Sept. 14, 2011 -- Despite a low probability of survival, and facing as much criticism as support, a Chicago-area woman gave birth last week to identical conjoined twin girls.
Amanda Schulten, a 21-year old, single mother from Marengo, Illinois, said on her blog that she was determined to give birth to the twins despite knowing they would have no chance of a long or normal life.
The twins are conjoined girls, fully connected at the torso, sharing a heart, two lungs and two kidneys. They share two legs, and they each have one good arm.
"God is good and he knows what he is doing," Schulten wrote on her blog three days after giving birth on September 6 – more than a month premature. "I'm so honored to call them my children."
The University of Chicago Medical Center confirms that the infants were delivered on September 6, but wouldn't divulge details on their health, citing the family's privacy.
There is no official word on the condition of the infants, but Schulten blogged yesterday of the anxiety and nervousness of watching them in the neonatal ward.
"My girls are hooked up to all these cords and machines," she writes. "Every beep I hear scares me. Every flashing light bothers me. I feel so stressed sitting by their bedside."
Schulten also writes poignantly of her first days of motherhood. "I just want to pick them up when I see them starting to cry," she writes. "I want to be the one to rock them to sleep at night. I wish I could let them sleep on my chest and feel their heart beating."
"The outlook for the twins is quite bleak," said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC's senior health and medical editor. "Separation is not an option and long-term survival is not likely.
"However," Besser adds, "I have encountered many expectant parents who when faced with a pregnancy that will produce a nonviable baby, decide to continue anyway."
Schulten first learned she was carrying twins in April during a routine ultrasound. Her doctor later explained that there were complications.
"The doctor said the babies won't make it, and termination is the best option," Schulten told the Chicago Sun-Times. "I broke down. I wasn't thinking about abortion, I was thinking, 'Will they survive?' Not 'I want them to die.'"
The ultrasound showed that the girls – now named Hope and Faith - have separate heads but are fully connected at the torso, sharing a heart, a liver, and two lungs and kidneys.
One twin never developed a lower body, so they share two legs, one of which is clubbed. They each have one good arm, and one has another half an arm.
"Some people were really supportive and thought I was doing the right thing," Schulten told the Sun-Times. But others "would say things like, 'the kids would suffer' . . . 'I'm selfish if I keep the babies because of how short their life span is' . . . 'they're just going to die anyway.'"
Conjoined twins are still a relatively rare phenomenon. They're identical twins whose bodies are joined in utero resulting in a fertilized egg that begins to divide into identical twins but never fully separates.
It's estimated to occur in 1 in 100,000 births, with approximately half stilllborn, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The overall survival rate for conjoined twins is approximately 25 percent, the AAP says.
Among those survivors are Joshua and Jacob Spates. They were delivered by Caesarean section in January in a Memphis hospital. The boys were attached to each other at the lower spine and pelvis, an unusual connection that made them what are known as pygopagus twins.
On Aug. 28, after a 13-hour surgery, doctors separated the twins, making the boys one of only two dozen sets of conjoined twins in the world to be successfully separated.
The operation involved detachment of the spinal cord and column, as well as muscles and other tissues. The boys are expected to remain at the hospital for some time while they recover, and they will receive clinical care and rehabilitation therapy until they are healthy enough to go home.
As for Schulten, she's praying Hope and Faith beat the odds. "No one ever thought I would say, 'the girls are one week old today,'" she writes. "Now they only have the rest of their [lives] ahead of them."