A mother pregnant with twins has spoken movingly about her emotional journey after one baby died during pregnancy – but may have saved her twin sister’s life in doing so.
Kerry Carruthers, 32, from Truro, Cornwall was 24 weeks pregnant when one of her twin baby girls died following laser surgery to correct twin to twin transfusion syndrome.
The condition develops in around 15 per cent of identical twins who share a placenta and blood supply in the womb.
One gets too little blood and amniotic fluid, which means it cannot grow very well. Between 80 and 90 per cent of babies die if the condition is not treated.
One of Ms Carruthers’ babies died in the womb during the procedure and to save the life of the other, she faced the heartbreak of carrying her dead baby until she went into labour naturally.
But despite her devastating news, she says carrying the twin – later named Maddison – for six weeks over Christmas and New Year was a privilege as she got to ‘keep her close’, while she came to terms with her loss and prepared for a birth and a funeral.
Her surviving daughter, Lucia, was given a one in 500,000 chance but was born healthy.
Ms Carruthers said: ‘It was utterly devastating to learn one of my twins had died. But even though I was shocked when I was told I would have to carry her until I went into labour, I was also relieved. It may sound strange but I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to her.
‘I felt privileged to have more time with her to come to terms with my loss before she was born and as my bump continued to grow I planned for a funeral and a birth.
‘It was heartbreaking picking a coffin for one daughter and a cot for the other, but I still bought them the same blankets and teddies because I loved them equally.
‘I got to spend one Christmas with Maddison in my tummy as nature intended and for that I consider myself fortunate. Other mums who lose babies do not get the chance to hold them close until they are ready to say goodbye as I did.’
Ms Carruthers was delighted to discover at 18 weeks that she was carrying twin girls.
But there was bad news at 23 weeks when following another scan her twins were diagnosed with suffering from twin to twin transfusion syndrome, a condition that only affects identical twins.
The blood flow from their shared placenta wasn’t divided equally which meant one twin wasn’t getting enough blood and her organs were struggling.
Twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome develops in around 15 per cent of identical twins who share a placenta and blood supply in the womb.
One gets too little blood and amniotic fluid, which means it cannot grow very well.
The other gets too much of both, so its heart and circulation struggle to cope. This twin often squashes the other against the wall of the womb.
Between 80 and 90 per cent of babies die if TTTS is not treated, and those who live are likely to have heart or kidney problems or serious neurological problems, such as cerebral palsy.
The laser ablation procedure has recently been approved for use in the UK to treat TTTS. Although the surgery is risky, the procedure has greatly improved the chances for twins with the syndrome.
The other baby was getting too much, putting pressure on her heart, and both of their lives were at risk.
In the days that followed the condition became progressively worse and she was offered a termination.
She said: ‘I asked the doctors to be honest and they said the situation was so serious they didn’t expect either of my babies to survive. I was devastated.
‘But I insisted no matter how bad it was termination was not an option. My babies deserved a chance.’
The consultant explained the only hope was laser surgery to try to even out the blood supply. Ms Carruthers was awake while it was performed and watched her babies on a screen throughout.
She said: ‘The surgeon warned that if either began to struggle or even died during the operation the surgery would continue as it was vital to the survival of the other baby.
‘My heart was hammering and my eyes were fixed on the screen the whole time. They were wriggling and yawning and so unaware of the danger they were in. It was so detailed I could even see they both had blonde hair. It was heartbreaking.’
When the procedure was complete the surgeon confirmed that both babies were still alive. ‘I was utterly relieved, but I knew we weren’t out of the woods,’ said Ms Carruthers.
She woke the next morning with a terrible feeling that something was wrong.
‘Call it mother’s intuition, but I just knew something terrible had happened. I drove straight to the hospital.’
A scan confirmed her worst fear. One of her babies had died. ‘Tears rolled down my face as I looked at the monitor. One baby lay lifeless at the bottom of the screen while my other twin kicked and wriggled around her.’
It was then that she was told the only chance of saving her surviving twin was to carry her dead twin until she went into labour naturally or reached term.
‘I was shocked but also relieved. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my girl. It meant I could be her mummy and keep her close while I tried to come to terms with the fact she had died.’
She named the twin that had died Maddison and picked Lucia for her surviving sister.
‘I prayed that Lucia would survive and started to prepare for her arrival. But I also had to prepare to say goodbye to Maddision.
‘It was heartbreaking and surreal planning a funeral and a birth. I loved them both so equally I wanted to do the best for them both.’
‘It was almost Christmas and people had bought the twins lots of matching outfits. I had to pack one of each set away knowing my baby girl would never get the chance to wear them.
On New Year’s Day 2011 Ms Carruthers went into labour – still only 30 weeks pregnant. She said: I was told they needed to take me into theatre for an emergency C-section. But first I wanted to phone the undertakers to let them know.
‘I wanted Maddison to be collected and taken care of as soon as she was born. I wanted her to be taken somewhere private to rest with dignity after all she had been through.’
Four hours later, she woke up in recovery and was handed a picture of her daughter Lucia who weighed 3lb 2oz having been born in the early hours of January 2nd.
‘She was tiny, covered in tubes and wires, but she was alive. I sagged with relief when the midwife assured me she was doing well.’
The midwife also explained that Maddison had been dressed and wrapped in the blanket her mother had bought her and Kerry was offered the chance to see her.
‘I said no because she had already been dead for six weeks. I wanted to remember her as she had been inside me, alive.’
Just 12 days later Ms Carruthers carried her daughter’s coffin into the church for a final farewell.
‘Of course it broke my heart but I had to be strong for her sister Lucia and my son Morgan who needed me too,’ she said.
Five weeks on. Lucia was allowed home. She’s now a happy one year old and one day her mother plans to tell her about her twin.
‘I’ve been told that Maddison dying saved Lucia’s life. I could have lost them both but I’m lucky enough to have one of my daughter’s with me when I feared losing them both. I will always miss Maddison but I know how lucky I am to have Lucia.’