The first time Ginger Blythin laid eyes on her tiny, premature, two-pound-twelve-ounce daughter Evelyn, she was stunned by her size — that is, until she saw Evelyn's twin sister, Rachel.
"Evelyn looked small, but you can't even appreciate what small is until you go across the room and see Rachel who's two pounds smaller," Blythin recalled of the day the girls were born by emergency C-section in June.
When she was born, Rachel weighed just 330 grams. Blythin says her daughter's head was no larger than a kiwi. Photos from after her birth show a baby that could easily have fit in her father's hand, had she not been hooked up to life support machines.
She's the smallest baby ever born at McMaster University Medical Centre and could be the smallest infant ever born in Ontario, according to the hospital.
This week, she came home for the first time after spending the first four and a half months of her life in McMaster's neonatal intensive care unit. Now a healthy six pounds, twelve ounces, there was a time when it wasn't likely she would survive.
"The odds were always against her," Blythin said.
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Getting the news
She and husband Neil — who also have a five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter — knew they were having twins but had decided to keep the gender a surprise. For the first few months, both Blythin and the babies looked healthy. But in April, they got a different kind of surprise: they were having twin girls and the girls were in trouble.
The girls were diagnosed with twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome and Rachel was diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction. She wasn't getting the blood she needed to grow and what blood she did get, she ended up passing off to her sister.
Weeks of uncertainty went by. Eventually a doctor at Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto performed a laser surgery to separate the girls' placenta. Things were looking better, but a late May ultrasound showed both girls were now having trouble getting the fluids they needed to develop properly. On June 3, after a hurried name-brainstorming session with her husband, Blythin gave birth to the girls via emergency C-section.
At 28 and a half weeks in the pregnancy, both girls were expected to be small, but close to 500 grams. A neonatologist explained babies that are at least 28 weeks old and 500 grams have a pretty good chance of survival. Evelyn was 1,260 grams. Rachel was just 330 grams.
Beating the odds
For awhile, it was touch and go. The family didn't know how much longer they would have with their tiny girls. But over the weeks, Rachel and Evelyn grew bigger and stronger. Evelyn went home in August, Rachel arrived home this week. Blythin said she got through the last few months with the support of family and friends and appreciating the victories.
"We never expected to come this far," she said, adding her other children are particularly thrilled to have both their baby sisters home.
As for other parents of premature babies, Blythin said to not be afraid to accept help when it's offered and above all to take things one day at a time.
"It doesn't make any sense to shed tears over what you've already been through. You've been through it. There's no sense in worrying what tomorrow or next month brings because you'll get there when you get there," she said.
"But right now, today, you've got a beautiful little baby who just wants to look at you and coo at you. Enjoy that."