I had no idea what to expect as I entered through the picket gate past the trim borders and rang the bell, I was about to do my first interview as a reporter for a local paper, I was so nervous.
The door was opened by a middle-aged lady, she looked as nervous as me.
“Hello, are you the reporter from the Oracle?”
She offered me her hand and invited me in, “You’ll have to excuse the mess. I haven’t had chance to tidy around yet.”
I looked at the room, it was spotless, I was glad that I hadn’t asked her and the girls to my flat for the interview.
“The girls want us to do our stories separately if that’s ok”.
I wasn’t bothered, it would be more beneficial to write up later. I put my phone onto record and asked her to speak clearly in her own words.
“We’d already had two scans, they showed that we were having twins, Dave and I were over the moon, we’d been trying for a baby for almost two years. We were so excited that - against the wishes of both sets of parents - we went shopping for things the babies would need.
Three weeks later we returned to the clinic for what we thought was a routine third scan, the technician looked a little perplexed and called in a doctor, he checked the scan and then he asked us to join him in his office.
He didn’t mince his words, there was no preparation, he just came right out with it, ‘You’re carrying conjoined twins,’ he said.
We had no idea what he was talking about, so we had to sit there as he explained that their bodies were joined together. I didn’t hear most of what he was saying, I just stared at the bookcase wondering why he had so many, I finally spoke.
‘How can you be sure? how do you know that they’re not just cuddling each other?’
We drove home in silence, Dave stared blankly ahead, there were so many questions buzzing around in my head. We hardly spoke for the next week or two. Talking about the babies - which had filled our whole lives previously – was now taboo.
He seemed to spend all his time at work, he went out early in the morning and came back late at night with the excuse that he was too tired to talk.
I had to attend meetings with specialists on my own, I attended all the clinics on my own, I was convinced that the staff thought that I was a single parent. The worst meeting was when I had to sit there while they told me that I could abort my twins if I wanted to, but thankfully, one of them was an elderly man who seemed kinder and not so cold-hearted.
“Their quality of life is what you can extend to them, abortion is not the only way.”
His kind words stayed in my head on the long journey home, I didn’t dare tell Dave that an abortion was on the cards, I knew he would too readily agree. At my most recent scan I’d found out that I was having girls, I was overjoyed and didn’t care what they looked like, I was determined that no-one would stop me having my babies, then, as I was leaving the room one of the younger doctors said.
‘‘The chances of both babies surviving are very slim, I am sorry, but we must make you aware of this.”
I sat clutching one of their ultrasound photos, and absent-mindedly crumpled it up in my hand as he spoke.
I went into labour late at night and the girls were delivered in the early morning by surgery.
For most of the following day I was unconscious due to anaesthesia so I didn’t see them, but when I finally did, I couldn’t believe my eyes, they were absolutely beautiful!.
The first time Dave saw the girls was when he came to pick me up to go home, he could barely look at them.
It was about six months later, and I had just finished feeding Lottie, but she obviously wasn’t satisfied, in frustration she reached out for her sisters half full bottle, but Letitia wasn’t about to give up her food without a fight, and that was how it was going to be for a time.
At this young age they always seemed to be at loggerhead, they were continuously fighting, but they would have to learn to get along with each other, besides Lottie was the stronger of the two and if I allowed this to continue then Letitia would get nothing. Their first two years were spent in turmoil, they would bite, scratch, and pull each other’s hair, but there was never a winner.
In their third year the girl’s seemed to finally understand each other, but they also began to realise that they weren’t ordinary siblings. They were joined at the abdomen and down to their pelvis, where their spines met. They were omphalopagus twins, which basically meant that each of my girls had a heart, they each had a set of arms, a set of lungs and a stomach. They shared some ribs, a liver, and their circulatory system, they also shared their digestive and reproductive systems. But they only had one leg each with Lottie having the left and Letitia having the right.
This meant that simple things like walking and even getting their balance proved to be major obstacles, but they were strong and overcame anything that was thrown at them in their early years. By the time they were five they had conquered all the trials and tribulations that normal babies would have mastered two years previously.
At first the specialists had considered separating them, it was always going to be risky from day one, and as they grew it became more and more dangerous, they shared too many organs for the operation to be safe, the shared spine would also produce far too many problems, eventually doctors decided that it just couldn’t be done.
As they grew I noticed the girls had become individuals, they may have been joined together but they each had their own personality and outlook on life. Lottie was loud and somewhat brash, while Letitia seemed quiet and withdrawn, as they got older they sort of moulded into two wonderful girls who looked out for each other’s needs.
I know they are mine and I’m biased but they are the bravest girls I know, they’ve had to face the world alone, their father walked out just after their first birthday saying he couldn’t cope. He didn’t have to cope; he was never here anyway. He was always at work using the excuse that his own daughters were costing a fortune to keep, so he needed to be there, but he was weak and couldn’t put up with the sarcastic jibes and the sniggering behind his back at the workplace. When he wasn’t working he was in the pub spending more than the money he had earned on overtime.
When I confronted him about it, he got angry, I asked him where the extra money was and he just hit out at me, he pinned me against the worktop and almost broke my back as he had his hands around my throat, then it must have suddenly hit him, what he was doing, I’ll never forget the look of horror on his face. He packed a small bag and walked away, he never came back, and I haven’t seen him since.
So, it wasn’t just the girls who had to learn to cope, I did as well, I had no-one to talk to when I heard the caustic remarks and the shouted jeers if I took the girls out of the house to the shopping centre or the clinic, I had to learn to put up with the shouts of ‘freak show’ and other hurtful remarks. As the girls grew, the locals got used to seeing us around the town, the remarks became less frequent, and I made some very good friends, including Melissa.
Melissa lived next door to us, she has been my rock and although she has now moved in with us we are not lovers, but we hold a great affection and a shared love for the girls. Without her help and love I doubt I would have coped so well; the girls adore her and look upon her as the sister they never had.
I don’t know what the future holds, I fear more for when I eventually die, what will become of my beautiful girls, but they have forged a life for themselves so far and I am sure that they’ll live for many years after I am gone.”
She got up to make tea and to call the girls down, I must admit, I wasn’t prepared for what greeted me, I was looking down at my phone and looked up as they said hello, we had a real ‘girly’ chat before I switched my phone to record.
The Girl’s story
“Well, it took us a long time, but we have eventually become the best of friends.” said Lottie throwing her head back in laughter.
Letitia readily agreed, “We are true sisters, we are never going to be individuals, and no-one can ever separate us.”
The two girls gave each other a high five. Their happiness and contentment with their lot oozed from them.
Lottie admitted that she could talk the hind legs off a donkey while Letitia was quite content to let her do just that, whilst they know that they are different they admit that they’ve never discussed the fact with their mum.
“We never broached the subject.” Lottie said, “We just knew that we weren’t the same as others, but we learned to get on with it, other people seemed to have more of a problem with it than we ever did. We have certainly been asked some strange questions, when we were just eleven years old one of our friends asked us how sex was going to work for us, I mean, we’re in the middle of a crowded café and she comes out with that cracker!”
Both the girls burst into laughter.
“We’ve spent most of our lives facing prejudice and ignorance.” Letitia added, but we don’t have a problem with who we are, it’s those people who fling the insults that have the problem, we grew up with it, but as far as we’re concerned we are as normal as any other girls of our age, it’s just that there are two of us. Thankfully, we’re fortunate to have lots of good friends who look out for us, not that we aren’t capable. But sometimes the casual remarks are quite upsetting, people would say things like ‘You look like aliens,’ or ‘Where’s Mr Barnum?’. Despite what they say or think, we are two normal girls who enjoy everything in life, we enjoy the challenges that life and people set us.
“We both got through college with honours, and we’ve both decided that we want to become doctors.” Lottie said,
“We’ve had to learn to reach compromises with each other on things like social life, everyday clothes and even our food, Letitia likes Mexican, and I love Chinese.”
"We definitely have different lifestyles," continued Lottie. "Letitia's a lot more like, no make-up and stuff like that, while I would rather have my make-up more eccentric and bright and sometimes even outrageous."
“But we both love the nightclubs, wherever we go the doormen know us and tend to let us straight in.”
“Yes.” Lottie added with a grin “I suppose you could say that we’re well connected.”
More hearty laughter and a second high five.
I walked from the house with a great story and a different outlook on life.