Kate McGowan’s twins, Dylan and Elizabeth, were born in 2010 at 29 weeks. They each weighed just over 2 pounds. After 100 days in the NICU for Dylan and 80 for Elizabeth, the preemies went on to overcome incredible obstacles and are now almost 6 years old.
“It is amazing how far they have come,” McGowan told The Huffington Post.
During her time in the NICU with her twins, McGowan especially remembers Elizabeth learning how to eat and Dylan having multiple surgeries.
Almost six years later, Elizabeth is known to watch out for her brother, and Dylan has a knack for making friends with everyone who comes his way.
“Although his vocal cords did not work for the first year of his life due to prolonged intubation and severe reflux, he is now making up for lost time by talking nonstop and charming all that he meets,” McGowan told HuffPost.
While it was tough watching her babies fight to survive, McGowan and her family made it through thanks to all the love that surrounded them and the support of the medical staff.
“While the NICU time is never easy and it is a roller-coaster of good days and bad, it was our journey, and Dylan and Elizabeth’s beginning,” she said.
Spending the first days and even weeks of their children’s lives in the NICU is an experience that is all too familiar for parents of preemies, or babies born before 37 weeks gestation. Though premature birth declined between 2007 and 2014, 2015 showed a rise in early births. About 10 percent of babies in the U.S. were born early, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
November marks Prematurity Awareness Month, which is a time to celebrate those babies who fought for their lives. We asked our HuffPost Parents readers to send in photos of their preemies when they were born and photos of them now to show just how far they have come.
Here are those resilient preemies, then and now:
"This is Edwin, our little preemie. He was born at 35 weeks, three days. We had a traumatic birth with him stuck in the birth canal, losing his dropping heart rate on the monitors and an emergency C-section. I wasn't able to see him for 24 hours due to me being too sick from the drugs and he was having breathing problems. He wasn't the smallest baby in the NICU, but it was very hard and so very sad. Edwin will be 2 in March, he is so very smart and 100 percent for height. And as you can see, quite the hoot!"
"My daughter's name is Emily Mya. Emily was born on January 20, 2014 at 23 weeks gestation weighing in at 1 pound, 3 ounces. Eyes still fused shut and with only a 3 percent survival rate, Emily came into this world. She spent the first 102 days of her life in the NICU. Like a roller-coaster, some days we thought she'd pull through, others we'd almost lose her and she had to be resuscitated to bring her back. Nonetheless Little Miss Emily is nothing short of a miracle baby. Today she is thriving and she will be turning 3 in January and we are catching up with all of our milestones. She is an incredible little girl full of fire and charisma! Although we have some medical issues, we are very thankful she is alive and well today."
"This is my son, Jack. He was supposed to be born May 6, 2013, in England. When we were on a 'babymoon' in Florida in March of that year, he decided instead to make his grand appearance -- almost 7 weeks early! You'd never know now that Jack was born so early on March 20th, 2013. He's the loveliest, kindest, most energetic and clever little man you could ever imagine. We are truly blessed."
"This is a picture of my daughter, Rylee Hopper who was born at 28 weeks. I went into premature labor and this beautiful little 2-pound, 12-ounce fighter was brought into this world on my birthday! What a wonderful, yet uncertain gift to receive. She stayed in the NICU for 16 weeks and since then has grown into a happy, healthy, fun, loving, smart, and talented little 6-year-old."
"Twins, Miles and Embry, born at 29 weeks are now 9 months. They were born at 2 pounds, 7 ounces and 2 pounds, 5 ounces and spent 41 days in the NICU."
"I would like to share with you my son, Atlas. He was born at 25 weeks weighing 1 pound, 7 ounces. He was in the NICU for 93 days before he could come home. He will be 2 in April, and is doing great!"
"I had my son Brayden at 27 weeks in 2014. He was 2 pounds, 13 ounces. He was in the NICU for four months and is now thriving at 33 pounds."
"I was emergency induced at 36 weeks because I had severe undiagnosed (no symptoms before!) preeclampsia which caused him to be growth restricted. Brixton was 4.9 pounds when he was born. We took him home after a week in the NICU. He was 4.6 pounds and on a heart monitor. It was terrifying, especially for first-time parents! But now he is a super energetic and smart 3-and-a-half-year-old! You would never know he was so tiny. Thankfully his lungs were matured enough that he didn't need oxygen. He did have a difficult time feeding and maintaining his body temperature."
"Here is Scarlet. The first photo is her on August 21, 2014, born at 33 weeks, six days, weighing 4 pounds, 10 ounces. She spent the first 18 days of her life in the NICU. The second pic is her at her photo shoot just days away from her second birthday. She’s the strongest babe."
"This is Emersyn Grace, born at 34 weeks and 4 pounds. Premature due to placenta accreta."
"These are pictures of my son, born at 26 weeks gestation at 1 pound, 13 ounces (yes, that is a real-sized ketchup packet!) in 2009, and now at 7 years old on his first day of first grade this fall.
He was born via emergency C-section due to severe preeclampsia and spent 103 days in the NICU with complications along the way. He is now a healthy, happy, thriving hockey player with no lasting health issues. I wouldn't be able to say that previous statement without acknowledging the incredible work of NICU staff -- physicians, support services, and most of all, the nurses!"
"My twins were born unexpectedly at 23 weeks, six days, weighing just 1 pound and 6 ounces. My son Tobias passed away two days later from complications related to extreme prematurity. My daughter Joella spent 107 days in the NICU where she underwent heart surgery as well as countless other medications, interventions and procedures. Our family was told that she would most likely not survive and if she did, she would almost certainly have debilitating disabilities. Joella just celebrated her second birthday and today she is a happy, healthy, and developmentally normal toddler. She can run, jump, and keep up with her older sister. She is learning how to put words together and she is social and affectionate. She is truly a miracle and her strength, determination, and bravery inspire me every single day."
"Deaglan was born at 29 weeks on December 23, 2012. He weighed 3 pounds and was in the NICU for six weeks. He is baby brother to Fiona, Finbar and Mairead and is a constant source of laughter in our house!"
"Jake was born on January 11 of this year at 32 weeks, 8 weeks early. He weighed in at 3 pounds, 15.8 ounces and spent 29 days in the NICU. He is 10 months old and, aside from some pretty severe reflux issues, is a happy and healthy (and very busy) little boy!"
"Cooper, born at 31 weeks, is now 4. He was born weighing 3 pounds, 9 ounces and spent 28 days in the NICU."
"Our daughters were born at 24 weeks. The first of the twins weighed only 15 ounces and was stillborn. The second weighed in at 1 pound, 14.2 ounces and spent 90 days in the NICU before coming home. Eden went through many obstacles during her stay there including heart surgery, eye surgery, and too many line insertions to count. However, she left with almost zero signs of being born far too soon. She was in one of the highest risk categories, more so because she shared a womb with a deceased twin, and she made it out with no lingering effects! It was truly astounding. She is now a petite, but perfectly healthy 7-year-old who excels in school and loves animals and dance. We are so thankful for the amazing care team we had at Mayo Clinic!"
"Ila Marie Friederich, born at 34 weeks. 28 days in NICU. Just turned 4 and full of sugar and spice!"
"I have four beautiful children and three of them were preemies. My son Logan was born at 30 weeks due to kidney disease that was detected in utero." (continued below)
"My twin daughters, Emilia and Isabelle, were born at 32 weeks due to twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. Although my preemies were not as early as others, they were very sick and spent a lot of time in the NICU. My babies are fighters and I'm so blessed."
Lauren Leonard and Dan Petronis
"My son Leo was born at 32 weeks, due to me getting preeclampsia. He weighed 3 pounds, 5 ounces and stayed in the NICU for six weeks. When he came home he only weighed a little over 5 pounds. We were very lucky with his health; he never needed oxygen and never had any major health concerns. It was still the most difficult thing we have dealt with. Our son is a thriving 19-month-old who is more independent and strong than most adults I know. He loves music, dancing, and playing outside. We are so very grateful every day and continue to spread awareness on the increasing rate of premature births."
"18 weeks pregnant with my daughter, I found myself on hospitalized bed rest due to a botched emergency cerclage placement. Because she and her sac were already descending during the procedure, the doctor accidentally broke her sac and we lost all fluid. For the next five dangerous and terrifying weeks until she was born at 23 weeks gestation, I talked to her and told her that we were a team and going to make it out of this together. I was told if she tried to come a day before 23 weeks the hospital and doctors would not try to intervene to save her because 'she would have so many problems it wouldn't be worth it.' A nurse (and my daughter's guardian angel) went against that policy the night she was born at 1.5 pounds and 11.5 inches and called transport to a NICU three hours away. She was flown there. I arrived three days later and sat by her side for four months through ventilators, blood transfusions, chest tubes, infections, eye surgery, and a never-ending emotional roller-coaster. It would be six weeks before I would get to hold her or even touch her without gloves on. She came home one week past her due date weighing just over 7 pounds with oxygen. Kicked that within a year and is now the healthiest, sassiest, most rambunctious 3-year-old ever. She has no lasting issues from her prematurity thus far. This kid is a fighter, my best friend and absolutely my hero. Because 'though she be but little, she is fierce.'"
Melissa and Aric Straub
“Our son Landon was born at 32 weeks, weighing 4 pounds and 7 ounces. He spent 31 days in the NICU and now is a healthy 6-year-old. My mother had my brother six weeks early and my grandmother had a son eight weeks early who did not survive. I guess you could say premature boys run in our family. So thankful for our little miracle and the amazing NICU staff!”
"Our son Lucas was born at 27 weeks weighing 1 pound, 13 ounces and was 13 inches long. He arrived early after my appendix ruptured so I had to have a C-section and an open appendectomy at the same time. How's that for a two for one?!?! He is now 2 and is off his home oxygen and no longer needs any maintenance medications."
"This is Sammy. He was born at 34 weeks, and stayed in the NICU for 13 days. I (his mom) had preeclampsia with HELLP Syndrome and had to deliver early. He is now 2 years old and loves to run, play ball, and is all about cars, buses, lawn mowers, and vacuums."
"David was born 6 weeks premature and is now 5 years old."
"These are pictures of my daughter Monica. She was born on November 3, 2015, at 24 weeks and three days, weighing 1 pound, 8 ounces. She spent 105 days in the NICU. She is as healthy as can be and thriving. The first picture is from 1 day old and the second one is from her first birthday. She now weighs 19 pounds and is the happiest girl in the world."
"My daughter was born at 25 weeks weighing less than a pound. She spent 140 long days in the NICU and came home with an NG tube and on oxygen. She is now a happy, healthy 6-year-old. She is in the gifted program at her school, and loves art, swimming, dancing, and baking."
"Penelope was born at 34 weeks weighing 3 pounds, 9 ounces. I had preeclampsia and was induced. She was in the NICU for three weeks. Now she's a thriving 5-year-old. She loves kindergarten, the beach, Taylor Swift, and most of all CATS!"
Laina D Baina
"My 35+3 seeker born at 4 pounds, 5 ounces, spent 19 days in the NICU, now 3 months old."
"These are photos of my son, Hill Barrow (now 7). When I was pregnant with Hill in 2009 (and had a 2-year-old daughter at home), my water broke 24 weeks into my pregnancy and I spent eight weeks on hospital bed rest until he was born at 32 weeks. He spent several weeks in the NICU. Those three months were the most difficult time of my life, but we survived because of the support of our friends and family. When we realized most families did not have that same type of support system, our family founded a nonprofit, High Risk Hope. High Risk Hope provides support and care packages to pregnant women on hospital bed rest and to premature infants in the NICU. Since 2011, High Risk Hope is in four hospitals in two states and has helped 5,000 families and counting!"
Anne and Zach Even
"Here are some pictures of our twins: Brooks (boy) and Adlyn (girl) when they were in the NICU. They spent 35 days in the NICU. Of course, we celebrate their birthday on December 14. But, more importantly, we celebrate their "Coming Home Birthday" on January 17. They were born at 32 weeks. Looking back, we wouldn't have changed a thing. We've all grown so much from that experience! They are 7 years old and are in second grade, thriving, and they love to be outside. They love to ride bikes, ride scooters, catch fish, and so much more. They are best friends and love each other's company. They like to go to open art studio with their dad (who is an art teacher) and work with clay. They are adventurous, kindhearted, and love animals and nature. We love them to pieces, and life wouldn't be the same without them."
"This is my daughter, Judith. Born at 32 weeks, 4.5 pounds and 18 inches tall. She spent five weeks in the NICU before we could take her home.
She just turned 3 in August. She weighs 33 pounds and is 40 inches tall. She is the most hilarious person I know, talks nonstop, and immediately loves (and aggressively hugs and kisses) everyone she meets. She is a ball of sass. Having a 'big personality' doesn't even come close to describing her. She loves singing and dancing, and pretending to be her favorite characters from shows (Skye, Owelette, and any Princess) or a puppy. She loves to play doctor and mommy and LOVES arts and crafts. She squeals with excitement if you even go near a swimming pool and is constantly on the move. She's never met a morsel of food she didn't like. Her favorites are pizza, ice cream, tomatoes, and soup.
Our journey was not easy and even after we were home I was so worried for so long, but it all seems like a distant memory now."
"My son Leo was born at 33 weeks due to placenta accreta. Our birth story became life-threatening. After he was safely delivered, I postpartum hemorrhaged my full blood volume. Now, two years later, we are both doing great. You would never even know Leo was ever a preemie; he’s a feisty and determined little sweetheart. He loves dogs and pasta and has been known to give the sweetest hugs in the world. We have been through so much together and have an incredible bond."
"This is Silas. He was born on October 19, 2013, at 34 weeks premature. He's so smart and rambunctious."
"My daughter was born in Barking in London on April 8th, 1986, at 30 weeks. She weighed 3 pounds, 8 ounces and was 10 weeks early. I feel absolutely blessed by the staff at Great Ormond Street hospital. My daughter is now 30 years of age and towers above me at 6-foot-1. I feel incredibly blessed. Thirty years ago, there were no premature baby clothes so I had to buy doll clothes and had some lovely ladies who knitted clothes especially for her. Georgina eventually came home after six weeks, and as there were no sleeping facilities, I drove to London every day and home again every night. Amazing what hospitals could achieve even as far back as the '80s. What a joy she is to me and so precious."
"My girl Kylie Ann was born at 32 weeks, weighing 3 pounds. I suffered from HELLP Syndrome and was in the ICU for nine days. She stayed in the NICU for about a month and came home on oxygen/a heart monitor and caffeine to help her lungs to continue to work correctly. Today she is a ferocious 4-year-old who plays soccer, dresses up like princesses and superheroes, and her best friend is our 7-year-old Lab."
"Emily was born 9.5 weeks early and was delivered via C-section due to severe preeclampsia. She weighed 2 pounds, 8 ounces and spent 49 weeks in the NICU. She has a fighter personality and lives up to it today. She is a smart, healthy, sassy, and hilarious 3-year-old!"
"I was very nervous and overjoyed when in December 2011 I found out I was pregnant with twins! I would go on to find out I was pregnant with twin boys. We already had a 3-year-old son. Their due date was in August. The entire pregnancy I had a fear of giving birth early because I knew that was pretty common with twins. Around 5 a.m. on July 15, 2012, I got up to use the bathroom, sat back down in bed and my water broke. I was 35 weeks and one day. I was terrified, they weren't TOO early, but early. I remember after my C-section, a nurse coming up and saying, 'See? No one is rushing around or anything. That means your babies are good!' They were within 2 ounces of each other, 5 pounds, 14 ounces and 6 pounds even. I was so relieved. Then, the neonatologist came to my hospital room and said, 'Baby B is misbehaving, he's having trouble breathing.' I was beyond terrified and devastated. The hospital we were at didn't have a high-level NICU, so before I ever held him our hours-old little boy was going to another hospital several miles away. His twin and I were in one place, Jude (pictured above) was in another, and their proud, older brother was at home. My poor husband was darting all over town to take care of us all. During my hospital stay, I was given a call that Jude had all the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension and it can be fatal. I will never forget that moment. Luke thankfully encountered no health issues and came straight home four days after he and Jude were born. I went to see Jude immediately and was told we could only touch, not rub him in any way because the stimulation would be too much. I felt so much guilt and no one could explain why he was so sick. Throughout his stay, he would have many issues with his breathing, two spinal taps, possible meningitis, a blood transfusion and two staph infections. He came home a day shy of being there one month. My family has never been through anything so hard; we truly didn't know if he would make it home. But he did; he is 4 years old. He is the strongest, silliest, most fearless child we have. He lives to make people happy and when anyone is upset, he does all he can to make them happy. His smile lights up a room and the twinkle in his eyes does, too. He is so precious to us." (continued below)
"Luke (pictured above) is as well, healthy, full of emotion, so sweet, loves to laugh. They love their big brother and their dogs. They fight with each other but are each other's biggest cheerleaders and defenders. They are in the same classroom in preschool and love being with each other. We are so proud of our boys, it's been quite a ride!"
"This is my son Oliver, who was born on July 23 at 27 weeks, five days, weighing in at 2 pounds, 11 ounces and 15 inches long. My water broke at 25 weeks, six days, but I didn't go into labor, so I spent 13 days on bed rest at the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital. Oliver spent 80 days in the hospital, and he had to focus on his breathing and growing and eventually the suck, swallow breath before coming home. He finally came home on October 11, six days before his due date! He's now 15 months old, walking, doing some talking, and is overall just an amazing little boy!"
"Mason was born at 32 weeks and six days, weighing in at 5 pounds and 2 ounces. I was on bed rest for weeks at home and in hospital due to preeclampsia and it was decided for health reasons to deliver early. As you learn with a lot of preemies and preeclampsia you don’t get to see your child for 24 to 48 hours. The first time I got to see Mason was from pictures and videos. We spent 45 days in the Surrey Memorial NICU until he was able to come home. It has been an incredible journey with lots of ups and downs as any preemie mom and dad will tell you."
"Kaden was born on January 18, 2008 at 30 weeks. It was our first two-week appointment and was the last before he was born. My wife had severe preeclampsia and was in danger of having a stroke. Honestly we didn't know better, it was our first child. I remember asking, 'Are your feet supposed to be so swollen?' After much monitoring, the doctor told us our baby would be here soon from the preeclampsia and that they would need to transfer us to a level-one NICU unit (an hour away). After arriving to the next hospital the team of doctors prepared my wife for labor by inducing her. Shortly after it started, her heart and Kaden's heart both stopped. They called a code blue and the room became surreal. It was like a scene from 'ER!' A dozen medical personnel rushed into our room all talking over each other working like well-oiled machines. I remember hearing a surgeon say we have got to get this baby out of her now ... then my mind went blank. I remember standing in the middle of the room for what felt like an eternity while in reality was only 18 minutes, just staring at all these loose cords, tubes, and a few bloodied towels. Then a nurse came in to tell me I had a healthy baby boy and that he was tiny, but a fighter. Kaden weighed in at a whopping 2 pounds and 4 ounces! Talk about tiny. I was afraid to touch him at first! After 10 weeks, several blood transfusions, and his fair share of infections he was released to go home. Now Kaden is 8 (still the smallest kid) and full of life and energy! Truly our miracle from God!"
"Everett was 6 weeks premature, spent 12 days in the NICU, and is now thriving! He's 4 months old now. He's so cute, happy and chubby, we're just amazed by him all the time!"
"Born at 33 weeks and five days, now he is 5 months old. You would never know now that he was a preemie."
“We were told at 16 weeks that Elijah had posterior urethral valve obstruction and it was unlikely he’d survive to term, much less after birth. The doctors discussed the option of terminating the pregnancy and we decided against it. Eli stuck it out and made it to 32 weeks before doctors intervened. Shortly after he was born, his kidneys failed and he was placed on dialysis. He spent 91 days in the NICU and five days in the PICU before we were finally able to bring him home for the first time. Mountains of medication, surgeries and specialist visits later; Eli is a happy healthy almost 7-year-old. His boundless energy and witty sense of humor make it hard to believe anyone could ever doubt his survival. He is a fighter and our family’s miracle boy.”
Heather Touhey Eastman
"This is Owen, born at 36 weeks. He had a rough go with hemolytic disease and biliary atresia. After multiple blood transfusions, Kasai procedure (major abdominal surgery to save his liver) and rounds of IVIg, he is a happy, healthy 1-year-old! He is off to his first Canadian Liver Foundation gala next week to honor his liver specialist!"
"Born at 36 weeks, stayed in the NICU for seven weeks, six days. Here she is (left picture) only minutes after she was born. The right picture was taken on her first birthday. She's now a 21-month-old chatter box, loves talking, dancing, singing and loves her books. She'll be 2 in February."
Briana Akens Harned
"My 7-year-old, born at 26 weeks, weighed 1 pound, 3 ounces."
"Jack was born at 32 weeks because I was admitted to the hospital in critical condition with HELLP Syndrome. It was expected that he would be in the NICU for at least six weeks. He came home after two weeks. He now is a happy and healthy 6-year-old that has been in the 90th percentile since he was 2!!"
Former Preemies Pose With Pictures Of Themselves As Babies