Like most three-year-olds, Favour Karimi and Blessing Kathure are quite a handful. As one mischievously throws tantrums and nags at their mother, Caroline Mukiri, to blow her bubbles using her bubble maker, the other is prancing around nonchalantly, indifferent to her sister’s outburst.
Favour and Blessing are rarely calm at the same time. When one is high-spirited and playing gleefully, the other is causing trouble and crying erratically.
But just like any mother, Mukiri remains steadfast as she patiently and lovingly scolds or calms them down. Small moments like the ones where her daughters hug, Mukiri says, move her so much, infusing immeasurable meaning into the strenuous effort it takes to parent the hyperactive twins.
On Sunday afternoon when The Standard met Mukuri, she had brought her daughters and their friend to play at Uhuru Park after attending church. Blessing and Favour were wearing matching outfits--flowery dresses, dark grey leggings and bright pink shoes and sweaters.
"It is deliberate,' explained Mukiri, "When I buy one of them something, I have to buy the exact same thing for the other. Otherwise, even if I buy them the same clothes or toys in different colours, one of them will feel I gave them the less attractive item, then I have to convince her that she is wrong".
In less than a month, Favour and Blessing will turn four. This, as Mukiri will tell you, is a miracle. Over three years ago, she was unsure about whether the twins would survive.
On November 2, 2016, Favour and Blessing who were born conjoined twins, were historically separated at the Kenyatta National Hospital in a surgical procedure that took more than 50 medical experts 23 hours to successfully complete. The groundbreaking surgery of the twins, who were conjoined at the spine, was the first in Kenya.
But Mukiri says the successful surgery is just one of the numerous miracles she has witnessed since Favour and Blessing came into her life.
“When the doctor told me I was pregnant with twins, I immediately feared that they were conjoined. It was just intuition,” Mukiri says. But the scan at Kiirua Mission Hospital in Meru showed that the pregnancy had no anomalies, and a second scan at a different hospital confirmed that Mukiri had nothing to worry about.
On September 4, as the labour pains reached fever pitch, it became increasingly clear that Mukuri would require a caesarean delivery.
“To this day, I don’t understand how I managed to deliver conjoined twins naturally. I guess it was painful, I don’t remember. I just recall going into labour and immediately blacking out,” Mukiri narrates.
For Mukiri, the mere fact that she and her daughters all survived the agonizing birth is miraculous. She never thought they would come out of the experience alive. But the delivery, albeit without any complications, confirmed her second biggest fear, that the twins were conjoined.
Kiirua Mission Hospital transferred Mukiri and her daughters to KNH, since it had the personnel and equipment to handle the separation.
At KNH, the emotional turmoil for Mukiri worsened. “Some people would discourage me that my children cannot be separated or that they will die,” she movingly recounts.
Far from her friends and family in Meru, and gripped with the fear of being a single parent to conjoined twins, Mukiri states that she almost lost it.
“I would have given up if it were not for Father Kariba and Sister Teresia at KNH. My counselor, Kinara, also played a crucial role in giving me the courage to battle my problems”.
The three stayed at KNH for close to two years and two weeks before the surgery happened—between their admission on September 5, 2014 and surgery on November 2, 2016.
“Living in a hospital can be very lonely. Even though KNH took good care of us and offset all the bills, emotionally it was challenging”.
Eventually at 8 am on November 2, the surgery began. During the 23 hours, an anxious Mukiri, along with Sister Teresia and her family, anxiously prayed and waited in the chapel at KNH.
“At 11 am, we got the first update -- that the operating team had overcome the first major hurdle. At 11 pm, the ward administrator informed us that the separation had been successful”.
Mukiri describes the moments after getting the news as both satisfying and unnerving. She says she stayed up all night waiting to see her babies, doubtful of the reports that they were doing okay. She narrates, “I saw them at 9 am the next day. I cannot describe how happy it made me seeing them in different rooms for the very first time”.
The twins were able to heal quickly, being discharged on June 15, 2017. A few weeks after returning to Meru, Mukiri got the call informing her that the hospital had granted her the position.
Even as Favour and Blessing approach their fourth birthday, Mukiri is sure about her decision to parent them alone.
Mukuri reveals that her twins’ father called her after he saw news of the successful surgery in the media. “He asked if he could come to see the children but I refused. He left me at the time when I needed him most and that is something I can never forget. He has not been in touch since”.