Like most three-year-olds, Favour Karimi and Blessing Kathure are quite a handful. As one throws tantrums and nags the mother, Caroline Mukiri, to blow her bubble maker, the other prances around indifferent to her sister’s outbursts.
Occasionally, Ms Mukiri asks the twin who is in a good mood to hug her sister, and after a brief resistance from the crying girl, the two embrace tightly.
Favour and Blessing are rarely calm at the same time. When one is high-spirited and playing, the other is causing trouble and crying.
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, giving meaning to the strenuous effort it takes to parent the hyperactive twins.
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On Sunday afternoon, when The Standard met Mukiri, 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.
"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 feels 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 whether the twins would survive.
On November 2, 2016, Favour and Blessing, who were born conjoined, were separated at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) in a surgical procedure that took more than 50 medical experts and 23 hours to 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.
But still, the feeling persisted. Mukuri felt her instinct was right because, as one of the doctors told her, scans are unable to detect whether developing twins are conjoined or not.
When she shared her worry with her boyfriend, the twins’ father, he got scared at the thought of having conjoined children, so much that he broke up with Mukiri.
“It was a very painful experience for me. The worry gave me sleepless nights. All I needed was emotional support, but he refused to be there for me,” Mukiri says.
On September 4, as her labour pains got intense, it became increasingly clear that Mukiri would require a caesarean delivery.
Strangely, just after she was wheeled into the theatre at Kiirua Hospital, Mukiri went into labour.
“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,” narrates Mukiri.
The mere fact that she and her daughters survived the agonising birth is a miracle, she says.
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 then transferred her and her daughters to KNH.
At KNH, the emotional turmoil for Mukiri worsened. “Some people discouraged me that my children could not be separated or that they would die.”
Far from her friends and family in Meru, and gripped by the fear of being a single parent to conjoined twins, Mukiri reveals that she almost lost it.
“I would have given up were it 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; they were admitted on September 5, 2014 and the surgery took place 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”.
As the twins slept in the nursery with other infants, Mukiri says she barely bonded with them. She was unable to tell them apart, and was only able to do so with the help of the name tags.
“I grew distrustful of the doctors. People would visit and discourage me. Some told me KNH did not intend to separate the babies, others said the hospital just wanted to experiment with my children”.
Eventually, she caved in and demanded to be discharged, but the doctors urged her to calm down.
At 8am on November 2, the surgical process 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 11am we got the first update—that the operating team had overcome the first major hurdle. At 11pm, 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 had stayed up all night waiting to see her babies, doubtful of the reports that they were doing okay.
“I saw them at 9am the next day. I cannot describe how happy it made me seeing them in different rooms for the very first time”.
Mukiri got a job at KNH as a Clerical Officer after appealing to KNH Chief Executive Officer Lily Koros. Ms Koros directed her to apply for one of the vacant positions.
“Ms Koros would often visit us while we were at KNH. Before the surgery she assured me the team would do everything to separate my children and that they would be okay”.
The twins were discharged on June 15, 2017. A few weeks after returning to Meru, Mukiri was informed that the hospital had given her the job.