By Nathalie Bonney @nathaliebonney
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Videographer / director: Rehman Asad
Producer: Nathalie Bonney, Ellie Winstanley
Editor: Sonia Estal
Delivered by caesarean at the PDC Clinic in Pabna, North Bangladesh, on July 16 of this year, conjoined twins Rabia and Rukia were born joined at the head.
Mum Taslima Khatun Uno and husband Mohammed Rafiqul Islam didn’t learn that the twins were conjoined until after the birth.
Taslima said: “Suddenly the doctor shouted ‘Two babies! Give them medicine, we have to save their lives.’
“That was when I started to worry that I had given birth to babies who were conjoined.
"The whole night I heard the two crying sounds. I first saw them the next morning when I had recovered.
“The only thing on my mind was ‘How will I hold them? How will I feed them? How will I take care of them? I worried about these things at the time.”
Taslima, 28, had enjoyed a healthy pregnancy, continuing to teach in the local school and look after the couples’ seven-year-old daughter Rafia.
Her ultrasounds revealed no abnormalities but in the penultimate month of her pregnancy, Taslima started to experience pain.
She said: "The doctors did another ultra sonogram and told me that the baby’s head was bigger than the body and they thought this was because of water on the brain.
"I was given medicine to take for one month to try and reduce the size."
Even as Taslima went into labour doctors hadn’t spotted that she was carrying conjoined twins and, still drowsy from the anaesthetic, it took a day for Taslima to learn her newborn babies’ condition.
Husband Rafiqul, 27, remembers walking into the operating theatre and being told about his baby girls’ condition.
He said: "The doctors told me here are your twins, they are conjoined from the head. I had never seen babies like this and I was nervous.”
Rabia and Rukia spent 15 days in an intensive care unit before their parents were able to take the twins home to meet their older sister.
Taslima said: ‘”After first seeing them Rafia was asking me why are they like this? They don’t look good, why are their heads together? Please separate their heads.
So, I told her that both babies are beautiful. I will take them to Dhaka for an operation to separate their heads; after that you can hold them.”
Doctors are monitoring the twins’ health and assessing if and when surgical separation is possible.
There is some cause for optimism at least: Professor Rohu Rahim, pediatric surgeon from Banghabandhu Sheik Murjib Medical University, who is consulting the family, said:
"The babies' heads are joined side by side, in other kids we can see their heads are joined front to back, which creates movement problems. As their heads are joined side by side it makes phsyical movement, such as bending the neck, easier."
Rabia and Rukia will need to undergo a 45-60 minute MRI scan and medics also need to confirm if the blood circulating between the twins' brains is separate or shared.
Taslima added: "For their future it’s necessary to separate the girls - they are not having a healthy life. If I don’t separate them now maybe in future they will ask why I didn’t separate them?"
Professor Rahim says the team will wait up to two years before making a final decision on separating Rabia and Rukia.
He said: "This is not like any other surgery. It is a difficult and complicated operation and will be a team effort.
Until a decision is made, Taslima and Mohammed face an agonising wait, with their family’s fate in the surgeons’ hands.
Rafiqul said: "If doctors say operate them then we definitely will, if doctors say no then we can’t do anything."
The baby girls have also undergone tests and been treated for jaundice.
The parents, who are both teachers, worry they won’t be able to fund the surgery themselves and have made a plea to the Bangladeshi government to financially support the operations.
Mohammed said: "Surgery will be costly and it’s not possible for us to bear this cost so we are asking the government to help us."
Taslima added: "To live healthy lives surgery is important, I pray to God that both my babies should stay alive after surgery and they can lead beautiful lives."