Since we started working with Carmelle and her family in February 2014, we’ve helped to raise awareness of her pregnancy complications in That’s Life and Woman’s Own magazines, and in newspapers including the Daily Star, the Times, and the Daily Express. We also arranged for Carmelle to share her story on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
I had been blessed with twins – but I had no idea I was carrying two ticking timebombs…
By Carmelle Hartgrove, 31, from Harlow in Essex
‘Congratulations,’ the sonographer smiled at me. ‘You’re pregnant with twins.’
I turned to Steve, my husband, who was grinning like a Cheshire cat.
‘This is our second chance,’ he beamed and squeezed my hand.
Steve, 35, and I had always wanted a big family. Now I hoped we could give our two older children, Charlotte, 11, and Callum, nine, a couple of siblings.
Steve and I had been together since I was 16 and he was 19 – a pair of teenagers.
We met at college, where Steve was studying carpentry and I was doing hairdressing.
My friends fancied him from the start, but I wasn’t bothered – until one day, we got talking at a mutual friend’s house, and his cheeky smile and sense of humour won me over.
I fell pregnant at 19 with Charlotte, and we married two years later, in 2004, before Callum was born in 2005.
Although raising two children kept us busy, we were both from big families and talked often of perhaps having more.
And when Charlotte and Callum started to become independant, I longed to feel like a ‘mummy’ again, so we decided to try for more children
I fell pregnant at first in April 2012, with twins, but several complications meant we lost them both.
The experience left us badly shaken, but we were thrilled to discover we were pregnant again in the following October. We were even more overjoyed to learn that we were expecting twins.
We excitedly started to make plans, but at our first scan, the sonographer told us to come back for another one just a few weeks later. We were worried.
‘I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about,’ she said. ‘But I can’t see a dividing membrane and would just like to see what’s going on inside there more clearly.’
She explained that the worst case scenario could be that my twins were conjoined, and my heart sunk. I already felt protective of my babies and I prayed they would be ok.
So when we attended our second scan, at just 14 weeks, we were relieved to hear that the babies weren’t conjoined.
‘It isn’t all good news I’m afraid,’ a doctor said gravely. ‘Your twins are monochorionic monoamniotic,
meaning they are sharing both a placenta and an amniotic sac. The condition is so rare – it only affects 1 per cent of all twin pregnancies.’
The doctor explained that the condition meant that as the girls grew they’d be fighting for room.
One could easily kill the other if their umbilical cords became tangled. My twins were ticking timebombs.
I grabbed Steve’s hand and swallowed carefully.
‘What does it mean? What are the chances of both of them pulling through?’ I asked.
‘I’m sorry,’ the doctor explained. ‘But the chances of them both surviving are just 50 per cent. This pregnancy could end any day.’
I let out a giant sob as Steve pulled me close to him, and the doctor continued hurriedly: ‘You do have other options. There is the option of a double termination, for example…’
‘No,’ I interrupted, shaking my head. ‘I couldn’t do that.’
‘Well there is also the option of selective reduction,’ she added. ‘You could choose to save one twin, to give it the greater chance of survival.’
Choose one twin? My heart thudded in my chest.
How could I save one child but not the other?
Aborting one baby would greatly increase the chances of the other surviving to full-term. But when I saw the two tiny bean-shapes on the screen, my mother’s instinct kicked in.
I knew it was risky but there was no way I could choose between my own children. I looked at Steve and shook my head once again, and he hugged me tightly, in silent agreement.
‘We want to continue with the pregnancy and wait to see if they survive.’ I told the doctor, and she nodded.
We were told that I would need to go back for regular scans, and left the hospital in a daze. And when we got home Charlotte ran over to us.
‘Are the babies ok?’ she asked, her eyes full of concern – she couldn’t wait to be a big sister again.
‘Yes they will be ok,’ Steve told her, squeezing my hand. ‘But mum has to be very careful during her pregnancy. She has to take it easy for a while.’
Over the next few months, I went into hibernation. I asked my boss if I could work from home, and spent every day with my hand protectively placed over my growing bump.
I became a nervous wreck and would hardly leave the house.
I watched helplessly as Steve took on everything – he doubled up and mum and dad to Charlotte and Callum, as well as holding down a full time job and doing all the housework.
I knew I was wrapped up in my own worry, but I told myself I needed to do what I could to give our girls the best possible chance of life.
And the children were great – they never complained at all.
I couldn’t go near any baby grows or nursery items, because I didn’t know if my little ones would make it or not. It broke my heart every day.
Miraculously, the babies stayed huddled up close together and the pregnancy progressed well.
We were over the moon to discover we were expecting twin girls. Now and again, they would give me a gentle little nudge – as if to tell me they were ok.
Every morning I would wake up and immediately wait to see if I could feel my growing girls nudging me, sending me their little message of reassurance.
I would wait all day until I felt it, and only then I could relax. If I didn’t feel it, my blood would run cold – were my girls dead?
At my weekly scans, I would wait eagerly for news that the girls were doing well.
Then at 32 weeks gone, and then I was taken in for an arranged c-section.
My pregnancy couldn’t carry on any further – if the girls grew any bigger it meant the risk they posed to each other was much higher.
When the doctors pulled the girls out one by one, I wished hard for them to cry.
When they did, it was the most amazing sound I’ve ever heard.
My little fighters had clung on all the way through – I counted my lucky stars, and I looked across at Steve, who was smiling at me.
Later, the midwives told me they had never seen a pregnancy like it – they were amazed that my girls managed to make it.
‘Would you like to cut their cords?’ the surgeon smiled at Steve.
He walked unsteadily over to the bed, and blinked as he took in the view of the umbilical cords – they were weaved tightly together.
He managed to cut them, before toppling over and passing out! There was chaos as medical staff attended to Steve, stitched me up and then sorted out the babies.
Both weighing a little over 4lbs, the girls spent 20 days in special care. We named them Charis Faith and Connie Grace – because we kept the faith they’d survive and then they graced us with their presence.
I couldn’t see them until the day after the birth, it was unbearable to be away from them. The first time I held them, I couldn’t hold back the tears – everything had been worth it for that special moment.
Now, they’re happy and healthy nine-month-olds and we know just how incredibly lucky we are.
They still like to sleep huddled together now and their determination to survive is reflected in their personalities – they are both feisty and confident girls, who are very happy to be here. I can’t believe my luck.
And far from putting us off, the experience has instead given us the bug – I’m 25 weeks pregnant with a another baby.
We are keeping the sex a secret until my bun is fully cooked, but so far, everything is going swimmingly. Steve and I have got our wish of a big family!
When I watch the extra special bond the girls share I know I made the right decision – I could never have chosen between my twins.
As told to Helen O’Brien Google