Birthday cake is meant for that one special day a mama will never forget, but these babies certainly deserve the right to birthday cake twice a year.
New mom Bethan Simpson is from the U.K., but she has a lot in common with Missouri mama Joni Reinkemeyer. Around 20 weeks into their pregnancies both women were told their babies had spina bifida, a condition where a gap forms in the fetus's spine during development.
Both of the women agreed to a unique procedure where doctors would "deliver" the baby, perform an operation to close the gap and then return them to the womb for the rest of the gestation period.
Simpson is still pregnant with her little girl, while Reinkemeyer welcomed her son, Jackson, in early 2018.
"People have asked if he will have two birthdays," she tells The Sun of her son, Jackson. "Seeing that he was born twice, I think we can allow him two cakes."
For both mothers, the open-fetal surgery involved a lot of medical professionals and evaluations, as there is strict criteria for this procedure. According to Dr. Michael Bebbington, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, at Barnes-Jewish Hospital where Reinkemeyer had her surgery, "the procedure that Jackson had has probably been done a few hundred times worldwide."
Despite the risks of prematurity or death, Reinkemeyer and her boyfriend Chris Skein decided the rare operation was the best hope for their son. "After carefully thinking, Chris and I decided we had to take a chance," she recalls. "If it could help our baby live an easier life, we wanted to do it."
The operation was scheduled for the end of the second trimester, when doctors hoped baby Jackson would be big enough to survive if he wasn't able to return to Reinkemeyer's womb.
"Because it had never been done before, they had duplicates of each role including two anesthesiologists for me and Jackson, two neurosurgeons and a whole NICU team. My little boy weighed just 1 lb at the time," Reinkemeyer tells The Sun. "Doctors drained the amniotic fluid from his spine, and then stitched up the hole."
As delicate as the situation was, it went off seamlessly and baby Jackson continued to grow for another 10 weeks while Reinkemeyer stayed on bed rest nearby the hospital. He was then delivered for a second time in early 2018—small, but strong and healed from the gap in his spine.
"I was in love from the moment I saw him. When I first heard his scary diagnosis, I wish I had known how wonderful he would be—it would have taken all my fears away," Reinkemeyer says. "Jackson is doing so well now, despite having been through so much in his little life."
In the U.K., Simpson is hoping her outcome is similar to Reinkemeyer's. She's only the fourth mother in the U.K. to have the operation. Top European specialists took part in her surgery on January 8, 2019, and Simpson says her daughter "smashed surgery like you wouldn't believe."
She continues: "They took her out of my womb and popped her straight back in to stay there as long as she can."
Simpson is due in April.
[A version of this post was originally published on May 16, 2018. It has been updated.]