Last Night’s TV – Cutting Edge: Emergency in the Womb

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This amazing and intensely moving documentary followed two women who were both pregnant with identical twin boys. Sarah’s babies, Conner and Cody, and Natalie’s babies, George and Casper, all had the potentially fatal illness TTTS, Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome, which basically meant that one of the twins of both pregnancies was haemorrhaging into the other.

This resulted in one twin being very tiny and ‘stuck’ to the wall of the womb while the other twin produced such excessive amounts of fluid – due to the increased workload on his heart – that in Sarah’s case meant that at 21 weeks, she looked more like she was full-term and she was in a great deal of pain.

In Natalie’s case, the TTTS was diagnosed in her babies at just 12 weeks of pregnancy and the earlier the problem presents, the greater the risk to the babies of death. This was made all the worse perhaps because Natalie and her husband had tried unsuccessfully for years to have a baby and had eventually turned to egg donation to get pregnant. Their joy at getting pregnant became more jubilation when they were told they were expecting identical twin boys but this happiness was to be short-lived when the TTTS was diagnosed.

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Both women were being treated by the wonderfully humane and truly dedicated pioneer of the surgery required to separate the blood supply between the babies and hence stop the TTTS. He is foetal surgeon – and the world’s foremost expert in treating babies with TTTS – Professor Kypros Nicolaides.

We watched as he treated both women with such kindness and concern – while not raising their hopes but not shattering them either – as he performed the life saving laser surgery to sever the veins connecting each of the four babies. In Natalie’s case, the risk of death for her babies was greatly increased by the fact that the surgery was performed at 15 weeks. This was because Professor Nicolaides deemed that if he didn’t carry out the surgery before 16 weeks – which is normally the earliest time he would do the surgery – the babies would’ve most likely died anyway.

Sarah and her daughter - Emergency in the womb

I cried along with the partners, parents and family of Sarah and Natalie as they both went from scan to scan, praying each time that their babies were alive, growing and would make it, and it made difficult viewing so how the actual people involved coped, I really don’t know. There were of course tears and raw emotion as both Sarah and Natalie’s babies faced problems…

One of Sarah’s babies had a leaking heart valve and it was thought he would require surgery to correct this at birth, assuming he survived that long. Natalie meanwhile was leaking fluid from her uterus as a result of the puncture made to the wall of her womb which enabled the surgery on her babies to be carried out. She later also began to bleed and was admitted to hospital until that had almost stopped, but was sufficiently lessened enough to allow her home.

While all these scans and procedures were terrifying to watch for fear of what they would show, they were also a joy as 3D camera imagery allowed us to see the babies in the womb moving and growing, and that was both deeply moving and a marvel of the sophistication of both the actual procedures and the equipment used.

I watched filled with tension at what would be the outcome for Sarah and Natalie and their respective partners, but as time passed and it appeared the babies were doing as well as they could be, then came the frightening time for both Sarah and Natalie to give birth via caesarian section.

Nerves and emotions were raw for everyone as the cameras followed but while Sarah’s boys were both born and whisked away to the special care baby unit, the cameras forebodingly didn’t follow Natalie because as it transpired, one of her babies, George, was not expected to survive. He died the day after he was born and Natalie movingly told of holding both her babies and having pictures taken with them before George passed away.

I cried with her as she and husband Christen described their conflicting emotions at the joy of having one baby who was expected to survive and their sadness at losing another.

Sarah and Wayne meanwhile nervously awaited the outcome for their twin boys, both of whom were again in the care of the special care baby unit, but for them, the result was infinitely more joyful. Both babies thrived and were home within weeks of being born, and the baby with the heart defect didn’t require surgery after all.

Natalie and Christen took baby Casper home after he’d been on the special care baby unit for six weeks and Natalie again described how – given her boys were identical twins – that every time she looked at Casper, she inevitably saw George too, which was both a comfort and an agony.

We left both families as they settled into new routines with their precious babies and Professor Nicolaides described how he felt “a passion” to defeat nature by preserving the lives of unborn children. He came across as being a truly devoted, dedicated and immensely warm, caring person; something that was clearly a comfort to these women as they faced the hideous uncertainties surrounding their children’s mortality.

This film was Cutting Edge at its best, allowing us to share the intensely personal and deeply emotional journey of these families, and it was appropriate and fitting that the film’s makers didn’t intrude upon Natalie and Christen’s precious moments with their baby George.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.