Identical twin sisters Erin Cheplak and Jill Justiniani had a running joke throughout their pregnancies that they would give birth on the same day. They never thought it would actually happen. But then, suddenly, it did.
“This isn’t a joke anymore,” Cheplak said to her sister over the phone, just before 9 a.m. on May 5 – the date of Justiniani’s scheduled C-section. “My water broke.”
Just a few hours apart, the twin sisters each gave birth to their firstborn sons down the hall from one another at the Kaiser Permanente hospital in Anaheim, Calif.
Not only were the babies born on the same day at the same hospital, but even their measurements matched. The boys — Justiniani’s son Oliver and Cheplak’s son Silas — each weighed 7 pounds and 3 ounces at birth. They were also each 20 inches long.
Although the serendipitous timing of their sons’ births was shocking to the sisters, in some ways, they said, it was par for the course. All their lives, the 30-year-old twins — both of whom live in Yorba Linda, Calif., about two miles apart — have been on parallel paths.
“We’ve always done everything together,” said Cheplak. “It has been amazing to be able to go through life together at every stage. We are truly each other’s best friend.”
As children growing up in Brea, Calif., all their hobbies and interests aligned, and as they moved into adulthood, they shared professional pursuits, too. They studied kinesiology and then completed the same master’s program in occupational therapy at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
Now they work at the same outpatient clinic as pediatric occupational therapists. Their desks are side-by-side. They often bring each other lunch.
The sisters got married roughly a year apart, and pregnant within just eight days of each other — which, they said, was unplanned.
Justiniani and her husband, Ian, had been trying to get pregnant for nearly a year when they finally got a positive result on the morning of Cheplak’s postponed wedding celebration in August 2021.
“We were tracking and hoping and praying,” said Justiniani, who had suffered a miscarriage a few months before.
Ten days later, while on her honeymoon in the Maldives with her husband Zach, Cheplak noticed she had a heightened sense of smell — sometimes an early pregnancy symptom. She took an at-home test, and it was positive.
“That was the beginning of this path of feeling like this is pretty wild, but also totally meant to happen,” Justiniani said.
“We were crying on the phone together,” echoed her sister.
Although the news was unexpected, Cheplak said, it felt right: “I just had this feeling that it was going to work out, that we were both going to be pregnant.”
Going through the ups and downs of pregnancy together felt natural given their synchronized lives. It also provided them with a lot of comfort.
“With these pregnancies being our first, there was so much unknown,” Cheplak said.
Beyond their shared DNA, the sisters believe they have a particularly strong bond because of their childhood. They had a younger sister, Allison, who was born with a rare, life-threatening genetic disorder called Sialidosis. She died at age 12 when the twins were 18.
“We grew up in a family where our parents had to dedicate a lot of their time to Allison,” Cheplak said. “Jill and I really latched onto each other during those moments.”
“I really believe that we were meant to have each other,” Justiniani said. “We were able to walk through the toughest moments of life together.”
Their younger sister’s experience is also what propelled the twins to develop a shared passion for occupational therapy, as they witnessed firsthand how an occupational therapist helped Allison.
“I really feel like our younger sister is guiding us through our work every day,” Justiniani said. “It shaped us into who we are today.”
They are by each other’s sides through every obstacle, and happy moments, too. Like during their shared gender reveal on Nov. 27, when they found out they were both having boys.
“We were hopeful that we would have the same gender, but we really were unsure,” Justiniani said. “So when we popped our gender reveal balloons at the same time and saw a bunch of blue, we were both like ‘here we go.’ “
Still, they never anticipated they would give birth on the same day. Although they joked about the idea, they knew the chances were slim – and even more so when Justiniani found out her son was in the breech position, and she would need to schedule a C-section.
She and Ian chose May 5 — Cinco de Mayo — which was Ian’s father’s favorite holiday. He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and died in January, Justiniani said.
May 5 became even more momentous when her sister’s water broke that morning, more than a week before her due date on May 15.
Cheplak rushed over to the hospital, and Justiniani arrived shortly after. In another stroke of luck, Justiniani’s operation was delayed a few hours, so she and her husband were able to be in Cheplak’s delivery room. They helped calm her during intense and painful contractions.
“Not only did I have the support of my husband, but I had my sister and Ian in there,” Cheplak said. “It was like a movie.”
The sisters’ story spread rapidly throughout the hospital, delighting staff and patients. Alice Lau, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Kaiser Permanente who covered both twins’ prenatal care, was stunned that the sisters were simultaneously giving birth.
“I really couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I have never seen twins deliver on the same day, and I don’t think I’ll ever see it again.”
“It made my day, my week, and my year,” Lau added. “This is such fantastic news, and it reminds us that miracles still happen.”
When Cheplak was about to get an epidural, Justiniani was whisked away to the operating room for her C-section. Her son, Oliver, was born at 6:39 p.m.
As the night wore on and Cheplak was still in labor, “the nurses were like, ‘come on baby, you’re on a deadline!’ ” Cheplak said. “It gave me motivation to keep pushing.”
Then, in the nick of time, Silas arrived at 11:31 p.m. The whole hospital broke out in celebration.
“It was amazing,” Justiniani said.
The boys have already had daily playdates, and although they aren’t brothers, their mothers are certain they will always have a twin-like tie to one another.
“We’re just so excited that they are going to be able to have a similar experience to us, and go through all of life’s journeys together,” Cheplak said. “The twinning continues.”