One twin has Down’s Syndrome – the other doesn’t – making them twins in a million.
But when they were born mum Louise was asked if she wanted to abandon one of her twins at the hospital….
People though it would be hard watching one twin thrive while the other didn’t, a painful reminder of what could have been…. but thanks to their unique bond Thomas is in fact helping his brother Jacob progress.
Mum says Thomas is Jacob’s ‘ wingman’ and far from being a reminder of what could have been, is in fact helping to push Jacob to his full potential because he wants to be with his twin. The tot helped his brother walk so they could play together and sign they can communicate better and both are thriving despite their differences…
The woman’s face clouded with confusion. ‘Twins?’ she repeated. ‘But how can they be twins? He’s…’
‘He’s what?’ I wanted to scream at her. But instead I took a deep breath.
‘Yes, Jacob has Down’s syndrome,’ I said. ‘But the boys are twins.’
‘Oh, right, well…’ she muttered before hurrying away.
I was used to it. It was either that or, ‘oh, what a shame.’
I didn’t know which hurt more. The fact that that no one seemed to be able to see past Jacob’s differences to see all the wonderful things the boys shared, or the pitiful smiles people flashed before scurrying off. I was just glad that he and his brother Thomas didn’t seem to notice, couldn’t feel the hurt that I did.
I was already a mum to Anthony, 11, Leah, 10 and Bradley, 8, when I fell pregnant in May 2011. But I didn’t know I was carrying twins until I started to bleed and was sent for an early scan.
Although it was too early to see a heartbeat, the sonographer confirmed there were two eggs.
‘Two?’ I said, ‘You mean like twins?’
That’s right,’ she smiled. ‘Twins.’
I was shocked, but happy. I just prayed they would both survive.
Unfortunately, over the next few weeks my partner and I split up, but although I worried about being a single mum of five, I prayed that my babies would be strong enough to hang on in there.
‘Mummy loves you so much,’ I’d say to them at night as I rubbed my bump.
They must have listened too, because at my 12 week scan two little heartbeats throbbed happily.
I was over the moon. The kids were excited too. Being the only girl, Leah was desperate to have a sister.
‘Wait and see!’ I told her as she excitedly showed me cute pink babygros as we went to the supermarket.
When I found out that I was expecting boys the first week in August at a private scan. She was gutted.
‘Aw,’ she pouted. ‘Can’t you out one back and have a girl instead?’
‘I’m afraid it doesn’t work quite like that!’ I laughed.
I was just grateful that they were both doing well.
Only as time went on, scans showed that Twin 1 was not growing as well as Twin 2 and so I started going for fortnightly scans.
Every time I saw the two little heartbeats on the screen, relief flooded. Twin 2 might be smaller but he was still growing, along with his big brother.
‘Like two little peas in a pod,’ the nurse smiled.
Apart from high blood pressure, which I’d had in all my pregnancies, the pregnancy progressed well. Aside from one baby being smaller, there was never any indication of any other issues.
At 34 weeks I went into early labour and with one of the boys breech, they were born by emergency C-section at Shrewsbury Hospital.
Thomas was born first, weighing 4lb 10oz, and Jacob followed minutes later at 5lb 6oz.
I was desperate to see them, but with both whisked off to special baby care the minute they were delivered, it wasn’t until later that afternoon that I got to meet them for the first time.
‘Hello,’ I whispered as I stroked their tiny fingers. They were both gorgeous little boys and I fell in love with them straight away.
But the next day I could see Jacob eyes had a more obvious almond shape and as twins I had expected them to look the same.
Louise had a cousin with Down’s Syndrome and it crossed her mind that Jacob might have the condition too – but she didn’t think it possible as they were twins.
I didn’t mention it because I thought they would think I was being daft – after all, they were twins, right?
But Jacob – Twin 2 – did have feeding issues and when he was two days old doctors told me they wanted to run some tests.
‘It’s Down’s Syndrome isn’t it?’ I blurted out.
They said they weren’t sure and wanted to take a blood sample.
I gave permission but I already knew in my heart it was. Did it matter? Not one bit. They were my babies and I loved them.
Three days on the results were back and I was called into a private room.
‘Sit down please,’ the consultant said gravely and I just knew.
‘It’s positive, isn’t it?’ I said.
‘Yes, the tests have shown that Jacob does have Down’s Syndrome,’ he confirmed.
Against odds on one in a trillion, he had been born with the condition – while his brother hadn’t.
‘How does that happen then if they’re twins? ‘I asked.
He explained that as Jacob and Thomas were fraternal twins, meaning they came from two eggs, rather than identical twins, where one egg is split in two, Thomas was unaffected.
‘OK,’ I nodded. ‘That makes sense now.’
He cleared his throat and sat forward in the chair.
‘Do you still want to take him home with you?’ he asked.
At first I was confused. Then I was stunned. I actually couldn’t believe what I was being asked. It would never cross my mind to disown one of my twins just because he had been born different.’
I looked the consultant squarely in the eye, my cheeks burning with anger.
‘I carried and gave birth to two babies and so I will bringing home two babies,’ I said.
‘I’m sorry, I had to ask,’ he said.
‘Really?’ I said, shocked.
I was horrified to learn that 20 per cent of babies with Down’s Syndrome are given up, just left at the hospital for social services.
‘Well I would never, ever, do that,’ I said.
‘Of course,’ he said, clearly embarrassed.
Back on the ward, gazing at Jacob lying in his cot, I still couldn’t believe it. I didn’t feel any less love for him than I did for his brother. As far as I was concerned he was even more special because he had Down’s Syndrome, not less.
In that moment, gazing at his tiny little face, I knew I had been chosen to be his mother because I felt I would be able to deal with what lay ahead.
When he was eight days old, Thomas was strong enough to come home. It was a wrench leaving Jacob behind but he was having problems feeding and wasn’t discharged for another three days.
It was lovely to have them home. Leah and their big brothers fussed over them.
Despite their differences, the twins showed a unique bond, crying for each other and only settling when together.
Thomas was expected to develop much quicker than Jacob but it was Jacob who slept through the night first, started solids before his twin and even sat up first, just one day after his first birthday. I knew then he would be OK.
‘He’s not going to let anyone push him around or hold him back, this one,’ I laughed as he screwed up his face in disgust and spat his strawberries back out onto his highchair tray.
The way I saw it, both my boys were unique. I felt lucky to have them both. As far as out family was concerned Jacob was extra special because he had an extra chromosome.
That’s what I was told about my cousin and so I’ve always known people with Down’s Syndrome are special.
As the years passed, I did wonder if watching Thomas develop faster than his brother brother would be hard.
But when Thomas started waking he was desperate for Jacob to join him and encouraged him to use his walker daily until he too was on his feet. Whatever Thomas did he encouraged brother Jacob to do too because their unique bond meant they always wanted to be together.
If Jacob was unwell, Thomas would cuddle up on the sofa and when he got upset because he did not understand, Thomas would calm him.
It was like Thomas was his twin Jacob’s wingman helping him through and guiding him, showing him what he could do.
Bringing up five kids on my own wasn’t easy, especially as just after their first birthday my eldest son Anthony was diagnosed with Autism and ADHD but I doubted I’d meet anyone now. I mean, who’d want to take on my tribe?
But when the boys were two, I got back in touch with an old school friend, Craig, who bonded with all the kids but especially doted on the boys.
‘Are you sure about this?’ I asked him as we grew closer.
‘Absolutely,’ he said. ‘They’re great kids.’
I couldn’t argue with that.
So our family grew to include Craig and a few months later, we were delighted to find out I was expecting again.
Although I was offered Down’s screening this time round, I refused. There seemed no point. I felt so lucky to be blessed with another baby, if that baby had Down’s or not it really didn’t bother us.
Riley, is now two, a happy little boy who was born without Down’s. Jacob and Thomas are now five. Jacob attends a school with other children who have Down’s Syndrome. Thomas goes to a mainstream primary and the boys cannot wait to see each other after school.
‘Why can’t I be with JJ?’ he asks me every day. It’s hard to explain. In his eyes, Jacob is just his brother, full stop. The way it should be.
Looking back, it’s still hard to believe that anyone would think that I would abort or abandon Jacob because of Down’s Syndrome. I wouldn’t chose to give up Anthony because he has Autism and I doubt anyone would ask me if I wanted to do so. All kids need support in different ways, there’s nothing more to it than that.
I do worry that the that screening now available will lead to increased terminations of babies with Down’s Syndrome. Both twins bring so much love and joy into our life that we couldn’t be without either and I feel so sorry for anyone who would see a child with Down’s Syndrome as anything other than a blessing. When I look at my twins I can see the very obvious differences between them, but those are outweighed by the similarities – they both share the same love of life and warm, generous spirit.
Jacob is a happy, loving, little boy who has an incredible bond with his twin and his other siblings…who wouldn’t want a son like that?