Shannon and Nicole Fleming had known from the early stages they would face a complicated pregnancy.
“We were always told that twins were going to be high risk, but in comparison to what we went through, we had no idea,” says Nicole.
At 17 weeks pregnant, Nicole was diagnosed with twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS) – a prenatal condition where twins share unequal amounts of the placenta’s blood supply resulting in them growing at different rates. Eloise was receiving less blood flow and as a result the amniotic fluid around her was incredibly low, whereas her sister, Isla, was surrounded in it.
Surgery was required to allow each twin to develop independently. The surgery was high risk and there was a chance that one of the girls would not survive. But if nothing was done, both girls would not make it to birth.
Against the odds, Isla and Eloise survived the surgery, however their challenges were far from over. Isla had developed a heart condition and Eloise received a blockage in her brain. Weekly scans became the new norm, each time Nicole and Shannon just hoped both girls were alive.
“Each week you go in there not knowing if you are going to see two heartbeats or one heartbeat and every week we kept on seeing two,” says Shannon.
At week 28 of the pregnancy, the family and medical team made the decision that if either of the girls were going to survive, they would need to be delivered soon.
At just 29 weeks, on August 22 2018, Nicole gave birth to two beautiful baby girls born at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital. The twins were born holding one another’s hand. Like is the case with most babies born prematurely the girls were rushed into the Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
“NICU is a place where no parent ever wants to be, but once you are there you are so grateful for the people who work there,” says Shannon.
Despite the successful birth of both twins, at nearly four weeks of age the cardiologist advised that Isla’s heart was struggling, and she would require heart surgery.
Heartbreakingly, the morning after the surgery Isla passed away.
Pictured in NICU with wires and machines filling the background – Nicole and Shannon hold Isla and Eloise. In between their parents, older children Amelia, Eamon and Ciara are all smiles looking at their baby sisters. It’s the only photo of the family of seven together.