I was six months into the pregnancy when I got the news. The ultrasound technician had inadvertently raised my concern when she sucked in her breath and whispered “oh, oh.” She tried to assure me that the doctor would go over the results with me and that I should just go home and rest.
We’d just come back from a two year missions trip in Africa and I thought my sickness had something to do with the water in our village. The fact that I was pregnant was stunning enough without the news I heard when I dropped into our local family clinic. Sure, I had added some girth but with all the celebrations and farewells and feasting over the past month it didn’t seem surprising.
The doctor showed me two white blurs cuddled up together. I’d heard about conjoined twins before but never thought of the reality as something that might impact my life. Twins didn’t even run in my family. Conjoined twins was a news item for the curious who often referred to them as Siamese Twins.
Dr. Chan told me that the possibility of identical twins fusing together in my uterus was rare. “This is a ‘1 in 100,000’ possibility and next time it’s unlikely you’ll have a repeat. 75% of these pregnancies don’t survive so we can take care of it for you to avoid further complications.”
“Thank you, doctor,” I said.
Dr. Chan fidgeted with the ultrasound and pointed at a spot she wanted me to focus on. “You can see that the fetuses have a common placenta and amniotic sac. They are what we call Thoraco-omphalogus twins. They are joined at the chest and it seems that they share one heart and perhaps part of their digestive system.”
“Okay,” I said.
Dr. Chan swiveled on her stool and looked me in the eye. She fidgeted with her stethoscope. “Would you like me to set up a procedure for you?”
I’d heard about conjoined twins being separated so was actually encouraged that the doctor was so positive in her approach. I responded from that perspective. “So, do you need to refer me somewhere? How does this happen?”
She stuck her hands in the pockets of her white lab coat. “The General Hospital is licensed for this procedure.”
I was amazed because I was sure that the news would have been all over if such a surgery had happened locally. “How long will it take for the babies to recover?” I asked.
Her brows furrowed and her head cocked sideways. “What do you mean?” she asked.
I spoke on naively. “After the surgery… how long before I get to take them home?”
Dr. Chan physically pulled back and stared at me. It was then that I clicked. “Wait a minute. Are you suggesting an abortion?”
“It’s a harmless procedure,” she said as she turned back to the ultrasound. “Like I said, next time you’ll probably have no problem with your pregnancy.”
“But what happens if I want to keep the babies?” I asked.
“You’d have to choose. Which one do you want to live? Right or left?”
“Right and left,” I said. “I want them both to live.”
Dr. Chan stood up and transferred to her computer station. She began to stroke the keys rapidly as I sat there. Finally, she turned. “I think you better go with your husband to Dr. Forbes. I’ll set up a referral.”
It was two weeks before Dan and I sat down in front of another doctor and told him we wanted both right and left. His frown was as deep as Dr. Chan’s.
“There’s only one heart,” he said. “They’ll be fortunate to survive the birth process. We’ll have to take them early.”
One week later we were sitting with another doctor going over the details of a C-section and what life with conjoined twins would really be like. I was told that if I chose right or left then I would increase the chances of at least one child surviving. Neither Dan or I could choose.
There really are no words to describe the fullness and emptiness I felt when I actually saw the two girls. I was happy and sad at the same time.
The twins were in the neo-natal intensive care unit being bottle fed. They seemed to have tubes everywhere. I could pat them but not really hold them.
I take Carol and Lynn home next week. Both right and left. Then what?
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