Excitement, sadness ahead of twins' birth

21:22, Jan 15 2014
Alycia Chisnall
STRESSFUL: Alycia and Jeremy Chisnall talk about the difficult situation they face after Alycia gives birth to twins.

Harry Chisnall's birthday will always be coloured by the question of what might have been.

Unborn twins Harry and Oliver are due to be born in an induced procedure in early March. Harry is healthy, but Oliver has been given no hope of survival due to multiple congenital abnormalities.

Their mother Alycia Chisnall, a student in Nelson, said she and husband Jeremy had wanted to give their son Jack, 6, a sibling when the twins were conceived naturally in July. The couple were unaware of a family history of multiple births, so the revelation that Alycia was expecting twins came as a complete surprise.

"It was scary and exciting," she said.

The first sign of trouble came after a 20-week scan at Nelson Hospital. The couple were told Oliver had cysts on one kidney, and they would have to travel to Wellington Hospital for additional scans.

Alycia said this did not worry them at first because Jack already lived with one multicystic dysplastic kidney, relying on his healthy kidney to get by.


Unfortunately, technicians in Wellington confirmed that Oliver did not have a second kidney, and the single kidney he had grown lacked any functioning tissue. Jeremy said he and Alycia remained positive, saying they had then expected a kidney transplant to be carried out.

"We thought, ‘Oh yes, that should be fixable.' We weren't expecting to be told, ‘There's nothing we can do. Your baby is going to die.' "

Doctors explained that because of Oliver's kidney abnormality, his amniotic sac had not filled with fluid. This prevented the development of his lungs, leaving Oliver unable to breathe outside the womb.

He would remain alive until birth, but the most recent estimate from a paediatrician put his survival at between one hour and two days. Alycia said the hardest thing to bear was that Oliver was still growing, kicking and moving like any normal baby.

"It's awful thinking he's going to be alive and not actually be able to breathe. It's quite stressful, thinking you've got such a short time with him."

She said the pregnancy had unavoidably been "all about Oliver", but Harry had not been forgotten. Oliver sat near the top of her womb while Harry nestled underneath him, and she felt Harry's movements more acutely.

"He always reminds me that he's here," she said. "We're really excited to meet Harry, and then at the same time I'm not quite ready to say goodbye to Oliver just yet."

Alycia and Jeremy had previously understood they could snatch just a few moments with Oliver before he passed away. Wishing to minimise any emotional fallout to their eldest son, they told Jack that Oliver had already died in the womb.

In light of the longer estimate, they now have a difficult choice to make.

"We want him to meet his brother but we don't want him to have that trauma," said Alycia.

She said Jack was "really excited" about having two brothers, but had taken the news about Oliver's death well: "I think the fact that he still gets a brother is what he's thinking about."

Facebook support

A Facebook page was created on January 5 by family friend and former Nelson resident Imogene Fearn to gather funds through a donations page on FundRazr for Alycia and Jeremy. On it, Imogene said she hoped to raise $5000 to ease Alycia and Jeremy's financial burden and "throw baby Oliver the celebration he deserves".

Now based in Australia, Ms Fearn said she knew she had to do something to support the Chisnalls as soon as she heard the news about Oliver.

"I wasn't very good when [Alycia] first told me . . . I found it quite hard to talk because I was tearing up. I had to hang up and call her back."

She said her youngest child Willow, 19 months, had a congenital heart defect so she understood the fear of losing a child.

Nearly $900 was raised within the first 24 hours after the site's launch, and by the start of this week, the page had amassed about $1600.

Alycia said the couple had been blown away by the support, saying she could not believe how generous the community was. She hoped to hold a memorial service to celebrate Oliver's life.

"Even though it's going to be such a short little life, we want to focus on that little life."