husband, Joel, are the parents of 4-month-old fraternal twins Sabrina and Henry.
Hilbrink attended a meeting in December and had many of her questions answered.
"They had been through it all," she said.
After giving birth to her children, Hilbrink said, having them is a lot easier than what she first imagined. Though the past months have been a challenge, she said, the experience has been great.
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