After welcoming twin girls into the world in 2011, Matt and Jodi Parry probably had the same question in mind that any parent has of newborns: “Are they healthy?” Yet despite the pair making all the necessary preparations, nothing could have readied them for the doctor’s reply. He took them to a private room and said the devastating words, “I’m sorry…”
Jodi, a police force employee, and Matt, a civil servant, married in March 2007 and a year later decided that they wanted to start a family. The couple from Lancashire in the U.K. were delighted, then, when they welcomed their son, Finlay, into the world in 2009. And another year on, they began trying for a second child.
Unlike with their first child, though, Jodi became pregnant very quickly. And having already suffered a miscarriage before Finlay was born, the couple immediately began taking precautions. However, as they anxiously awaited confirmation of a heartbeat during a scan, the sonographer dropped a bombshell.
The expectant mom wrote on her blog, “The sonographer confirmed she could see a heartbeat. Matt squeezed my hand and I had shed a tear of relief, but she hadn’t finished. She then told us she could see a second heartbeat – ‘You’re pregnant with twins!’ At this point Matt and I were both crying.”
Thrilled at the prospect of welcoming twin girls into the family, the excited parents prepared themselves as best they could. Then, on June 29, 2011, Abigail and Isobel arrived. As the newborns were six weeks premature, however, they were whisked away to the neonatal ward.
The girls made good progress and seemed to be getting stronger by the day. After a couple of weeks, however, doctors became concerned about the newborns’ health. And following some tests, they made a discovery that would change everything for Matt and Jodi.
Jodi wrote, “After three weeks of watching the girls get stronger and grow we were approached by a doctor – she asked for a chat in private. My heart sank and I began to cry knowing instantly that something was wrong.” Subsequently, the couple were taken to “a bare, clinical side-room with three chairs” to discuss the issue.
“I’m sorry,” the doctor began. “Both Abigail and Isobel have Down syndrome.” The couple were understandably shaken by the news, and Jodi stated, “At that point my world fell apart. I was devastated. I felt like someone had just ripped my heart out.”
Down syndrome is triggered by carrying an extra chromosome 21. While there’s no known cause for the excess chromosome, the chances of developing the condition are around one in 1,000. The odds of it occurring in both of the identical twins, however, were a million to one.
In a state of shock and with tears pouring from her eyes, Jodi checked in on her babies. She had left them sleeping just a few minutes earlier and wasn’t sure how she would react when she saw them. But something surprising happened: the love that she felt for them before had only intensified.
“I don’t think I will ever forget that day,” Matt told Barcroft TV. “It was as if the whole world had ended. Life was not how I wanted it. I just shut down completely.” Indeed, his and Jodi’s initial feeling on the twins’ diagnosis was one of grief. In fact, they knew nothing of what having Down syndrome meant.
Writing in a blog for learning disabilities charity Mencap, Jodi said, “We had so many questions. Would the girls walk? Would they talk? We knew nothing about Down syndrome and left the hospital with no answers, no information, just fear and dread.”
At home, having Googled “Down syndrome” to find out where they stood, Jodi was blindsided by medical jargon. She did, however, understand the potential health complications and demanded doctors perform tests so that she and Matt knew exactly what they were dealing with. Only then could they start mapping out a future.
Following a series of tests, it transpired that Abigail was deaf, and Isobel had a small hole in her heart. What’s more, each girl has an underactive thyroid, meaning that they are unable to produce a sufficient level of certain hormones. This condition can lead to feeling tired, weight gain, depression and a sensitivity to coldness.
But any fears the twins’ parents had wouldn’t last. “When the doctor took us to one side to give us the results, he said he was sorry that Abigail and Isobel had Down’s syndrome,” Jodi told Barcroft TV. “To this day I’ll never know what he was sorry for.”
Indeed, Abigail and Isobel have changed the Parry family’s lives in ways they could never have imagined. But it’s all been for the better. And while Jodi admits it has been hard work, that’s more down to the fact that they’re twins rather than in need of extra care.
Jodi told Barcroft TV, “I wouldn’t say I have made any sacrifices because of the girls being born. It sounds sort of sugar-coated but the only things that they have brought into our life are positive. There’s nothing negative. There’s nothing in the world that could convince me to change them.”
Now approaching six years of age, the twins are doing well in a mainstream school. Although they mostly communicate using sign language, their speech is improving every day. Furthermore, Jodi now runs the Twincess charity to highlight the positives of raising children with Down syndrome.
Eight-year-old Finlay understands that his sisters need a little more help than they would if they didn’t have Down syndrome. With the twins’ condition, however, the whole family has grown stronger. “The girls have brought us together massively as a unit, but also made us appreciate the here and now,” Matt told Barcroft TV.
With Abigail and Isobel having brought nothing but joy to the Parrys’ lives, Jodi is still baffled as to why the doctor thought to apologize for the girls’ diagnosis. “If I could ever meet him again, I would like to show him Abigail and Isobel and say, ‘Why did you say sorry?’”