Miracle premature triplets go home 163 days after birth
FOR 163 days Naomi Smith and Jon Castley watched other parents take newborn babies home from hospital.
It was a heartbreaking sight for the couple who were unable to touch their own triplets for months after they were born at 23 weeks.
It was fifth time lucky for the Rockhampton couple, who had needed some assistance falling pregnant because of Naomi's polycystic ovary syndrome.
Everything was going well at Naomi's six-week scan, where the pregnancy was confirmed.
At the eight-week scan, the couple were told to prepare for twins.
Having just gotten used to the thought of twins, Naomi and Jon went for their 10-week scan where they were told to expect triplets.
"We were a bit scared to go back for the fourth time, just in case there was another one," Naomi joked.
"It was pretty shocking; we weren't really expecting that at all."
Things were going smoothly for Naomi, who said she didn't experience any morning sickness or other issues during the early stages of her pregnancy.
On December 23, Naomi was at work when she noticed some light bleeding.
A friend took her to the hospital, where a scan confirmed she was in labour and already 4cm dilated.
At just 23 weeks and four days, Naomi and Jon weren't confident their precious babies would pull through.
Naomi said the moment she was told she was in labour and would be airlifted to Brisbane was one of the more frightening of her life.
"They mentioned 2% was the survival rate for babies born around 24 weeks gestation, so they weren't really giving us much hope," she said.
"Just before the flight they gave us all the stats and said 'if anything happens on the flight, we can't save your babies', so it was the longest hour and a half flight of our lives."
Naomi's contractions started during the Royal Flying Doctor Service flight to Brisbane, but the couple were kept calm by the nurse they describe as "just amazing".
They arrived at the Brisbane hospital around noon that day, where doctors managed to slow Naomi's contractions.
But by about 9pm, it was clear the babies weren't waiting.
Lexie was born at 1.44am on December 24, weighing 629g.
She was followed by sisters, and identical twins, Ella at 2.08am, weighing 570g, and Josie at 2.11am, weighing 553g.
Amongst this, Jon and Naomi were being asked the toughest questions anyone could face, including whether they wanted their babies resuscitated if the worst was to happen.
But the three girls were tough, had no complications prior to their birth and had reached a good size for their gestation.
Yet, nothing could have prepared Jon and Naomi for seeing their children in intensive care.
"That's an image you just can't get out of your head," Naomi said.
"They weren't even the size of my forearm.
"All you could do was just sit there and watch them."
Jon stayed in Brisbane for the first two weeks, but had to return to work, returning every two to three weeks for short weekend visits.
He said friends, family and workmates all donated money to help pay for his flights between Rockhampton and Brisbane.
One of the nurses let Jon hold Josie the day before he left, but Naomi had to wait until the girls were 103 days old before she had her first cuddle.
For Naomi and Jon, it was a matter of coping with each day as it came.
Naomi said it was a "weird rollercoaster" of emotion as they received varying news about each baby's condition.
"You couldn't really be happy because then you've got something else to be sad about," she said.
"It's such a conflict of emotions.
"The first few weeks were just that horrible waiting game to see how they were going."
Of the three, Ella's journey has been the most difficult after she was rushed in for emergency surgery at five weeks, weighing less than 1kg. She's had two further surgeries since.
"Since then, she has been doing amazingly well," Naomi said.
"She's had everything possible go wrong for her."
Naomi and Jon brought their little girls home almost four weeks ago and have settled into a happy routine.