Raising conjoined twins

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, October 11th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: parenting conjoined twins.

Last year, we brought you the story of Callie and Carter Torres. They are twins conjoined from the belly button down.

Just to come into the world, Callie and Carter defied medical odds. Conjoined twins represent just one in every 200,000 live births.

But 40 to 60 percent of conjoined twins arrive stillborn. An additional third survive just a single day.

REICHARD: Now, Callie and Carter are almost 2 years old, and as they’re becoming more mobile, their parents are dealing with new challenges.

WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg met up with the Torres family in Blackfoot, Idaho, and has this report.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: I first met Nick and Chelsea Torres last year in their small two-bedroom apartment. At the time, their twin daughters, Callie and Carter, were nearly a year old. But the couple was still shell-shocked from Chelsea’s pregnancy.

Chelsea’s pregnancy was full of difficult choices, doctors appointments, health scares, and medical bills. It had all taken a toll on the young parents.

AUDIO: [Sound of girls with parents]

Now a year later, the family is settling into a new normal. As the girls near age 2, Nick and Chelsea say their differences are becoming more obvious.

Callie is always hungry. She pushes the tips of her fingers together in the sign language for, “more.” She wants a cheese stick and orange slices.

CHELSEA: Food pushes her. Yeah, more food?

Soon, Callie’s goofy side comes out. The girls sit on the living room floor munching on orange slices, but Callie suddenly takes the plate and dumps all the slices on her head. She’s smiling.

CHELSEA: Oh, Callie. That’s just what she does.

Carter is more sneaky. She takes advantage of Callie’s laid back personality. Everytime Callie asks for a cheese stick, Carter takes it out of her hand. Callie either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. But Callie does care when her sister steals a toy.

CHELSEA: No, give it back to her. No.

Because of the way Callie and Carter are conjoined, their bodies and faces angle toward each other. Chelsea says that’s led to speech delays.

CHELSEA: Maybe because they face each other that we’re not giving them… I guess like the face to face that they need to be able to see.

So for now the girls use sign language to communicate with their parents.

But Nick says the girls don’t have to talk—or sign—to communicate with each other.

NICK: They’ll squawk and makes certain noises and then all of a sudden they’re off like full commission, like kind of a full blown conversation.

The girls have their own two arms, but just two legs. So with their backs facing the ground, they each use one arm to hold their torsos up. Then they shuffle across the floor toward the corner where a a fish tank bubbles. It looks like a scooting crabwalk.

CHELSEA: They can go faster than this, but yeah, this is what they do.

This newfound mobility leads to arguments over play priorities. Nick says Carter often has the final say.

NICK: We want to go play with this toy over here while the other one wants to go in the kitchen and scream for snacks or one person wants to follow someone to the bathroom. They’ll kind of sit up and get mad and eventually one gives in.

SCHWEINSBERG: Who usually wins?

NICK: Carter. Carter usually wins the debate when it comes to where she wants to go.

Nick says it’s hard to discipline the girls when fights break out because they can’t be separated.

NICK: So like for instance, if they were to fight over one specific toy, I’ll try and be like, hey, here’s a different toy, a distraction. If that doesn’t work then I just rip away the toy and like I tell them no more and no one gets it and they’re done with it, but it doesn’t always fix the situation.

Discipline will probably become more challenging as the girls learn to walk. But first they need to build up leg strength with the help of a walker on wheels.

Nick places Callie and Carter in the walker’s seat. Through the leg holes, their feet lightly touch the floor.

NICK: I usually keep them in there a half hour to an hour. By then they are usually drained of energy.

To get them moving, Nick rolls a soccer ball in front of the girls. They walk forward and gently kick it.

NICK: We do that pretty often. They love soccer.

Nick and Chelsea say besides learning more about their daughters as individuals, this year has taught them more about themselves.

Since the girls were born, Nick has stayed home with the girls. Now he’s realized he needs more adult contact at a job, while Chelsea is cutting her hours at the local Walmart. She hopes more time at home will help with her ongoing struggle with depression.

They’ve also learned not to fear going out. Now, they love to have family picnics in the park and walk along the Snake River.

NICK: We’ve learned to like put up a bubble. So there’s, there’s always, you know, every so often you have one person that manages to break that barrier that we have built in. Those are the people we usually like, hey, can you stop?

Nick and Chelsea still worry about the girls’ futures. Nothing medically significant happened this past year but something always could. They’re still not willing to take the medical risk of separating the twins.

As we talk, the girls start to cry. Chelsea picks them up by their outside armpits and hoists them onto her lap. She runs her hand over their black silky hair.  

She wonders how the world will treat her daughters, but says she no longer questions her decision to bring them into it.

CHELSEA: So I don’t think about, you know, that guilt of not having a, like bringing them into a life that wasn’t good for them because they make the best of it and it just shows.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg reporting from Blackfoot, Idaho.

(Photo/Nick and Chelsea Torres)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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