news

"We’d like to tell you our story. We’re having a baby with two faces.”

Renee Young and Simon Howie, the parents of conjoined twins Hope and Faith.

This post is written by Stefanie Sgroi who was a producer during A Current Affair’s coverage of the birth of Australia’s “miracle twins”.

Nineteen days was all it took.

A birth.

A life of hope and faith.

A death.

And it all started with a phone call.

“Hello. We’d like to tell you our story. We’re having a baby with two faces.”

At A Current Affair we’re contacted by hundreds of people with a story every day.

Some are happy. Some are sad. Most of them simply want help. They come to us because they’ve got a problem, and no one will listen to them.

And then there’s Renee Young and Simon Howie.

Their story was extraordinary.

So extraordinary, so unbelievable, that when I hung up after speaking with them, I had to call them back again to confirm what I’d just been told.

“We’re having a baby with two faces.”

It was a Friday afternoon in January.

A Woman’s Day photo from after the twins’ birth.

Renee told me she was 17 weeks pregnant with conjoined twins. Her babies had one body, two arms, two legs, one heart and one head with two completely duplicated faces and two separate brains.

Within minutes, I hit Google.

There were just 35 cases of craniofacial duplication ever recorded and none were alive today. The last known birth was in India in 2008. A little girl named Lali. She died when she was two months old.

This was a one in 20 million pregnancy.

Renee and Simon are your typical ‘Aussie battlers’.  They live in social housing with their seven children.  There’s no money for family holidays, a flash car or private schools.

I’m not a mother. I’m not an aunty. I don’t have a lot of friends with kids, but it’s my job to think about a story from every angle. So, naturally, I thought – why are they bringing this child in to the world?

I asked them.

They said if they had one hour, one day, one week or one year with their babies that would be enough for them. Those babies would know love. And I believed them.

Renee told me her obstetrician’s stern advice was to abort and, because the babies were over the three-month mark, he would induce labour and she’d give birth to them stillborn. Just imagine – this mum was forced to choose between giving birth to her babies dead or alive. “How can I do that to my precious babies, how can I not give them a chance?”

Simon made the point that the twins essentially had a deformity that was no different to any other disabled child. Would that be a fair enough reason to terminate?

ADVERTISEMENT

The couple was adamant they wanted to share their story with the world because they believed that people need to know that these things do happen.

After we broadcast Tracy Grimshaw’s first interview with Renee and Simon it made headlines around the world. Of course, we knew it would get people talking. But I didn’t expect this.

“They’re the scum of the earth.”

“Those parents should be shot.”

“I hope those babies die.”

A scan of Hope and Faith.

Renee and Simon took it all in their stride. They reminded me that haters will be haters and they knew they’d made the right decision.

Another phone call.

Thursday afternoon, May 8.

This time it was Simon.

“Renee’s waters have broken, the babies are coming two months early.”

I instantly felt sick in my stomach worried that this would end badly. I spent hours outside the delivery room, hoping that Simon would walk out with good news.

And he did.

Against all odds, the baby girls were born breathing on their own.

And so they were appropriately named Hope and Faith.

Tracy, the camera team and I were invited to meet the girls when they were just one day old.  We were all nervous.  Our sound recordist said he wasn’t sure if he could handle seeing them. But it’s funny, looking at Hope and Faith was just like looking at any newborns. It was hard to look away. They were mesmerising. It was almost unreal.  It was as if someone had placed a mirror along their face, and I was looking at a reflection.  I will never forget it.With every move, every cry and every breath there was hope and faith until one last phone call on day 19.

It was Simon.

The girls have died.

As you read this, there are two people out there nursing broken hearts for the entire world to see.

Those two people couldn’t have loved those two babies any more than they did.

Stefanie Sgroi, producer at ”A Current Affair’.

People call Renee and Simon ‘selfish’ for having the babies when they knew their chances of survival were slim. But, to me, this was the ultimate act of selflessness. Renee and Simon brought Hope and Faith into the world, to give them a chance, to give them love.

In 19 days I’ve seen the very best and the very worst of humankind and I’ve learnt just how easily we can judge, how viciously we can hate and how unconditionally we can love.

Stefanie Sgroi is a TV producer at the Nine Network’s A Current Affair.  She previously worked at Sydney’s Radio 2UE.  You can follow her on Twitter @stefaniesgroi.