One-year-old Tia-Jane McVeigh grabs her dad’s finger with fierce strength these days.
It’s a simple skill, but one treasured by her parents, Adrian and Alysha McVeigh, because they know the extreme battle their daughter has fought to survive her first year of life.
A photo has captured the moment she first touched her dad 10 days after her miraculous birth at only 23 weeks gestation. It shows her tiny hand barely clasps his fingertip. It will become one of many photographs in a time capsule the couple are creating for Tia-Jane’s first birthday on Wednesday.
Adrian and Alysha McVeigh are excited to celebrate their baby Tia-Jane’s first birthday next Wednesday after a very challenging year.
Last June 15, the plucky lass made history as New Zealand’s smallest and most premature baby to survive.
Born a couple of hours after reaching the 23-week extreme limit on viability, she spent 137 tumultuous days in Wellington Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit before she was discharged home.
Because Tia-Jane was an IVF baby, she was only inside her mother for 20 weeks and six days after embryo transfer so her hospital stint was almost the same length of time.
“Most people have a pregnancy, but I got to watch mine,” Alysha says.
Since her discharge home, Tia-Jane has stunned everyone by going from strength to strength, ticking off age-adjusted milestones with calm regularity, as well as dispatching with the trappings of extreme prematurity.
“Getting her off oxygen in January was a pretty momentous occasion for us,” Alysha says. “It was the first time she didn’t have facial accessories.”
Every milestone is celebrated – her first trip to the beach, her first tiny nibble of an Easter egg.
Her time capsule box will be filled with hospital trappings, such as vital breathing apparatus that she no longer needs, her first tiny clothes and photos of her incredible first year.
The couple intend to hide it in their Plimmerton home and give it to her when she turns 16. “For us, it’s also about closing the door on that time,” Alysha says.
After a year of challenges, they want to start enjoying Tia-Jane as just a baby.
While she will still need regular specialists’ check-ups, no health problems have been detected so far from her extremely early start in life.
And she hasn’t needed admission to hospital since her discharge, largely thanks to her parents’ determination to do everything in their powers to protect her health.
“We are very cautious,” Alysha says. “There’s no going to the marae and passing the baby around, which would be normal. We have to avoid anything like that.
“Considering she didn’t start off with the best start possible, we want everything to be the best we can for her.”
Their wee daughter has turned into a big eater and loves taking food from her parents’ plates after finishing her own meal, so they’ve cut sugar and salt from their diets to ensure she only gets her hands on healthy food.
A few weeks ago, they took her on their first roadie together, visiting friends and family in Taranaki and Rotorua for six days.
It was a huge confidence booster so now, they’re planning a trip to Australia to visit Alysha’s brother.
Tia-Jane’s adjusted age means she only officially turns one on her due date, October 14.
“But we couldn’t wait to celebrate her birthday,” Alysha says.
On Wednesday, they will visit staff at Fertility Associates in Wellington, who helped them to conceive Tia-Jane, before heading to NICU at the hospital to celebrate with hospital staff and others who supported them through the past year.
Next Saturday, they will throw a party for their miracle girl.
For her birthday, they plan to give her a korowai or a Maori cloak, something typically presented to Maori on their graduation from university. “We figure she’s graduating as a one-year-old,” Alysha says, laughing.
They feel it seems a lifetime ago since they first glimpsed their newborn daughter, which left them shocked at her size and fragility.
At birth, she weighed 516 grams and measured 27cms, her skin was transparent and her eyes fused closed.
Fast forward a year and she’s become a thriving infant, clutching at every finger that comes close and putting everything into her mouth, happily babbling away in baby-ese and desperately trying to get crawling.
She has also developed a strong personality as a rather determined and bossy lass.
“She’s like her mother – she’s very stubborn,” Adrian says, laughing.
“And she manipulates daddy very well,” Alysha adds.
She says having a small baby has allowed some fun moments, such as the family’s Christmas card, which has a photo of Tia-Jane nestled inside her Santa sock.
Another photo shows her father’s wedding ring fitting comfortably around her tiny arm as a newborn.
These days, it fits Tia-Jane’s thumb – another physical sign of her incredible journey and a life that is flourishing against the odds.
And she has both of her proud parents firmly wrapped around her rapidly-growing little fingers.
“We’re so proud of her,” Alysha says.
Her smitten dad agrees: “She is my world.”