Conjoined sisters Maria Teresa and Rachel Clare lived for just an hour, receiving the sacraments of baptism, confirmation
Editor's note: The following story was originally published in Spanish on Detroit Catholic's sister publication, Detroit Catholic en Español.
DETROIT — On May 16, Maria Teresa and Rachel Clare, the conjoined twins of Nicole and Austin LeBlanc, came into the world via a high-risk caesarean-section that was moved up to the 32nd week of pregnancy because of blood flow complications. Despite their brief stay in this world, they have been a source of inspiration for many.
The LeBlanc couple prepared for eight months for the arrival of their babies, aware of the twins' dire prognosis. They decided to place full trust in God's plans.
Along the way, Fr. David Pellican, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit who serves at Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, accompanied the couple in their spiritual discernment.
“They were steadfastly determined to love and care for Maria Teresa and Rachel Clare for as long as they could live," Fr. Pellican told Detroit Catholic en Español. "They did not listen to the voices that sowed doubt and told them that it was not worth it or even that it was dangerous to continue with the pregnancy. They encountered much opposition and faced great difficulties.
"There were so many unknowns and so many things to worry about. They did not let fear dictate their actions, but rather reaffirmed their faith in Jesus and their commitment to protect and safeguard the lives of their daughters,” Fr. Pellican added.
The spiritual support of Fr. Pellican was crucial, Nicole LeBlanc said, and the fruits of the couple's surrender to the will of God were evident. One day before the caesarean section, Nicole and Austin took care of the funeral arrangements, and, despite the difficulties, even chose a coffin for the babies.
After the preparations, they went to the Church of the Divine Child to receive confession before the delicate operation. Throughout the pregnancy, Nicole had been warned about the risks, and was aware of the possibility of requiring a blood transfusion and facing a high risk to her own life.
For that reason, she wanted to prepare herself spiritually and receive the sacraments of confession and anointing of the sick.
“Before going to sleep, we prayed a rosary, and, when I woke up the next day, I felt an inexplicable inner strength," Nicole told Detroit Catholic en Español. "I got ready, put on makeup and got ready to go to the hospital. Austin and I didn't talk much on the way, we just prayed the rosary together, because the emotions were very intense."
A moment of faith and determination
Upon arriving at the hospital, Nicole underwent several pre-operative tests, with doctors monitoring and checking her levels, while the babies were still active. Fr. Pellican, who was present at all times, had prepared everything to baptize and confirm the twins. Yanira Duque, Nicole's mother, was also with them.
Moments before the caesarean section, Fr. Pellican led a prayer asking for protection for the surgeons, as well as for Nicole and the babies. Nicole had prepared a list of music that would calm her down and create a prayerful atmosphere, including Gregorian hymns. Knowing she had the support of her husband and her mother filled her heart with peace.
At 2:02 p.m., the long-awaited moment finally arrived, and Maria Teresa and Rachel Clare LeBlanc were born. Nicole recalls the beautiful song of the Litaniae Sanctorum de Adoration of Christ, litanies in Latin dedicated to the adoration of Christ and invoking the intercession of the saints, playing during the birth.
During the pregnancy, the babies were positioned directly over Nicole's bladder, leaving them little room to move. The LeBlancs were aware that "Baby A" was on Nicole's right, while "Baby B" was on Nicole's left. Every morning, Nicole could feel who kicked the most between the two of them.
It turned out "Baby B" was the most active, so they decided she would be Rachel Clare, while the calmer of the two would be Maria Teresa. Also, a distinctive feature between the twins was the shape of their noses, which allowed Nicole to immediately identify them at the time of her birth.
“I felt a lot of pressure with their little heads (during the birth), since they were under my ribs," Nicole said. "It was an intense sensation, I almost screamed, and my daughter María Teresa also made some sounds. Although her little lungs were not fully developed, it was a blessing to be able to hear her voice. It was a true gift from God.”
As soon as they were born, the twins were quickly placed on Nicole's chest, and Fr. Pellican was ready to baptize them. At 2:07 p.m., Maria Teresa and Rachel Clare received the sacrament of baptism, and the next minute, at 2:08 p.m., they were confirmed.
“I am grateful to God for allowing me to be an instrument of His grace at that time. Witnessing the short lives of the twins deepened my desire to spread respect for all human life, especially the unborn," Fr. Pellican said. "Bringing them the sacraments made me grateful that God called me to the priesthood, and reinforced my commitment to the promise I made at ordination, to celebrate the sacraments 'for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people.'”
Another unexpected gift occurred after the baptism, when Maria Teresa opened her eyes and looked at the sky, attentive to everything around her, while her sister remained asleep. For Nicole and Austin, witnessing these special moments with their daughters, despite the difficulties, was without a doubt a gift from the Lord.
The little ones stayed with their mother for 10 minutes, while a nurse carefully monitored their heartbeats. Later, Nicole experienced nausea, and the babies were delivered into the arms of Yanira, her grandmother, who held them lovingly for a few minutes.
"It was a truly incredible experience. Fr. David performed the baptism and confirmation immediately, and at that precise moment I felt a deep peace inside," Yanira Duque, Nicole's mother, shared with Detroit Catholic en Español. "I was filled with gratitude. I got to hold the girls, hold them. They were with me for 10 precious minutes."
As surgeons finished the operation, Austin LeBlanc received his daughters into his arms. At 3:15 p.m., the little LeBlancs took their last breath at the same time, safe in their father's arms.
“As a dad, I was able to make sure my girls were baptized and confirmed right away. This alone has given me a lot of comfort knowing that my babies are saints and received the sacraments," Austin LeBlanc shared with Detroit Catholic en Español. "There hasn't been a day since they died that I haven't broken down in tears, but it's OK to cry. This is the right time to cry.
"I know that my little saints are praying all the time for their mom and dad," Austin continued. "Parenting is an extremely important part of leading the family to God. There is no greater feeling than knowing that my time with my daughters was very short, but I was able to take them to the kingdom of heaven.”
During the final stages of the procedure, Nicole consulted with the nurse about the condition of the babies. At that time, she was informed of twins' passing, and the babies were placed back in her arms. Despite her pain and sadness, Nicole found comfort in knowing her daughters were already in the Father's presence.
"My sisters, my cousin and her boyfriend knelt in the recovery room, aware that my babies were already saints," Nicole said. "At that moment, heaven and earth came together, and it was a sacred rite because my girls were perfect, in the presence of God."
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