The exTENded family Birthday joy of triplets who weighed a combined 5lbs
How 'Donegal Dozen' in four-bed house wouldn't have it any other way - except for a bigger home!
They were given just a 10 per cent chance of survival and weighed just 5lbs combined when they were born - meet the miracle triplets who made this Donegal family a perfect dozen.
Freya, Ella and Alyssa recently celebrated their first birthday and for mum of 10 Jackie McDaid, it was a milestone she thought her darling girls would never see.
"When we were told we were having triplets we were completely floored - I'd always wanted a big family but nothing could have prepared us for the news. My husband Paul just said, 'we need a bigger car and a bigger house'.
"We knew immediately that it was a really high-risk pregnancy. I was told I would have to have the babies in Dublin. I just thought, I have a one-year-old, a two-year-old and a three-year-old, how am I going to go to do that?"
At 15 weeks, Jackie (37) was dealt the devastating news that the babies were suffering from a complication known as Twin-to-Twin-Transfusion Syndrome, which occurs when abnormal blood vessels in the placenta transfuse too much blood into one baby, while the other baby is left with too little.
If untreated, the condition, which only affects identical twins, leads to the death of both babies in nearly all cases.
"I was told the babies had a 10 per cent chance of survival and because I had triplets it was even more complicated."
Jackie, who is also mother to Jordan (20), Lauren (17), Tyler (eight), Kayla (six), Evie (five), Darcie (three) and Esme (two), was told that a life-saving operation in the womb could be conducted but doctors warned of imminent risks.
"The surgery involved a laser ablation, which meant finding the blood vessels connecting the twins and closing them off to prevent blood flowing between them. I was told that if I went ahead with the surgery I would put the healthy baby at risk - and if I allowed nature to take its course I could lose all three of my babies."
The surgery was a success but any joy was short-lived when Jackie, who lives in Buncrana, Co. Donegal, with her extended family was admitted to hospital with severe pain when she was just 25 weeks pregnant.
"Every time they scanned me they couldn't find a heartbeat and I just thought they were dead. I wasn't dilating but they knew I was in trouble so they flew me to Dublin Airport in the Coast Guard helicopter. I got a Garda escort to the hospital - it took an hour 40 minutes to get from Letterkenny to Holles Street but it felt like the longest journey of my life."
Once in hospital the devoted mum was given steroids and magnesium sulphate to help the development of the babies lungs and brains.
"I was told that Twin-to-Twin Syndrome was back and that there was too much fluid surrounding one of the babies. A needle was put into my uterus and 2.7 litres of fluid was syringed out. It was the most uncomfortable and the most painful thing I've ever had done in my life. They were hoping it was stop me going into premature labour, but it wasn't meant to be."
At 3am, Jackie went into labour and hours later her three baby girls were delivered by C-section.
"They were absolutely tiny. Ella was 630gms, Alyssa weighed 650gms and Freya was 2lbs. Their teeny, tiny little hands were not much bigger than my thumb nail. The nappies they were wearing even looked miniscule when they were put next to a pen. I was afraid to touch them because they were so small.
"Ella kept forgetting to breathe and then Freya had a collapsed lung, so she had a chest drain in and was on morphine. They were so unwell for the longest time. It was nearly two weeks before I got to hold them. And it was three months before I got to bring them home."
For three months the super mum split her time between Dublin and Donegal.
"I had to spend half the week in Dublin and half at home, travelling four hours on the bus to see them while looking after seven other children. At times I don't know how we did it.
One year on the girls are thriving.
"They are strong and healthy girls but they are still tiny, they fit into 3 - 6 month clothes. People ask me how I do it all the time but it's just get up and just go, go, go.
Some people even say it's their worst nightmare.
"There are lots of things to worry about but I don't worry about money. Right now we're trying to save because we're actually in a council house. It's a four-bedroom and there just isn't enough room.
"We are hoping to move into a three-bedroom bungalow and they're going to convert the upstairs but because of the coronavirus everything has been delayed.
"Right now we have two sets of bunk beds in one room so the four girls share a room. It's a bit of squashed but we make it work.
"Obviously, there are days when it's hard and at the start we were making more than 18 bottles a day and changing dozens and dozens of nappies because we had six kids in nappies, and at one point, seven girls under the age of five. It is chaos sometimes but we wouldn't have it any other way."