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Two-year-old sisters Jenna and Jillian Thistlethwaite hate to be apart. One will stand by the door crying for the other when separated.
This is not surprising for the set of Orrville, Ohio, twins who captured national headlines two years ago for grabbing hands just seconds after they were born.
The girls were “monoamniotic twins,” meaning they shared an amniotic sac — instead of each having her own — during gestation. The rare condition carries great risks for complications, and while their mother spent 57 days on bed rest before she delivered the girls via C-section, the twins had few medical problems before and after their birth.
“That is just a miracle from God,” Sarah Thistlethwaite told TODAY.
Jenna and Jillian, despite being born seven weeks early, have continued to thrive every day since.
“They have absolutely no health problems. They are normal 2-year-olds,” their mother said. “They run around. They chase after their brother, who teaches them pretty much what not to do, and then they still do it anyway.”
The two blonde girls are almost indistinguishable from each other. Their parents usually can tell them apart — Jillian has a small blue vein that cuts across her nose — but the person who does that the best is 3-year-old big brother Jaxon, who occasionally has to correct his parents about which girl is which.
The girls love to climb, go swimming and assert their wills whenever possible, particularly when fighting over toys.
“They’re definitely a handful on some days, but they’re really a good time,” said Thistlethwaite, a middle school math teacher.
And while they adore their big brother, they can stand to be separated from him, unlike from each other.
“All three are very, very close but the girls have just this unexplainable bond. Honestly, splitting them up, or doing anything with those two separately will make them cry. They don’t want to be away from each other,” their mother said.
Then she quickly added: “But with that being said, they have no problem tattling on each other. They definitely will blame or get the other one in trouble.”
Twins don’t run in the family for Thistlethwaite or her husband, and the couple were surprised by the news when they went in for a routine ultrasound about 19 weeks into the pregnancy.
The girls were born May 9, 2014, and the photo that captured the nation’s heart happened by coincidence.
The hospital planned to document the birth as part of a Mother’s Day story being chronicled at the time by the local paper and a television station.
The girls were born 48 seconds apart and then brought together immediately afterward, which is when one grabbed the other’s hand. At the time, Thistlethwaite couldn’t see either one, since her view was blocked by a surgical curtain.
“All I wanted to do was hear them cry. There was still a high percentage we could have a stillbirth so I remember thinking, ‘Let them cry. Let them cry. Why isn’t she crying?’” Thistlethwaite recalled.
Monoamniatic or “mono mono” twins are considered high risk because the fetuses can easily become entangled in each other’s umbilical cords, among other complications.
Thistlethwaite then heard her two obstetricians explain what was going on.
“I heard Dr. Wolfe say, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re holding hands,’ and then Dr. Manacuso was like, ‘Hold them up so mom can see them’” she said. “I couldn’t believe they were holding hands. That was amazing. It was beautiful.”
The memory still brings her to tears.
"It just explains the whole pregnancy for me, them being together the whole time. They need each other, they're there for each other and they've got such an attachment," she said.
"Even once they were born, they wanted to be right beside each other because that’s what they’re used to. It’s that constant touch."
Thistlethwaite said she realized the photo of her girls holding hands had gone viral after her brother-in-law sent her a clip of it surrounded by Chinese writing.
The girls recently celebrated their second birthday at home with a family birthday party and are now enjoying the summer with story time at the library and visits to the swimming pool. Thistlethwaite said she continues to be grateful for all the care she gets from family doctors and the support she gets from relatives, friends and everyone in her community.
"Orrville is a small town, so I had a lot of community support and that support has only gotten bigger (since the girls' birth)," she said. "People are proud to see them on TV or in the news. It doesn’t matter how many times they’re on. Everybody loves it."