Abortion is legal in the UK up until 24 weeks because, officials say, that is when babies are “viable” – in other words, that’s the earliest they can survive outside the womb with medical intervention.
But a pair of babies who were born at just 23 weeks’ gestation are celebrating their first birthday this month, despite doctors telling their parents to “expect the worst” when their mother went into labor last year.
“We were told to expect the worst because the babies were born so prematurely,” the twins’ mother, Nichola Baird, told the Daily Mail. “The doctors said before I gave birth that babies are classed as not viable until 24 weeks so prepare yourselves for bad news.”
The 30-year old mother said she felt the doctors were treating her boys as if they weren’t really human beings yet. “I felt as though they were being treated like foetuses,” said Baird.
At birth, the babies, Kyle and Jake, were roughly the size of a human hand and weighed just a little over a pound each. Their skin was so fragile that Baird and her husband, Colin, weren’t even allowed to touch them. Both boys needed emergency surgery to close the valves in their hearts, which hadn’t fully developed yet. Kyle also needed bowel surgery.
“Doctors gave Kyle a 50/50 chance to even survive the operation and all we could do was pray and cling on to every ounce of hope we had,” Baird told the Daily Mail. “It was never an option for us to consider what would happen if we lost them.”
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“Afterwards, they were both left really poorly from the operations and not knowing what was going to happen was awful,” Baird added. “But when I held them both for the first time, it was extra special because I had waited for so long to give them a cuddle.”
The babies finally got to go home at 17 weeks old – a week after their original due date. Now, at a year old, they each weigh 18 pounds and seem to be doing well.
“They are a miracle,” Baird said of her boys. “Looking back now, I realise how lucky we all were.”
Kyle and Jake aren’t the only preemies to have been born before the UK’s abortion limit and survived. In 2012, another baby born at 23 weeks narrowly escaped being left to die by doctors after a nurse inadvertently left a pair of scissors on the scale used to weigh her, boosting her measured weight above the 400 grams UK doctors consider “viable.” After receiving lifesaving medical care due to the “error,” she later went home healthy with her parents. Another 23-weeker was born in 2011, after his mother’s doctors begged her to abort him before the cutoff because his twin sister, born eight days earlier, had died from an infection. He, too, beat the odds and survived.
Even younger babies have also survived – James Elgin Gill, a Canadian man, was born in 1988 at just 21 weeks, 5 days gestation. He survived and is a healthy adult. He shares the world record for the earliest surviving micropreemie with Frieda Mangold, a German girl who was also born at 21 weeks, 5 days in 2011.