It’s hard to quibble with the ‘miracle’ tag either because Harley and Harry are the most premature twins in Britain ever to survive. They were born in October 2021 when their mum was just 22 weeks pregnant — two weeks under the legal cut-off for abortion in the UK and at a stage that most doctors agree is incompatible with life.
Jade, 40, and her husband Steve, 53, who had been trying to start a family for 11 long years.
Yet despite all the odds — thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the medical team — the twins clung to life, and kept clinging on, and on. They spent the first five months of their lives in intensive care, with everyone involved riding the most terrifying rollercoaster.
In their first few weeks, the twins had six operations between them, battling sepsis, eye problems, lung issues and brain bleeds — all common, alas, in such tiny, underdeveloped ‘premmies’. When she was seven days old, Harley underwent an operation to repair a perforated bowel, a procedure that the surgeon had never attempted on a baby so young.
And yet here we are in the family’s cosy-but-chaotic living room, in Heanor, Derbyshire, with Jade looking for something to convey how tiny the twins, now 14 months old, were when they were born.
‘They were smaller than the Elf On The Shelf,’ she says. ‘Now look at them! And they haven’t just survived — they are thriving.’
The personalities their mum swears were there from day one are there for the world to see — first-born Harley being the feisty one, shocking everyone in the delivery room with a tiny (but determined) cry; her brother Harry, emerging an hour later ‘with less razzmattazz’.
‘They are still the same,’ says Jade. ‘Their growth charts reflect their personalities. Harley’s leaps up dramatically, then stalls for a while. She’s the drama queen, Miss Feisty. Harry’s has gone up steadily. He’s the plodder.
‘But they love each other, which has been wonderful to watch. I did worry that because they were in separate incubators for the first months, they wouldn’t bond. And they barely had any time in the womb together. But there is such a bond there. Harley just adores Harry. She is for ever reaching for him. She smiles every time she sees him.’
No wonder Jade often recalls what Steve, who works in sales, said when, at 22 weeks and five days, she realised she was leaking amniotic fluid, which can be calamitous at such a stage in pregnancy. ‘I remember saying to Steve: ‘This could be the worst day of our lives.’ He said: ‘But it could also be the best day.’ ‘
The twins weighed little more than a Mars Bar apiece when they arrived. Harley was 500g (1.10lb); Harry was 520g (1.14lb). They would have fitted neatly in their parents’ hands, had they been allowed to hold them.
‘There were odd things that would never occur to you — like being able to dress them by popping things over the head. I’d always had to dress them from the bottom up, because the oxygen tubes went round the head. Getting into the car, without having to negotiate an oxygen tank, was so freeing.’
The twins remain under more medical supervision than most babies their age. They still see a lung doctor, and routinely have appointments with a physio. ‘For the first two years, they are assessed in terms of their developmental age rather than their birth date (they weren’t due until February 2022, so they’re classed as being under a year), but they are both doing brilliantly,’ explains Jade.
‘All the big things the doctors warned us might happen — like blindness — haven’t happened. They warned us that Harry might never walk, but he is already sitting and trying to pull himself up.
‘We know there still may be issues. They are talking about whether Harry might have cerebral palsy, which isn’t uncommon in premature babies. It’s too early to tell. My instinct is that Harley will be fine there, and if Harry does have it, it will be a mild version. There are a few things, such as a stiffness in his left hand, that we’re monitoring.’
You don’t even have to ask the question of whether all the worry of the past year has been worth it.
‘Even if they’d said there would be major cerebral palsy, we would have taken it,’ says Jade. ‘We knew how bad things could be but we also knew we had a pair of little fighters on our hands.’
There’s no obligation on hospitals to try to save babies this tiny, and Jade believes it’s only because she had been admitted to a large teaching hospital that intervention to keep her babies alive was possible, never mind desirable.
‘We found ourselves in this grey area which I don’t think should exist,’ she says.
‘I have been contacted by someone who read about us who also went into labour at this early stage. She was able to insist on intervention, so this is not as rare as you might think, and it will probably become less rare as technology improves. ‘I want other parents to be given every chance, as we were.’