Life has been chaos for Alabama couple Dwight and Stephanie Castle.
Almost a year ago, the Birmingham pastor and his wife welcomed conjoined twin daughters into the world — precious baby girls who require a lot of medical attention and care.
In an interview with World magazine, the Castles described the enormous joys and pains that their family has been through since Elizabeth and Susannah arrived, including watching the girls go through multiple surgeries, moving their whole family 900 miles away, giving up sleep and time with their other children, juggling work and more.
Dwight described the past year as an “ultra-marathon” for the family, but one that has taught them a lot.
The Castles are the parents of five children, including their twin daughters. Before conceiving the twins, the couple said they lost another baby in a second-trimester miscarriage.
It was during their 12-week pregnancy appointment that they learned their daughters were conjoined, a rare condition that affects one in 50,000 births, according to the magazine.
After the appointment, “we didn’t say anything for the longest time,” Dwight said. “We just wept.”
Despite feeling hopeless and knowing there would be trials ahead, the Castles said they never considered an abortion – something doctors frequently recommend after unborn babies are diagnosed with disabilities.
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“I was trying to believe the goodness of God in this. I believe in His power, His ability to save, His sovereignty over everything. But how was this good?” Dwight said.
Their church, Redeemer Community Church in Birmingham, was especially supportive, and Stephanie said people encouraged them through their doubts and struggles.
“When we’re weak, others around us are strong,” she said.
Because of the girls’ condition, the family sought treatment at the world-renowned Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. On April 22, 2021, Stephanie gave birth to the girls at the hospital in a planned cesarean section, according to the report.
For the first 100 days, the Castles stayed with the girls in Philadelphia, away from their three older children. It was a struggle because they knew all their children needed them.
The interview continues:
By the time the couple realized a temporary family relocation to Philadelphia was in order, two months had passed. Too long, according to Dwight, who says separation anxiety—clinging, screaming, shrieking—later showed up even as they tried to leave their children for an hour of Sunday school.
Morris was 6, just learning to read. Three-year-old Judah could draw an impressive bison. Emmet, barely 2, slept with a picture of her new sisters under her pillow. Juggling their needs with the twins’ one-step-forward, two-steps-back progression was a delicate dance, a waltz that included surprise moves like the suspected hole in Elizabeth’s heart and feeding troubles that required both girls to get nasogastric tubes, devices they have still today.
Finally, the family found a home in New Jersey near the hospital, and people from the church helped them move. Both of their mothers came, too, to help babysit, cook and clean, the couple said.
On Dec. 10, Susannah and Elizabeth underwent separation surgery, a complex, 14-hour procedure with unexpected complications.
For Stephanie, just seeing the girls after the surgery was traumatic.
“I just wasn’t prepared,” she told World. “They were so swollen and lifeless. They looked like corpses.”
Afterward, the head surgeon “told us it went well overall, but what he had to do to save them would have lasting effects,” Dwight remembered.
The twins spent a long time recovering, but the family has had some good news since them. Susannah now is home with the rest of the family, and Elizabeth, though still in the hospital, was well enough to be moved to a Birmingham hospital this spring, the Castles said. The whole family moved back to Alabama, too.
Through all the struggles, the Castles said they have learned a lot about persevering through hardship and trusting in God.
“Everyone experiences hardship in life,” Dwight said. “It’s just the reality of living in this broken world. I think this year has allowed us to testify to the Lord’s faithfulness in the normal hard things.”