Danny and Bertha Valencia have double vision when it comes to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The Hollister couple counts five sets of identical twin girls living among their progeny – with four other sets of twins in their ancestry.
The twin trend started long ago, with Danny Valencia’s grandmother who had three sets of twins, two identical and one fraternal. It skipped one generation until Valencia and his fraternal twin brother Joe were born 81 years ago.
If they weren’t beating the odds enough already – experts say there is no genetic predisposition for identical twins – the family has three other sets of twins, two identical, through a marriage.
Altogether, there are nine sets of twins in the Valencia family tree, along with the other three sets of twins through marriage.
Valencia gathered with two sets of twin granddaughters and three sets of twin great-granddaughters for a family portrait on Friday afternoon, with the family sharing many stories of growing up with a double.
Valencia showed off photos of himself and his own twin brother, who is now deceased. He points to one of him with his brother when they were about 4, and his wife joked that they look like they are straight out of “The Little Rascals” in their jean overalls.
“When he was dying, he wanted him (Danny) to be by his side,” Bertha said.
It is a life-long bond Vanessa Garnica-Martinez knows her 11-month-old daughters will share, too.
Garnica-Martinez said her grandmother told her two years before she got pregnant with her daughters that she would have twins.
“I always tell them they are having twins,” Bertha said. “They say I put a curse on them.”
It wasn’t much of a surprise for Garnica-Martinez when she found out she was having two babies, Olivia and Annalisa Martinez. The pair are the youngest of the twins in the family. Garnica-Martinez’s cousins Stephanie and Stacey Chavez, 35, are the oldest of the identical twins.
“I’m a nurse and I got pregnant last year,” Garnica-Martinez said. “When I was in nursing school all the books said there is no genetic predisposition. It’s one in 100 pregnancies … I said it’s not even skipping a generation.”
Her doctor told her she was not more likely to have twins than anyone else, but she laughed and smirked when she got the news.
“It’s such a unique thing for them to go through,” Garnica-Martinez said. “They will always have someone next to them or near them. They will probably fight like cats and dogs, but I am sure they will love each other.”
Stacey and Stephanie, who dressed in black tops and khaki crop pants, said they enjoyed growing up with a twin sister.
“We were closer than most siblings,” Stephanie said. “We had an extra friend to count on.”
The women have fond memories of their time growing up together. Even now when Stephanie lives in Virginia, they said they talk on the phone most days.
“Whether it’s five minutes or half an hour,” Stephanie said.
The girls said one time when they switched classes, the teacher knew they had switched but played along with them.
The one thing they didn’t like when they were younger was having to dress alike and sharing a birthday with someone else all the time.
Phyllis Vasquez, their mother, said she knew she wanted to have twin girls since she was in high school because she heard how her great-grandmother had three sets.
“My mom said, ‘Don’t say that,’” she said.
When she was first pregnant and went to the doctor, her doctor told her she might be having twins based on her size and how far along she was. Sure enough, she was pregnant with twins.
Though Vasquez said she has always enjoyed having twins, she said it was hard when the girls were infants.
“My husband was only off for two weeks and my mother-in-law was out of state,” she said. “My mom was out of town. When they would cry, I would cry, too.”
When the girls were in school they were often in the same class. Vasquez said they were in different classes in third grade, but they missed each other.
Stephanie and Stacey said sometimes teachers would expect them to excel at the same subjects because they were twins, but they said they each had their strengths.
All in all, they enjoyed the experience.
“We had double the friends and double the clothes,” Stacey said.
Stephanie and Stacey said twins run not only on their mother’s side of the family, but also on their father’s side. On their dad’s side there are three sets of twins, two identical.
One of Danny and Bertha’s granddaughters, a twin herself, had her own set of twin girls.
“It’s not even skipping a generation,” Garnica-Martinez said.
Melanie Wallace, another of Danny and Bertha’s granddaughters, said doctors initially told her they heard only one heartbeat.
“But when they did an early ultrasound, they said it was double trouble,” she said. “I called my grandma and said, ‘You’ll never believe it. It’s twins.’”
Her daughters, 6, attend the Hollister Dual Language Academy in separate classes.
She said she can tell the girls apart because one is a little taller. She also has them wear different earrings.
Bertha admitted she hasn’t always been able to tell them apart. She remembers one time when she fed a bottle to the same baby twice, because she thought it was the other baby. Danny, too, said he can’t always tell them apart.
Stephanie and Stacey said they have their tricks for telling the girls apart. They said there is usually a slight difference, such as a little different shape to the face or one twin being taller than the other. For them, the tell-tale sign was the placement of a mole on one’s face. Wallace added that Stephanie has a slightly different accent since living in Virginia.
“I didn’t take their armbands off for two weeks,” Vasquez said, of when she brought her daughters home from the hospital.
Data on twin births
While the Valencia family talks about a “twin gene” experts say identical twins happen by chance and there is no genetic predisposition to it. In a monozygotic pregnancy, a single fertilized egg splits into two embryos. According to Healthwise, a health encyclopedia, the chance of an identical twin pregnancy is not related to age, race or family history. The rate of identical twins is the same around the world and according to experts has remained steady at about 1 in 250 births.
The rate of fraternal twins, such as Danny Valencia and his brother Joe, does vary dramatically from country to country and sometimes even state to state. Fraternal twins are dizygotic, meaning that two separate eggs are fertilized, leading to two embryos. It happens most often when a woman releases two eggs during an ovulation cycle and experts believe there is a predisposition in families to having fraternal twins.
According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, 1 in every 30 babies born in the United States in 2009 was a twin, as compared with 1 in every 53 babies born in 1980.
Researchers attribute some of the increase in fraternal twins to the higher number of women having children at an older age, specifically 35 years and older, and the higher number of couples using fertility treatments.