At home with her husband David, 40-year-old Elena Di Fiore smiles as she cradles her twin daughters, one in each arm.
Along with their two-and-a-half-year-old son, Domenic, her family – who live in Bundaberg, Queensland – is now complete.
Yet the busy podcaster and mother-of-three stammers as she reveals how much of a miracle her six-month-old twins, Emilia and Sofia, really are – and how they very nearly didn’t make it.
“I was 16 weeks pregnant when I was told they had twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome,” Elena tells Woman’s Day.
The rare, life-threatening condition that affects unborn identical twins occurs when the shared placenta’s blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients are unevenly dispersed, resulting in one baby thriving and the other being starved of all it needs to survive.
Hearing the words that no parent ever wants to hear, Elena and David had three options – they could terminate both babies, terminate the weaker twin or proceed with the pregnancy knowing both their daughters had the tiniest chance of survival.
“Termination wasn’t an option,” says Elena.
“They may have had only a small chance but that meant there was still hope. I knew my babies were going to pull through.”
Elena always knew she and David – a 42-year-old medical professional – would make wonderful parents but after a 15-year struggle to conceive they fell pregnant through IVF and were overjoyed to welcome Domenic into the world in 2019.
“I adore my baby boy, but we longed to give him a sibling or two,” says Elena.
Embarking on another IVF cycle in March 2021, their hopes were pinned to just one egg that had been extracted being successfully fertilised and transferred.
Thankfully it was, and to add to their elation it had split in two – with the twins!
Looking at her daughters now, Elena still struggles to comprehend the traumatic, albeit miraculous, journey that was about to unfold. Elena had risky surgery at 19 weeks so the twins could receive equal essential fluids, only for her waters to break 10 days later.
Admitted to Mater Mothers’ Hospital, Brisbane, under strict bed rest, at just over 20 weeks the babies stood little to no chance of survival in the outside world, so Elena was administered medication for infection control to avoid contractions starting.
“It was every mother’s worst nightmare,” she tells.
“Every day was terrifying and tormenting. The future for them was so uncertain.”
The days rolled into weeks and doctors closely monitored Elena and the twins while Domenic was cared for by his grandparents and David yoyoed between home and hospital.
In late October 2021, when Elena made it to the 32 weeks and one day milestone, doctors delivered the girls via C-section.
“Emilia came first and when I heard her cry, I was so relieved,” says Elena.
Then it was Sofia’s turn, before both were whisked away to NICU before Elena could see or hold them.
Thankfully, that moment came just hours later. “I was almost afraid to touch them they were so fragile and tiny,” Elena reveals. “They only weighed 1400g.”
But the girls, dubbed the double miracle babies, still weren’t in the clear. Elena and David kept a bedside vigil for five-and-a-half weeks, willing and watching as they grew stronger.
Then came the day big brother Domenic came for a visit!
“He didn’t stop blowing kisses to ‘Mia’ and ‘Fia’ as he calls them as he can’t yet pronounce their full names,” Elena chuckles.
After 150 days in hospital, the loving family-of-five arrived home on December 6, 2021.
“We’re all besotted,” she admits. “They’re teething, trying solids, laughing, smiling and developing their own little personalities.”
It may have been a tough road but there’s no doubt these bubs are stronger than everyone thought.
“My babies were given next to no chance of survival, I came so close to losing them so many times,” says Elena. “But I never gave up hope and the fact that they’re even here really is a double miracle.”
To help support other families like the Fiores, visit fundraise.mater.org.au/fundraisers/elenadifiore