For twins Amy and Katie were incredibly born 87 days apart.
Maria went into labour four months early, giving birth to Amy – but Katie did not arrive until three months later.
Doctors have told Maria and husband Chris they have achieved the medical equivalent of winning the lottery, with both girls surviving and healthy.
Maria, who has two other children, told how she was torn between joy and worry after Amy’s dangerously early arrival as Katie stayed in her womb, clinging to existence.
“Amy was fighting for life in an incubator and Katie was struggling to survive in my womb. It was the hardest three months of our lives. But Chris kept saying, ‘Where there’s life there’s hope.’”
Maria, 34, and Chris – a nurse at the hospital had been thrilled to discover she was expecting twin girls at her first scan at seven weeks.
The pregnancy went smoothly until Maria got to 23 weeks and five days.
She said: “I felt unwell at work with extreme pressure on my abdomen but I thought that must be normal as I was having twins. But I was worried enough to get an appointment with my GP who told me to go straight to hospital.
“To my horror when I got there just hours later my waters broke. I was immediately admitted.”
She said: “The doctors told me there was very little hope of them surviving as they were so premature.
“I thank God Chris was by my side. I was sobbing and in shock but I refused to give up. I kept saying, ‘This is not going to happen – I’m not going to lose them.’
After a gruelling two days of labour at Waterford Regional Hospital in Ireland Amy was born at exactly 24 weeks – almost four months before her due date of September 21 last year.
At just 1lb 3oz, she was dangerously small. Maria said: “Amy was rushed to intensive care. I was exhausted but it wasn’t over – there was another child and so I had to focus.”
But Maria’s contractions finished.
“The doctors said they had never seen anything like it. It should have been a joyful time but it was horrific. I had one baby in intensive care and one inside me, clinging to life.
Maria said: “I burst into tears when I saw her in the incubator – she was just so, so tiny and vulnerable. She was covered in tubes. All I could see was her mass of black hair.
“I touched my bump and made the vow I would get Katie out safe and well and the girls would be together.” Maria visited Amy in intensive care every day, while praying that Katie would survive in her womb.
It was five weeks before Maria was allowed to hold Amy.
Maria says: “She was so tiny I could barely feel her on my chest. She loved it. Her heartbeat stabilised as I held her. I couldn’t even speak. I kissed her head and held her.
“The doctors said we just had to wait but every day was a bonus. I viewed it as a mission to take the pregnancy on as far as I possibly could. There was no room for negative thoughts. And as the weeks passed the tiny life growing inside me got stronger.”
Maria was finally induced on August 27 at 36 weeks and three days, after doctors decided it was safe. She gave birth to Katie, who weighed 5lbs 10oz, after just over an hour.
She said: “ When they put Katie in my arms she smiled at me and the nurse said ‘she’s fine’. We both cried.
“What immediately struck us was that Amy takes after my side of the family and Katie takes after Chris’s.
“Two hours later we reunited the twins. Amy was still in her incubator and they put Katie’s cot beside it.
Katie was taken home at five days old and Amy followed her seven weeks later on October 16, joining Chris and Maria’s two other children – Olivia, 13, and Jack, 11.
Chris said: “I never lost hope even in the darkest moments. The medical team did an incredible job.”
Consultant obstetrician Dr Eddie O’Donnell at Waterford Regional Hospital was in charge of the delivery team and described the births as “extraordinary”.
He said: “In medical terms to have both babies and mum come through this healthy and happy is the medical equivalent of a lottery win.
“We are delighted for the whole family and couldn’t be happier we were able to play a part in their miraculous birth.”