Being a conjoined twin comes with a flurry of physical, mental and emotional challenges.
Growing up in Moscow, Masha and Dasha Krivoshlyapova were born in 1950 with two heads, two torsos, two arms and one leg each. They also had a vestigial limb at the back. The twins were taken from their mother at birth and spent the rest of their lives in institutions run by the state.
British journalist Juliet Butler developed a close personal relationship with the twins over a 15-year period while she was living in Moscow with her Russian husband and their children. She first saw the pair in 1988 when they made a plea on TV to be moved to a different institution. The twins agreed to meet with the journalist because she was a Westerner and thought that she could help their situation. Eventually Butler helped Masha write an autobiography, which was published in the year 2000. In it described the years of torture endured by the twins and the constant battle between Masha and Dasha to assert their individuality. What resulted was a heart-wrenching detail of two mismatched souls trapped in a conjoined body.
Their mother didn't know that she was going to be giving birth to twins. After she delivered the babies by cesarean section, she was told that she gave birth to a mutant and that it was going to be taken away from her.
In secret the night nurse brought the twins to meet their mom and she instantly fell in love with them and refused to sign away her parental rights. Doctors then told her the twins died of pneumonia and that's when they were whisked away to a pediatric institute. The twins were told nothing of their birth mother or the fact that they had two brothers.
Life in the Institution
Masha and Dasha shared the same blood system but had separate nervous systems which peaked the interest of scientists who wanted to know more about the roles of each. Since they had separate nervous systems it meant that one could get ill, while the other remained fine. During their childhood, one twin contracted measles and the other did not.
Scientists wanted to know how the body would adjust to conditions like sleep deprivation, extreme hunger and extreme temperature change. Tests were conducted on the twins to see how one's environmental change affected the other. These tests went on for 12 years.
Over the course of their lives, they lived in five state-run institutions. The worst was a Home for Veterans of War and Labor. Butler visited their room that was in a building behind a high wall with barbed wire and guarded gates. In their tiny space, they had a single bed for the two of them, a small toilet and a sink stuck to the wall. To think they spent 20 years in that place blew the journalist's mind.