Sarah Thistlethwaite has two extra special reasons to enjoy Mother’s Day on Sunday.
On Friday, Sarah gave birth to Jenna and Jillian, identical twins who shared the same amniotic sac and placenta, after 57 days on bed rest and monitoring at Akron General Medical Center.
The girls were delivered at 2:41 p.m. by Caesarean section at Akron General by Drs. Melissa Mancuso and Katherine Wolfe, perinatologists with Akron Children’s Hospital and assisted by resident Dani Taylor. Jenna, at 4 pounds, 2 ounces and 17 inches, is older by 48 seconds than Jillian, at 3 pounds, 13 ounces and 17.5 inches.
When the doctors lifted the babies to show to Mom and Dad at delivery, the girls had grabbed onto each other’s hands.
“They’re already best friends,” an emotional Sarah said. “I can’t believe they were holding hands. That’s amazing.”
The twins were monoamniotic twins — also called mo-mo or mono mono twins — a rare occurrence, which happens in about 1 in 10,000 pregnancies and 1 to 5 percent of all twins, said Mancuso, Sarah’s physician and the director of Children’s Regional Fetal Treatment Center.
It is the rarest type of twinning, and the one with the highest risk because the babies share the same amniotic cavity and placenta, said Mancuso, who has delivered several mono mono twins in her 11-year career.
The biggest risk is entanglement of the umbilical cords, which naturally twist and tangle with each other in the same amniotic sac. Severe entanglement could cut off blood to one twin and causes death in 10 to 70 percent of pregnancies. There are also higher risks for birth defects, but Mancuso said Jenna and Jillian did not appear to have birth defects in utero. It is unknown, Mancuso said, why mono mono twins develop without a second amniotic sac or placenta.
Jenna had some trouble breathing on her own and was given oxygen and will be monitored. Dr. Mohammed Elkhwad, their neonatologist said he did not anticipate that the girls would need extra care beyond the special care nursery.
‘It’s a complete miracle’
Nurse Amy McGuire, director of labor and delivery, showed the twisted and knotted umbilical cord to Sarah and her husband, Bill Thistlethwaite.
“It’s a complete miracle,” McGuire said.
“This is the best Mother’s Day present ever,” said Sarah.
Akron General has two sets of mono mono twins — 24-year-old mom Amanda Arnold of Akron is set to give birth to her twins, Janiya and Amaya within the week.
The Thistlethwaite twins’ journey to birth was a long one for 32-year-old Sarah, a middle school math teacher in the Canton City Schools. Prior to the girls’ birth on Friday, she had been in her hospital bed, with limited times off the heart monitors, since March 14 — Pi Day, according to the math teacher.
Sarah said the hardest part was being away from her young son, 15-month-old Jaxon, who has been cared for by his father and Sarah’s mother, Linda McHenry, along with other friends and family.
“It’s hard. It really is,” especially not being able to pick up her son when he comes for visits, said Sarah, on Wednesday while sitting in her hospital bed. “It’s very mentally challenging knowing I have to sit here all day.” She watched a lot of television, read books and “trashy gossip magazines” and taught herself to crochet baby hats watching YouTube.
Surprise at ultrasound
The former Sarah McHenry and Bill Thistlethwaite were told there would be difficulties having children, but were surprised when they conceived Jaxon on their honeymoon.
The Orrville couple were surprised again when Jaxon was 7 months old and Sarah found out via two home pregnancy tests that she was pregnant. Bill Thistlethwaite had always wanted three children and Sarah wanted two, but not this soon.
“We just figured we’d see how it would work with two. I guess he got his wish,” Sarah said with a laugh.
But there were some complications for Sarah from the beginning. When she went to her obstetrician, Dr. Nicholas Sherock, the first blood test came back that she wasn’t pregnant. She spent the next two weeks getting blood tests every 48 hours to check her hormone levels.
At Sarah’s second ultrasound, the doctor confirmed hearing a heartbeat.
On her third ultrasound at 19 weeks gestation — on Jaxon’s birthday, Jan. 27 — the family was hoping to find out the baby’s gender. Instead, they got a bigger surprise.
The ultrasound technician said, “Oh there’s two,” recalled Sarah.
“My husband said, ‘Two what? Two arms? Two legs?’ ”
“There’s two babies,” the technician said.
Bill, 35, a clinical director for the Advanced Spine Joint & Wellness Center in Medina, said: “I couldn’t say anything. All I could do was laugh.”
“There was just silence. Nobody said anything. We were just in shock,” said Sarah.
Twins do not run in the family, she said.
Rush to prepare
Sarah’s doctor at the time told her that the twins were mono mono and within weeks she would need to check into the hospital for her bed rest and monitoring. The family went into overdrive rearranging rooms at the Orrville home to prepare for the babies before Sarah checked into the hospital.
“Neighbors asked if we were moving. We at least had everything set up and ready to go,” Sarah said.
While Sarah’s hospital stay was a long and boring one, she made the most of it, with a countdown calendar and making friends with other patients and hospital employees. Mancuso said Sarah and the babies have been healthy throughout, with only some minor issues. The babies had two heart decelerations and Sarah developed a rash on her arms.
Trying to sleep at night was the hardest, said Sarah, mostly because the heart monitors would dig into her belly and the girls would actively kick and sometimes kick the monitors off, requiring a nurse to wake Sarah.
Sometimes “they are fighting with each other. I don’t know what they’re doing to each other,” joked Sarah. “One entices the other and the other’s heart rate goes up.”
Jenna and Jillian were born at 33 weeks and two days and are still considered premature, meaning they’ll likely stay at the special care nursery for two to four weeks.
After 57 days in the hospital, Sarah said she’s ready to go home to Jaxon and come daily to visit the girls.
When Sarah was wheeled in to meet the girls for the first time, she reached out to touch both as the nurses bundled them up so mom could hold them.
“Hello, sweet girls. I love you so much,” she cooed.