by JULIE HA
Painting each other’s nails, sleeping in the same bed, sometimes trying deliberately to annoy the other—these are the admittedly “cheesy” things that sisters Anais and Samantha like to do together, though they are grown-ups. Each turns 27 in November, but prior to last year, they never had the chance to engage in these mundane sibling activities that go on to become treasured childhood memories. They are identical twin sisters, born in Korea, but separated at birth. Adopted as babies into different families, Anais Bordier, raised in France, and Samantha Futerman, raised in America, never knew about the existence of the other, until a YouTube video and Facebook message led to their reunion 25 years later.
It’s a premise that prompts an innate jaw-dropping response, not to mention comparisons to the film The Parent Trap, in which Lindsay Lohan plays separated twin sisters, one of whom grows up in America and the other in England. With a stranger-than-fiction quality, the real-life story first caught the attention of the international media last year, after the sisters started crowdfunding so they could make a documentary about their discovery and reunion. In addition to the full-length documentary, Twinsters, due out in 2015, the sisters have also written a book, Separated @ Birth: A True Love Story of Twin Sisters Reunited, to be released Oct. 30 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
Indeed, theirs is a love story, and the book chronicles many of the key moments of that blossoming sisterhood, from their first Facebook contact and Skype conversation, to reuniting in London and traveling together to Korea, their birthplace.
It was apparently love at first “sight.”
“After just three hours, I knew I loved her already,” writes Anais, relating how she felt after the sisters’ first marathon Skype conversation.
Following their in-person reunion, Sam writes, “I came to London having no idea whether or not Anais and I were related, and I left feeling like I had known her my entire life.”
A joint phone interview in late September with Anais, speaking from Paris, and Samantha, who goes by “Sam,” based in Los Angeles, only confirms the sisters have already established a deep bond in less than two years. Though they live on different continents, ever since their London reunion, they have managed to see each other about once every four months.
“I don’t think I could go any longer than four months without seeing her,” Sam tells KoreAm.
“We’re always in contact,” Anais adds, even though they are 5,000 miles apart, “except when one or the other is sleeping.”
Throughout the three-way phone conversation, the sisters often call each other “Pop,” a nickname inspired by their constant text messages to each other (using WhatsApp, they often text just a few words at a time, and the sound their phone makes when a new message appears is “pop”). They display a kind of playful sibling tit-for-tat rapport. When about to answer a question from this interviewer, their exchange goes like this:
Anais: Sam, do you want to go first? You are the youngest one.
Sam: That is not true!
Anais: It is mostly definitely true.
Sam: There is no proof.
Anais: Everyone says it.
Sam: Aaah! (in a whiny tone)
Anais: I am slightly taller. I am. (Laughs.) Also, I don’t have any information about the exact time I was born, but I know Sam was born really late at night on the 19th of November. So I assume, had I been born later, then maybe I would be born on the 20th of November, not the 19th. It’s just a superstition. But I just like to pick on my sister.
Sam: She just likes to bother me.
One can tell their voices apart easily, thanks to Anais’ British-tinged French accent, as she studied at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. But their frequent giggles —one starts, and then the other follows soon after—are almost indistinguishable. In their jointly written book, Anais and Sam pen alternating chapters, allowing each sister to have her own distinct voice—Sam’s more straightforward, often humorous, and Anais’, with more of a poetry to it—as she recounts and reflects upon many of the same events. They also distill their very separate experiences as Korean adoptees growing up with their respective white families in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, and Verona, New Jersey.
Different from Sam, who has two older brothers (the biological children of the Futermans), Anais grew up an only child and often fantasized about having a sibling; she even dreamed up an imaginary friend named Anne. So, imagine her surprise when, on December 15, 2012, her college pal Kelsang tells her that he came across a YouTube video featuring a young American actress who looked just like Anais.
Though that short video, created and starring the popular YouTube star KevJumba, gets Anais’ mind racing about the possibility of having a twin, there is no information about the actress, not even a name. Plus, when she tells her parents about this look-alike, they react skeptically, explaining that the agency that handled Anais’ adoption said she was a single birth, with no mention of a twin.
So Anais goes back to focusing on her studies and her life. Two months later, the same friend, Kelsang, tells Anais he found another video of the actress—and this time, there was a name: Samantha Futerman. After some well-intentioned social media stalking, Anais learns as much as she can about this familiar stranger, including her birthdate—November 19, 1987, the same as Anais’—and even finds a video where Sam talks about being adopted. Anais then works up the courage to send a Facebook message to Sam that starts, “Hey, My name is Anais, I am French and live in London. About two months ago, my friend was watching one of your videos with KevJumba on YouTube, and he saw you and thought that we looked really similar … like VERY REALLY SIMILAR … So I don’t want to be too Lindsay Lohan, well … but … how to put it … where were you born?”
Across the globe, Sam is primping herself for the big movie premiere for the Justin Chon film 21 & Over, in which she costars, when she receives a tweet to check out a Facebook message. Looking at Facebook pictures of Anais, a shocked Sam says it’s like looking in a mirror.
They begin exchanging birth records and childhood pictures, which reveal few clues other than their common birthdate, birthplace and strikingly similar appearance. Their birth family histories, including the descriptions and circumstances of their biological mother, are actually quite different, but Sam notes that it’s not uncommon for such details in adoption papers to be unreliable. The two then arrange a Skype call.
Just as Anais starts to apologize for her poor Internet connection, Sam blurts, “Oh my God, you’re European!”
And then she erupts into laughter. Anais starts laughing. It’s the same laugh. They speak for three hours, only stopping because they have to go to the bathroom. They cover their childhoods, their studies, boyfriends, medical information (nerve disorders around the same age), their small hands.
“I’d gone into the call completely exhausted from the long days I had been spending on my designs, but now, I was suddenly energized,” Anais recounts in the book. “I did not want to go to bed for fear Samantha might disappear, or that it would turn out that this was a dream and when I woke up, she’d be gone.”
Sam says, over the following nights, she couldn’t wait to talk to Anais again. “I was becoming an Anais Bordier addict—I couldn’t get enough of her, and I was getting the feeling that she couldn’t get enough of me, either,” she writes. “I guess you could say we were becoming self-obsessed.”
In the months that follow, they would learn about their uncanny similarities, including a disdain for cooked carrots in soup, their tendency to declare how they want to try everything on a restaurant menu, their partiality to curse words and animal costumes for Halloween, how they cope with stress by napping, and their common artistic persuasion, with Anais studying fashion design and Sam pursuing acting.
Though many would like to believe separated twins “sense each other,” or feel like their other-half is missing, Sam and Anais say they never felt that. And it was perhaps a sense of disbelief that caused Anais to poke Sam in the head when they first meet in London—making sure this 4-foot-10, freckled American look-alike was real.
While they are in London, accompanied by both sets of their adoptive parents, DNA tests would confirm Anais and Sam are identical twins. A series of other tests conducted by a twins expert at the California State University, Fullerton, would also reveal the sisters had similar IQs (Sam’s was slightly higher, though Anais thinks this is because it was an American-made test; she requests a “rematch”) and dispositions, with nearly identical scores for “openness, conscientiousness and agreeableness”—consistent with findings about twins who grow up apart. “Dr. [Nancy] Segal had said reared-apart twins were more similar than those raised together because they weren’t fighting to be different,” Sam writes. “They were letting nature take its course.”
But they have their differences, too. Anais is, in fact, .75 inches taller. Sam’s memory is stronger than Anais’, which could be due to the fact that, as an actress who has also worked as a waitress, she has to do a great deal of memorizing. Meanwhile, Anais outperformed Sam on visual-spatial tests, probably because of her design background.
The sisters note that such results indicate how their differing cultural environments and upbringing may have played a role in their personalities. Sam writes in the book that she got to grow up with two older brothers, which helped her grow thick skin, whereas Anais, being an only child, seemed to be more sensitive to negative comments.
In a particularly touching moment in the book, the twins also make a striking observation about how their personalities seem to reflect those of their respective foster mothers, whom they met last summer during a trip to Korea for an adoptee conference. Sam’s “touchy-feely” foster mother gives big smiles and big hugs, not unlike Sam’s outgoing personality, whereas, Anais’ foster mother is a kind and happy woman, but more reserved, taking time to warm up to people, similar to Anais.
For Sam, this was her second time meeting her foster mother, but for Anais, it was her first, and the encounter was powerful for a young woman who, as a child, sometimes agonized over being abandoned by her birth mother. She realized someone loved and cared for her, even during her earliest days on earth.
“I was able to see how much of a huge influence on my life and on the person I became she was,” Anais tells KoreAm, about her foster mother. “It was one of the biggest surprises of the whole Korea trip—how everything counts in your life, even when you’re a baby and you don’t necessarily remember it.”
Everything counts. That idea seemed to be at play when Anais and Sam finally had a moment alone together during their London reunion, without family or friends around, and, feeling exhausted, decide to take a nap in Sam’s hotel room—together, in the same bed. “Maybe this was our way of resuming our story where it all started—twins in the womb,” writes Anais in the book. “We were resuming our life together, waking up with no fear of being separated ever again.”
Sam says, every time the two see each other, they share the same bed—Anais always on the right, Sam on the left.
At one point in Separated @ Birth, Sam admits it’s difficult to describe the strong, almost natural bond she and Anais feel, even though they missed out on coloring in a 25-year history together.
“In life, there exists sympathy and empathy. I have both of these with Anais,” she writes. “But what I have with her is beyond that. I have literally felt in my body what she is feeling. I know exactly where in her throat she gets choked up when she gets upset and the blood rushes to her face. I know how hot it actually feels. It’s not telekinesis we have, but the ability to recognize and fully experience what the other is going through.”
The book not only details their bond, but also the relationships their respective families have nurtured. It’s almost like their entire families have adopted each other, the twins say. Last Thanksgiving, they had a joint celebration at Sam’s parents’ home in New Jersey, and they plan to meet again in New York for their daughters’ book launch. “They find comfort in knowing each other,” Sam says.
The sisters say that the exercise of revisiting the events of the past year-and-a-half for the book and the forthcoming documentary has been therapeutic. “And it’s a gift because I never want to forget those moments,” Sam tells KoreAm. “It’s been the most amazing year of my life.”
Initially, though, Anais and her parents had reservations about sharing details of such a private story—and an emotional, unpredictable one—so publicly. When Sam, who works in an industry that’s all about public storytelling, approached Anais about recording their experiences for the documentary (the book project came later), the two hadn’t even confirmed they were biologically related.
“I guess I was scared because this whole story happened so fast, and you never know how you’re going to react … and maybe you don’t want everyone to see it,” Anais explains. But she adds she also realized it was very non-private social media platforms that helped her “recover my twin sister on the other end of the world”—and she’s grateful.
She also had the assurance that her sister, who is directing and producing Twinsters, was committed to an authentic retelling of their unique journey. “I have never felt happier in my life since I met Sam,” says Anais. “I wanted to share the joy of our story, as well.”
Sam admits she didn’t fully appreciate the impact their story could have, until after they launched their Kickstarter campaign for Twinsters, which she plans to submit to festivals next year. “At first, it’s just, like, our story is crazy, of course, we have to share this! Then, through Kickstarter, we got a lot of press and a lot of adoptees began to reach out to us,” she describes.
“Some said, ‘Now I’ve decided to go and search for my birth family, and I never thought I’d do that.’ It became really, really moving. We started to realize that this story was bigger than ourselves, and can actually be something that other adoptees can look up to … because Anais and I didn’t really have those people to look up to when we were kids—to have a figure to say, ‘You know, I went through it, and it’s OK, and you’re strong enough, and you’ll be able to do it, too, no matter what the outcome is.’”
It’s still unclear how Anais and Sam came to be separated after birth, and they realize they may never know the truth—or meet their biological mother, or father. They wrote a letter together to their birth mom that will be kept on file at Sam’s adoption agency in Korea, should she ever look for them. If she ever reads the letter, she will know that her daughters found each other from opposite sides of the world and that they are happily reunited.
And that happiness has been transformative.
“You know what’s funny? A lot of adoptees yearn to find someone who looks like them,” says Sam. “That’s how I felt. I wanted to find someone who looked like me—freckles, lighter shade of brown hair. It’s such a comfort, finding people that you recognize and feel comfortable around. You realize it’s all going to be OK.”
Anais says, since meeting Sam, she feels more confident. “I’m not as scared,” she says. “I can accept myself a lot easier. I feel a lot more comfortable around everyone. I’m not worrying that much as before. You feel stronger when you know there are two of you.”
Today, Anais is working in Paris as a leather goods designer for Gerard Darel, and Sam continues to work as an actress in L.A., as well as on post-production of Twinsters. She has also founded Kindred: The Foundation for Adoption, an initiative to help with services like travel, translation and therapy for international and domestic adoptees and their families.
If the sisters have learned anything from this experience, it’s that anything is possible, they say.
“Sometimes you might think that you know everything that’s going to happen,” says Anais. “But you have no idea what the universe has set for you. You should always live day by day, and let yourself be surprised because a lot of good things can happen to you. That’s what’s beautiful in life.”
“Just that simple act of being open,” says Sam.
“Oh my god, we’re twins!” Anais squeals.
“We’re twins!” Sam exclaims back.
Photos courtesy of Anais Bordier and Samantha Futerman.
This article was published in the October/November 2014 issue of KoreAm under the title “Anais & Sam: Separated @ Birth Chronicles a Love Story Between Sisters.” Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the magazine issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).