Twins have always fascinated me. For a start, I am one, born twenty minutes earlier than my twin brother in the days when a twin pregnancy could be a surprise to the expectant parents. My mum and dad didn’t know the wee bundle of joy they were waiting for was in fact double trouble until the day before our birth. Maybe that wasn’t a bad thing, given they already had three very small children.
My twin was a forceps delivery and when we very young there was a prominent mark on his neck where the steel pincers had imprinted a speckled tattoo, mapping out a permanent reminder of his reluctant birth. For me, it was a symbol of life, it allowed him to share a world with me, outside my mother’s womb.
One day, I wrote a very short piece of fiction centred around a forceps delivery, of a twin sister and brother, and it became the beginnings of a new novel. Building on my own experiences, not just of being a twin, but in suffering loss, experiencing poverty, misogyny and abuse (what women hasn’t endured the latter, sadly), Rathlin and Breacán were born and, alongside Ellen, became the central characters of Almost Then, a story that focuses on the twins’ relationship, their grief and loss, and how the past has an unbreakable grip on our present and future.
It also gives a voice to women, and in particular working class characters all too often forgotten in life and literature. It is incredibly important to be able to look up and see ourselves reflected in all aspects of life; politically, personally, economically, culturally and, in the arts.
There will always be women represented, celebrated and heard in the stories I write and the films I make.
Wonderfully, Linen Press agreed to publish Almost Then and during the edit stages of the novel my daughter fell pregnant (isn’t that such an odd phrase, that someone should “fall” pregnant!). Both she and her husband, and I, had a strong sense that it would be a twin pregnancy. I looked after my grandson Ruairí while they went off for the first scan and well, no surprise, we were all right. There were twins on the way. This is me finding out the news.
It was an incredibly emotional moment. There is no need to go into detail but my daughter is a twin herself, although her twin didn’t survive my pregnancy. I’ve always felt a sadness for her that she missed out on a life in a twin relationship. And, of course, I have always profoundly felt that absence, more prominently I think, while writing Almost Then. To know that my daughter was having twins and would experience such exhilaration as a mother was wonderful.
However, it was a very high-risk pregnancy. Siobhán and her husband found out very early on that the twins were identical (how brilliant!) but they shared a placenta and there was the every day fear of twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. On top of this stress, Siobhán had hyperemisis gravidarum and was violently ill every day. It was a very difficult time but there was a huge excitement around finding out the gender of the twins. Once again, Granny guessed right (well I had a 50% chance!). Due to work commitments Aaron couldn’t attend the scan with Siobhán and I went along with her. My job was to keep the gender secret so Siobhán, Aaron and Ruairí could find out at the same time. That was a difficult journey home in the car with my daughter knowing that I knew and she didn’t!
Here’s the moment the family found out the gender of the identical twins.
It’s actually now girls!
On the 23rd of March, 2021, at 36 weeks gestation, Órlaith Naomi and Grace Margot Connolly were born safely. Orlaith was 6lb 7oz and Grace was 5lb 10oz. They are perfect, and much to mummy’s relief, my daughter is well.
Grace was born en caul, an event so rare it only occurs in one in every 80,000 births. According to folklore, en caul babies are destined for greatness. Here’s some interesting snippets I found on the web:
- In various European mythologies, it is thought that a baby born en caul is incapable of drowning. The caulbearers, as those born with a caul are called, were said to act as a ward against drowning as well, and their caul became a much-desired artifact for sailors.
- In medieval times, being born en caul was interpreted as a sign of good luck and that the child was destined for greatness. Saving the caul was considered an important tradition of childbirth. The midwife would rub a sheet of paper across the baby’s head and face, pressing the material of the caul onto the paper. It would then be presented to the mother, to be kept as an heirloom.
- Some Early Modern European traditions linked being born with the caul to an ability to defend fertility and the harvest against forces of evil, particularly witches and sorcerers.
I found a list of “famous” historical figures who were born en caul. As often is the case when it comes to history it’s a list of men only. I won’t recite it here as it only serves to silence the many great women who have gone unnoticed.
Let me amend the list and start it again.
GRACE MARGOT CONNOLLY born en caul on the 23rd of March 2021 on the verge of greatness.
I should say here that all my grandchildren are great. The intense love I feel for them is as though I am suspended in an en caul of adrenaline that sends lightning bolts of emotion to my heart each and every time I see them.
For now, Tommy, Harris, Ruairí, Órlaith and Grace, and my step grand-daughter Aila, born on the 5th of March 2021, are my vocabulary and my energy. They are a blessing, for Easter and beyond.
ps, I mentioned Almost Then… The novel was published on the 1st of April and there was a digital launch event to celebrate. A recording of the event, hosted by Lynn Michell of Linen Press is on You Tube, here.