The big moment has arrived. After nearly two months in a hospital bed Sarah Thistlethwaite is finally ready to welcome her twin babies into the world.
As she delivers the two girls without incident she breathes a sigh of relief. But when nurses hold newborns Jenna and Jillian up for their parents to see, something incredible happens that sends a shockwave around the room.
The twins belong to Sarah and her husband Bill, who are from Orrville, Ohio, and had always wanted three children. When their son Jaxon was born in January 2013 they were on their way to making their dream come true.
The following October Sarah fell pregnant again, but at 19 weeks Sarah’s ultrasound revealed something really exciting: she was expecting twins. “The tech said ‘there’s two,’” the mom told the Akron Children’s Hospital website. “My husband said ‘two what?’”
Surprise quickly gave way to excitement, however. Upon learning that the twins were girls Sarah and Bill decided on the names Jenna and Jillian. Their family unit would soon be complete.
But their excitement was tinged with concern. Doctors told them that Jenna and Jillian were monoamniotic-monochorionic, or “mono mono,” twins, which occur in just 1 percent of twin pregnancies.
This meant that the girls shared the same amniotic sac in the womb. While they had their own umbilical cords the unborn twins also shared the placenta.
Mono mono twins, who account for just one in every 35,000 to 60,000 pregnancies, are unfortunately more likely to suffer complications. With more than one umbilical cord there’s the risk of entanglement, and if one gets obstructed then one of the twins won’t receive the nutrients they need.
When one twin receives fewer nutrients than the other they’re said to suffer from twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. Unfortunately this can be fatal.
Complications like this used to mean that just over half of mono mono twins survived pregnancy. But in 2009 it was shown that, if the twins are monitored especially closely, their chance of survival is as high as 95 percent.
Such monitoring required Sarah to check in to the Akron General Medical Center for almost two months of bedrest. Doctors gave her the option to give birth somewhere between 32 and 34 weeks.
On March 14, 2014 Sarah took up permanent residence on the labor and delivery floor. For 20 hours every day she was hooked up to monitors that tracked Jenna and Jillian’s development.
It was a trying time for the Thistlethwaites. Sarah was forced to take early leave from her job as a middle school math teacher, while Bill was tasked with caring for Jaxon and journeying between home and the hospital day in, day out.
Sarah, aside from one brief trip home for Easter, remained in hospital for almost two months. She used the time to teach herself knitting and to make friends with the other moms in her unit.
Because of the risks associated with giving birth to mono mono twins, the Thistlethwaites and their specialist Dr. Melissa Mancuso had some difficult decisions to make. Scheduling a caesarean section too soon would bring all the dangers of premature birth; scheduling too late would put the twins at increased risk of entangling their cords.
Eventually the procedure was scheduled for May 9, that year’s Mother’s Day. By that time Sarah was at the 33-weeks stage. As it happened she gave birth to two healthy baby girls, with Jenna and Jillian born within 45 seconds of each other.
The medical professionals’ first priority was to ensure that mom and twins were doing okay. When they were satisfied they held up Jenna and Jillian up for their mom and dad – and that’s when the tiny baby girls started holding on to each other’s hands.
“When they just held them up and I just saw their hands together,” Bill told Fox 8 News Cleveland, “it was just indescribable.” Plenty of people agreed; it wasn’t long before a photo of the hand-in-hand twins went viral.
Having spent so much time in such close proximity, Jenna and Jillian instinctively reached out for each other when hurled into this strange new world. Even now, two years down the line, the twins remain as close to each other as ever.
“When one cries the other one cries,” Sarah told the news broadcaster. “Wherever one travels to the other one usually travels to. So I think they’re still really close.” And they still grab on to each other, the mom added, especially when they’re eating.