Elly will never forget the twin she lost
When the unthinkable happened, Eve Read was devastated. But she had to carry on fighting…
As I watch my seven-year-old daughter, Elly, tinkling away at the piano, I can’t help smiling. She’s playing Chopsticks, her favourite song. But she needs a partner to play the second part of the melody. ‘Mum, come and help me!’ she calls. But as our hands jump across the keys, I feel a sadness swell inside me. You see, as much as I love our duets, they’re also a reminder of the person who should be perched on the stool next to Elly. Someone who’s so very important, but will always be missing.
The day I found out I was expecting Elly, I was supposed to be test driving a car with my husband, Andy, then 32. But halfway through, a wave of nausea rippled through me. ‘Andy, I really don’t feel well,’ I said.
So we cut the test drive short and stopped by the pharmacy on the way home. Passing the pregnancy tests, a niggling voice in the back of my head compelled me to grab one – just to see. We hadn't been trying for a baby, but for the past few weeks I'd sensed something was different. Like my body had changed, although I couldn’t pinpoint why. Back at home, I locked myself in the bathroom and did the test. My hands trembled as I turned over the stick. Then I saw it, that faint blue line, and my heart leapt with excitement. Stepping into the kitchen, I held the test up to Andy. He burst into laughter. ‘We’re going to have a baby!’ he cried. Although we promised to keep it to ourselves for the time being, sitting around the dinner table on Christmas Day surrounded by my family I couldn't think of a better time to make the announcement. Naturally, everyone was ecstatic. In January 2010, we went for our 12-week scan. Running the monitor across my belly, the sonographer grinned. ‘You’re going to have twins,’ she said. Andy and I were astounded but happy. A closer look revealed the babies were sharing a placenta, which meant they’d be identical. But before we left the hospital, a midwife handed us a stack of leaflets on twin pregnancies. ‘You need to have a read through these,’ she said. ‘There are more risks with twins.’
Her words bought us both back down to earth with a thump. Why was she telling us this? Did she think the twins were in trouble? ‘No, no!’ she exclaimed. ‘It’s just something to be aware of. We’ll monitor you closely.’
Four weeks later, in February 2010, I had my first appointment with Dr Elly Tsoi, a consultant at the multiple births unit in King’s College Hospital, London. During the scan, she told us there was a slight difference in the size of the babies.
‘It could be a warning sign of twin-totwin transfusion syndrome,’ she said. ‘It’s a rare syndrome where the blood flow becomes imbalanced between the babies. But it’s still too early to know for sure, so I’ll need you to come back next week for a follow-up.’
On the morning of the appointment, I went for a shower and thought my bump looked different somehow, flatter.
As they scanned me at the hospital, I could tell something was wrong. Dr Elly and the sonographer were mumbling together. Then Dr Elly turned to meet my
‘i could tell something was wrong’
gaze. ‘I’m so sorry, Eve,’ she said. ‘But one of your babies no longer has a heartbeat.’ Immediately, the tears started to stream down my face. But there was more.
‘Your other twin isn’t getting enough oxygen either,’ she continued. It was decided my surviving baby needed a transfusion of my own blood. It was a risky procedure, but we had no choice.
Four hours later, I was taken to surgery, where doctors injected a teaspoonful of my red blood cells through my womb, into a chamber of our twin’s heart. I’d been put under local anaesthetic, and Andy gripped my hand as we watched our little baby fighting for her life on the monitor.
Later that evening, we were sent home for the weekend. We’d have to wait until the scan on Monday to find out if the operation had been a success. Back home, I rested my hands on top of my pregnant belly and wept silently as I thought about how only one of my babies was still growing inside me. If the procedure worked, I’d have to carry my other twin until the surviving one was born. The thought made me wince, but then I realised I had to stay strong for the sake of my unborn child who was still fighting for life.
On Monday, when I heard my baby’s heart thump through the monitor, my whole world lifted. Although I knew there were still risks – there could be severe brain damage from lack of oxygen – I allowed myself this moment of joy. As long as my baby was alive, there was hope.
After that, we returned to the hospital for fortnightly check-ups. Andy and I became very pragmatic, taking each day as it came. Then at 35 weeks, I felt a gushing sensation as I walked to the bathroom. My waters had broken.
Andy drove me to the hospital, and just three hours later, on 26 June 2010, our daughter was born. Cradling her in my arms, she looked so pink and perfect –
with a tiny scar on her chest from the transfusion. But I’d barely had time to cuddle her before she was taken from me. My body was retaining the placenta, so I had to be taken to surgery to have it and my remaining twin removed. I asked to see her once she was born. The midwife bought her doll-like body over to me wrapped in a blanket. It was upsetting to see her so underdeveloped. But back on the ward, I cradled both twins in my arms. They deserved to be together with me, even it was just the once.
A few days later, I was discharged, and soon after we decided to call our baby Elly – after our wonderful doctor. We named her sister Abby. Although she’d barely lived, it was hard to accept Abby’s death. My heart twinged every time I opened a card to find only Elly’s name inside. Three weeks later, we buried Abby in a tiny service, just Andy, Elly and I.
Soon after, I started offering support for women going through the same as I had, through TAMBA, the multiple births charity. And as I watched Elly grow into this wonderfully giggly and curious little baby, I realised how I lucky I was.
In January 2014, we had a baby boy named Joshua. Overnight, Elly transformed into a proper little girl, always checking on her brother and reminding everyone to be careful when they held him. ‘He’s only a baby,’ she’d say.
Now, at seven years old, she knows all about Abby. ‘My sister’s in heaven,’ she’ll say. Although I’m saddened Abby can’t be with her now, playing dress-up or chasing butterflies around the garden, I know she will always be a part of our family. In that, I find comfort.
‘there were still risks’
Eve with newborn Elly in hospital
Elly’s grown up to be a lovely little girl Family cuddle: Eve, Elly and Andy
With brother Joshua Showing her scar from the procedure that saved her life