For most people, giving birth is one of the happiest moments of their life. This is not always the case for everyone. The day Patty and Mike Hensel became parents was not filled with overwhelming joy and excitement. Instead, they faced a frustrating and complicated never-ending journey. Their emotions crushed them.
Their hearts were split between the unconditional love for their new child and the grievance and resentment from realizing that they had given birth to two body-conjoined twins. This is the story of those remarkable twins.
A Mysterious Life
Brittany Lee Hensel and Abigail Loraine Hensel have one of the rarest and unheard-of conditions in medical history, known as conjoined twins. They have two younger siblings and live an ordinary life in Minnesota, like many other families. Yet, their remarkable story is shrouded in mystery to this day.
Their parents tried their best to give the twins a normal and peaceful childhood, but there was no ignoring the fact that these two were joined for life. So, where did their story start?
There was no sign of anything being out of the ordinary when Patty first fell pregnant. All of the ultrasounds and scans told her that she would soon welcome one healthy baby into this world.
Everything was falling into place until one day, she went for yet another sonogram scan, and two heartbeats could be heard. They didn’t think much of it, and it certainly didn’t keep Patty and Mike from being excited about what the future had in store for them. They couldn’t wait to hold their baby in their arms.
Nobody Saw This Coming
The doctors had to schedule Patty for an unplanned c-section since the baby was thought to be in a breech position. What followed left the entire delivery room in shock. Nobody was expecting this.
Dr. Joy Westerdahl, Patty's physician, was speechless as he pulled the conjoined twins into his arms. Everyone's eyes were wide as they stared at the baby that had just been born with two heads.
Could Have Gone Better
Patty had been given a lot of medicine, and as a side effect, she was emotionally unstable. She kept hearing the word 'Siamese' thrown around the living room and wondered if she had magically given birth to Siamese cats. She was dazed and confused. Furthermore, Mike didn't receive the news in the most pleasant way.
In an interview with 'Time Magazine' Mike stated that he was disappointed in how the hospital staff broke the news about his babies. According to him, they said, "They have one body and two heads." He claimed they weren't very sensitive to the situation or him.
It Had Gone Unnoticed
How had they not noticed this before? Patty had undergone every necessary scan and test during her pregnancy, and her blood levels were never out of the ordinary. How had someone not seen the other head?
The doctors’ made the excuse that the babies’ heads were most likely perfectly aligned, which made it difficult to notice. They only had one body, so looking for abnormal body organs was unnecessary.
Everyone Is Clueless
Patty and Mike had no idea what would happen, and the doctors seemed just as clueless. Will the two twins survive? If they did, what would their quality of life be? They had so many questions, but nobody seemed to have the answers.
The two parents had to prepare themselves for the worst since the prognosis wasn’t very optimistic. If it’s meant to be, then it will be. However, if it’s not, they will make it through one step at a time.
A Difficult Time
The first night after delivery was only a glimpse of what was to come. The baby twins were able to survive the first 24 hours, but the doctors didn’t have high hopes. The statistics were not on the girls’ side.
Patty and Mike prayed and surrounded themselves with pure and positive energy. They had to see this through, no matter what. And they did. The Hensel twins were found to be one of four similar cases who managed to survive nearly identical conditions.
Never Giving Up
Nobody kept their hopes up since the survival rate for twins in similar situations is as low as 5%. Still, Abigail and Britanny endured, and they grew up to become young teenagers. The only thing that made them different from others was the fact that they had to share a body.
They had two separate heads, which means that they had two minds. They have different views and opinions. They also have different personalities. Many obstacles and barriers were placed in their way, but they never gave up and now live to share their story with us.
Except for their heads, they had other body parts that they didn’t share. They had three kidneys, two sets of lungs, and two functional, beating hearts. They do, however, share a whole circulatory system.
They share a reproductive system and only have one bladder. One shocking fact is that they were born with a third arm but had it removed as toddlers. The doctors tried their best to make their lives as physically easy as possible.
Getting Used to Each Other
Most people (who don't share a body with anyone else) find it challenging to identify or relate to such a condition. What happens when one girl hurts herself? Does the other one feel it too? And what happens when one wants to walk and operate the legs?
Well, here are some answers. If one hurts herself, the other doesn't feel a thing. And they can both operate their unjoined organs individually, so each one controls half of the body. Simple actions that we take for granted require a lot of practice and concentration from joined twins.
Was It Time to Separate the Two?
So, why didn't Patty and Mike discuss separating the two when they were born? Well, they did. It was discussed several times; however, such a procedure would be more complex than one might think. The risk was too high.
Separating the twins could lead to one of the girls, if not both, ending up handicapped or, even worse, not coming through at all after the surgery. This was a risk no one was willing to take.
Going All the Way
When Patty and Mike finally came to terms with their share of life's gifts, they decided they wanted the girls to live as normally as possible. They would not deprive them of anything and try to socialize them with normal kids.
They will also provide whatever the two need, both as one unit and as individuals. Brittany and Abby needed to be loved and supported, and their body was a complex machine; they had to learn how to operate. Even crawling and walking turned into lifetime missions that needed dedication from both sides: the twins and, of course, Patty and Mike.
As Normal as Possible
The girls went to a regular school. They participated as much as they could in sports and mingled with friends, and from the outside, everything seemed to be just fine. The thing is, it wasn't. Not only was their body abnormal, but the girls also suffered from severe medical conditions.
They had health issues chasing them all year round, which made it difficult to lead a stable life. They were unique on the outside, and they had to cherish how special and distinctive they really were.
It's TV Time
1996 was when they first presented themselves in the media. They were on the Opera Show not once but twice. That TV appearance is what made Brittany and Abby famous. This was followed by "The Hensel's Summer", a Lifetime Magazine piece that shed light on the two and made their story go public.
Overnight, Brittany and Abby became twin superstars, and through their remarkable story, they managed to reach out to the nation's hearts. Having said that, not everything was a garden of roses.
It Was a Bit too Much
Being recognized by almost everyone was, at first, fun and exciting. However, it became overwhelming and a little too much to handle at one point. It started with people staring at them and then wanting to take photos with them. Things were getting bad.
On the one hand, the twins were finally able to say what was on their minds and share their voices; however, on the other hand, most people were not sensitive to their condition, which made the two feel like lepers.
'Joint at Birth' and 'Joint for Life' were some of the documentary shows the family filmed. When they turned 16, they appeared on a UK TV show called 'Extraordinary People', which eventually led to the two creating their own TV show, 'Abby & Brittany, on TLC.'
It aired on August 28th, 2012, and featured eight full-length episodes. The series covered the childhood story, growing up together, social life, graduation, and traveling experiences.
Everything Fell Into Place
Shortly after the show was launched, Abby & Brittany became a symbol of courage. A mark of strength and perseverance, determination and power. After watching them on TV, life suddenly fell into proportions. It made one look at their own personal life through a different colored lens.
It proved that no matter how big your sack of lemons is if you believe strongly enough and take life's gifts as they are handed out to you, you can make an excellent lemonade. Abby & Brittany were an inspiration.
They Did It All
Name one kid that doesn't take life for granted. Running, climbing, swimming, and walking all seem like easy-to-handle daily activities. However, for the Hensel twins, these simple actions were life milestones they had to achieve and accomplish.
For them to walk, they had to be aligned and in perfect unison. For them to swim, their body movements had to be completely synchronized. Their body muscles weren't developed equally, which made things even more difficult than they already were.
No Different Than Anyone Else
With all the barriers and obstacles that stood in their way, the twins would not let anything stand between them and success. They were determined to do whatever other kids did and were willing to fight hard.
Their hard work eventually paid off. It was worth the sweat, pain, and agony because Brittany and Abby rode their bike, ran on their front loan, and swam at the local swimming pool. When they came of age, they even learned, believe it or not, how to drive a car.
Operating a vehicle or learning the meaning of every street sign was not an issue for the two. The twins had one set of arms and one set of legs to operate a car with, so they had to be synchronized to perfection in order to hit the road. And they were.
They put all they had into it and passed their driving test, just like any other regular 16-year-old. Just like anything else they touched, it was an immaculate accomplishment, and their parents couldn't have been more proud.
Who Was in Charge of What?
"I think we're good drivers," they answered in one interview. They felt confident behind the wheel, and being able to drive made them feel that much closer to regular people. They even detailed who is responsible for what when they are behind the wheel.
Abby is in charge of the gas pedal and control of the brakes. Brittany takes control of the blinkers, and together they operate the steering wheel. This kind of cooperation is not seen every day.
Are You Hungry?
Another thing they have to share is their appetite. They have to decide when and what to eat simultaneously, and this is where compromising meets them the most. One holds the fork, the other holds the knife, and they take turns in biting the food.
We suppose when you're born into a situation, not being able to be the sole decider on what to have for dinner is something you learn to live with. These two girls surely have a lesson or two to teach the world.
They Even Played the Piano
Brittany and Abby are very talented. Not only did they accomplish basic skills such as running and driving, but they have also nourished their piano-playing passion and have turned out to be amazing musicians.
One plays the right-hand side while the other plays the left side. These two girls are, without a doubt, phenomenal ladies, always stretching their limits.
Graduating from high school wasn't enough for the two. They were always straight-A students, and continuing higher education meant a lot to them. They were ready for a new challenge in life, and college was calling.
In 2008 they began studying at Bethnal University and chose to major in education. The university days were not easy on the two, and the tight schedule was sometimes too much for them to handle. However, they were determined as always, and unsurprisingly, they succeeded.
On Their Way to a Diploma
When they first decided to go to university, they initially wanted to major in different fields. Very fast, they understood that that would increase the pressure they were already under and comprehended that they would have to compromise.
As they both dreamt of becoming teachers, majoring in education seemed the natural thing to do. In 2012, they both graduated, each holding their own diploma.
They Are Two Different People
Many people mistake the two for being one individual; however, all the two share is a body. They are, in fact, two very different people. They have different tastes and different preferences, and their parents made a great effort to help them create two different personalities.
One is louder, the other more modest. One tends to be more uptight, while the other is chilled and relaxed. And although they have to work physically together for most hours of the day, one thing they can't do is read each other's minds.
When asked about debates and discussions, they say they never argue. They have managed to specialize in coexistence. It makes their complicated life more bearable. To be honest, Brittany and Abby love being joined together. They couldn't see it any other way.
The only time they ever wished to be apart was when one of them was grounded. Yes, if one was punished for whatever reason, the other had to bear the burden.
Could They Go Their Separate Ways?
During their teen years and early twenties, the option of separation was never spoken of until Abby was diagnosed with pneumonia one day. You see, over the years, if one girl was sick, the other had to be grounded to her bed even though she was perfectly healthy.
This time when Abby got sick, Brittany came up with the idea of being separated. It first came as a shock, as it was never previously mentioned.
It Was Together All the Way
Brittany's suggestion broke Abby's heart. She was devastated and could believe her beloved half felt that way. They had been together for so many years, and they never knew anything different, so why did she suddenly want a change?
Brittany realized how much pain she caused her sister and decided there and then that being separated would never be suggested again and made a promise that they would always be together. Always.