(WGHP) — At 7 months old, Susannah and Elizabeth Castle are growing quickly.
“We’re just starting to kind of see their personalities come out,” said Stephanie Castle, the girls’ mom.
“Susannah is the feisty one, she kind of does everything first,” Stephanie said. “She talked first, smiled first, she was the bigger one for a while. And then Elizabeth was the one who had trouble gaining weight and so she’s kind of been the more reserved baby. But in the last couple of weeks, she has found her voice.”
Stephanie and her husband Dwight, a pastor in Birmingham, Alabama, have three older children; Mac, Judah and Emmet, so they’ve been on the parenting journey for a while. But the last year has been their most difficult.
“A lot of deep questions and thinking and reflecting and asking what the Lord was doing in this and how we were supposed to process it,” said Dwight, who is originally from Winston-Salem. “It was definitely very hard for us in the beginning to process.”
Susannah and Elizabeth haven’t left the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) since they entered the world on April 22. The girls are conjoined, connected from their belly buttons to their chests. They share a liver, part of their digestive tract and small intestines. Since the beginning, the odds have been stacked against them.
“The chances of conjoined twins or just having conjoined twins are extremely low and most do not survive in utero,” Dwight said. “Any that do that are born, most of those do not live. And then, of the ones that live, a very small percentage can be separated and continue to thrive through all that.”
Complex medical issues aside, Dwight and Stephanie believe the biggest hardship is never being together as a family of seven — because of COVID-19 hospital policies.
“Every day, it feels like a loss because we have to choose which children we’re going to spend time with, and which children we are then not going to be able to spend that time with,’ Dwight said.
“I think the Lord has been faithful to kind of preserve our children in a way and then give us people like the nurses here at the hospital to love on these babies when we can’t be here to do that,” Stephanie said.
After a year of preparation and prayer, Susannah and Elizabeth are scheduled for separation surgery on Dec. 10. The highly complex procedure is expected to last up to 12 hours with two teams of more than 30 medical experts involved.
“It’s really scary. It’s a lot of mixed emotions. We’ve been looking forward to this, it’s a huge, kind of central piece of this puzzle we’ve been waiting for,” Dwight said. “But it’s very risky, life-threatening risk level.”
The couple knows the faith they’ve relied on to get them to this point will be what pulls them through their next chapter.
“We did not get to control any aspect of these girls’ lives, their existence, and the fact is that they’re still being sustained today,” Stephanie said. “We just don’t have any control over it, so that’s kind of a hard place to come to you. But at the same time, it’s a freeing place to come to.”
“We don’t have control, but someone does,” Dwight said. “It’s their creator.”