3 August 2022

A mum whose life changed forever when one of her twins was born with only one eye now helps to transform the lives of other parents who have a disabled child.

Charlie Beswick from Stoke-on-Trent, has shared her story as part of Twins, Triplets and More Week, which runs from 4 July to 10 July and celebrates everything about life with multiples.

Shauna Leven, Chief Executive of Twins Trust, said: “Twins, Triplets and More Week is a chance to celebrate everything about life with multiples. We are here for all families of multiples, whether they need advice or support to help them on their parenting journey.”

Charlie Beswick's twin boys, Harry and Oliver

Charlie’s twin boys, Harry and Oliver, were born in 2005. Harry was born with a rare craniofacial condition called Goldenhar syndrome. He had no eye, no eye socket, no ear, no nostril and a short, underdeveloped jaw.

Charlie said life changed forever at this point but after a six-year struggle coming to terms with what had happened, she now empowers other mothers to realise that an altered life can still be a wonderful one.

She said: “I was only seven weeks pregnant when we discovered that I was expecting twins in 2004. Once the initial shock wore off, I felt excited and, if I’m honest, a little bit smug. While mere mortals were having one baby at a time, super uterus over here was baking two. I was elated.

“In my mind, I planned my children’s futures. The birthday parties, prom, holidays together, how I’d manage the fights and the heartbreaks. I felt so blessed that my children would always have someone in their corner, even when their dad and I weren’t around.

“I researched what my life was going to be like by watching twin programmes on TV for tips on feeding them both. With every programme my excitement grew.”

Twelve hours after Charlie’s waters had broken, she was rushed to theatre for an emergency C-section. Her partner arrived just in time to see the arrival of their twin sons. Oliver and Harry weighed just 3lb 9oz and were whisked away to special care while Charlie was transferred to a hospital ward to rest.

Just hours later, Charlie was told the unexpected news about her son, Harry.

Charlie Beswick with twin boy, Harry

She said: “Four hours later, the paediatrician came to see us. I remember him saying Twin One (who we’d named Oliver) is fine – and I knew that bad news was following. He told us that Twin Two (who we’d named Harry) had been born with a rare craniofacial condition called Goldenhar syndrome. He said that for Harry, this meant he had been born with no eye, no eye socket, no ear, no nostril and a short, underdeveloped jaw. I remember the way the doctor drew a line down the centre of his face with his hand and swept it across the left-hand side of his face as if to erase what was there. He also explained that Harry may have problems with his spine and could have brain damage.”

At this point, first-time mum Charlie struggled to process the news. She felt like she was underwater, listening to a dull muffled voice.

Charlie added: “That was the moment that my life, and who I was, changed forever. Family and friends were incredibly supportive and quick to reassure me that I could handle the news and the future. I didn’t feel that I could say I didn’t want to. That I wished it was someone else’s reality and not ours. That I’d got the babies I’d been dreaming of for months and that I could be the mother I had totally taken for granted that I would be. I couldn’t tell anyone that the loss of that life felt like a grief I had never known. So I smiled and agreed that it would all be fine. Now I call it “The Lie We Wear” – it’s the smile that hides the truth that we are so far from fine, that we feel lost and alone.”

Charlie admits it took her six years to realise she was struggling. Harry was diagnosed with severe autism during this time and her marriage had broken down. She was juggling a full-time career as a teacher while raising her sons and attending numerous appointments for Harry. Realising she couldn’t do everything, she left teaching to focus on her children.

Charlie said her boys, who are now 17, really turned her life around and when she was at her most broken, they gave her a purpose.

My boys are simply incredible, and I couldn’t be prouder of them. They amuse, entertain, and inspire me daily. I know that I am a far better person and mother for having them in my life.

Our Altered Life book cover

In 2017, Charlie published Our Altered Life, a brutally honest book about coming to terms with a life she never expected. It became an Amazon bestseller.

Now she mentors other mums with a life altered by their baby’s disability or diagnosis, through the early years of surviving and then thriving.

She has also created a free Facebook group to support maternal mental health and wellbeing following a child's diagnosis, named SEND Gin & Cheese.

She said: “Many of their challenges are shared by all mothers, but when a child has additional needs, those challenges are experienced much more intensely and often in what feels like a vacuum of loneliness. Many mothers worry for the future and feel stuck in the place of “why us?" which stops them from enjoying the moment or moving forward.

“It’s not to say that raising children with disabilities is awful. Not at all, but the price is that a piece of yourself is lost and you must rebuild a new version of who you are and who you want to be. For me, that version is even better than the one I left behind, and I have my boys to thank for that – although it took a while to see it.

“Now, I love empowering other mothers to realise that an altered life can still be a wonderful one and helping them to find the confidence, clarity and calm that they deserve.”

Charlie Beswick's twin boys, Harry and Oliver