The tiniest survivor: How the 'miracle' baby born two weeks before the legal abortion limit clung to life against all odds
It's the iconic image of the abortion debate - the tiny feet of a baby girl born TWO WEEKS before the legal limit for terminations. But what happened next? For the first time, we tell her inspiring story...
At 18 months old, Amillia Taylor is already entering the terrible twos.
When life doesn't go her way, she stamps her little foot, pushes out her lower lip and makes her demands with a sweet baby lisp.
She is, her parents say with a smile, a 'proper little madam'. But it's a fighting spirit which has served Amillia well.
Because this bright, beguiling toddler was born at just 21 weeks and six days into her gestation - a whole two weeks before the existing abortion cut-off.
Against all odds: Amillia Taylor's tiny feet in the doctor's hand
She is one of the world's youngest premature babies ever to survive and the image of her tiny feet poking out between the fingers of a doctor's hand were used to support calls for the lowering of the 24-week legal limit on abortion.
When she arrived, Amillia weighed less than 10oz and was just nine-and-a-half inches long, with skin which tore like rice paper.
But as the debate over lowering the abortion limit raged this week - culminating in Tuesday's Commons vote which vetoed any change in the law - she was playing happily with her dolls, like any other toddler.
The extraordinary story of her battle for life, and the mother who desperately lied to persuade doctors to try to save her, began with an IVF cycle in June 2006.
Teacher Sonja Taylor, married to childhood sweetheart Eddie, had long dreamed of motherhood. The couple, who married in March 1994, spent years saving for a large family home and to finance fertility treatment.
Sonja, 37, says: 'I had never ovulated properly, and we both knew that we would need fertility treatment if we were ever going to become parents.
'We planned our whole future, working hard in our 20s and then starting our fertility treatment in our 30s.
'We tried our first cycle of IVF early in 2006, but we both knew immediately that it wasn't going to work. Nothing felt right. The embryos implanted in my womb failed to take, but a couple of extra embryos had been frozen and stored.
'It was desperate to want a baby so much, and then to see everyone else around me pregnant. I used to close my eyes and imagine what it would be like to hold my own baby in my arms.
'But after our first IVF cycle failed, Eddie had a dream one night of a little girl clambering over our sofa and pulling at the curtains.
'It was so vivid that he could see her little face, and when he woke me and told me, we clung to each other. We were certain it was a sign that we would have our own baby girl.'
On June 12, 2006, the couple returned to the hospital near their home in Miami, Florida, to have the remaining frozen embryos implanted. A home pregnancy test two weeks later showed a thin blue line.
Miracle: Amillia was born two weeks before the legal abortion limit at just 9.5 inches (24.13 cm) long and less than 10 ounces (284 g).
Sonja says: 'I couldn't stop shaking. When I told Eddie I was pregnant, he didn't believe me. He insisted we went to the doctor together and had an official test. When the doctor confirmed the news, we were overjoyed.'
The baby was due on March 4, 2007, but, from the start, the pregnancy was fraught with problems.
Sonja says: 'We had a scan which showed our tiny baby weeks later, with a blood clot beside her in my womb. It caused me to bleed, and I spent weeks on bed rest.
'When I was 18 weeks pregnant, I felt ill and uncomfortable. Eddie drove me to the hospital at 11pm, and an ultrasound scan revealed that I was in premature labour. I knew the baby would have no chance, so I lay in bed and prayed.
'Over the next few hours, my contractions stopped, and I was sent home 24 hours later on strict bed rest. I hardly dared to move. At 19 weeks I began to feel unwell again. I was leaking fluid and we returned to the hospital at 3am.'
Doctors at the Baptist Children's Hospital in Miami discovered that Sonja was fully dilated - putting both her and the unborn child in danger of infection.
Sonja says: 'They told me they would try to keep the baby inside me for as long as possible. My bed was tipped at an angle, so my legs and pelvis were high in the air.'
The life-saving white lie
It was the next morning, when paediatricians scanned Sonja's unborn child, that she made the split second decision to lie, giving her unborn baby a fighting chance.
Sonja says: 'Eddie and I hadn't slept, we were so worried. We both knew that legally, in Florida, the doctors would not even attempt to revive our baby before 24 weeks.
'We were terrified I wouldn't be able to hold on to our child for another five weeks.
'The doctor came in to do a scan, and remarked on how little amniotic fluid was left.
Then he asked how pregnant I was, and I truthfully replied that I was 19 weeks. He looked at the scan, said the baby was too big for 19 weeks, and added: "No, the dates are wrong, the baby is 21 weeks."
'Eddie looked at me from across the room and I read his mind in an instant.
'I realised that if the doctors wrongly believed I was 21 weeks pregnant, they would fight to save my baby as soon as they thought she was 24 weeks.
'It was the first lie I had ever told in my life, but I knew it could make the difference between life and death.'
From that moment on, doctors believed that Sonja's pregnancy was two weeks further advanced than it really was. But she still faced an agonising three-week wait before they would save the baby if she gave birth.
Record breaker: Amillia at a healthy 6lb 140z snuggled in her mother Sonja's arms.
Sonja says: 'I lasted another nine days before I realised that I had developed an infection. My stomach was hurting and I had a temperature. Doctors had told me they would deliver the baby at the first sign of any infection, so I knew I had to keep quiet. I didn't realise I was risking my life as well.'
Sonja told nurses that she wanted her husband and mother to wash and care for her. She says: 'We rang Mum, and asked her to secretly bring ibuprofen tablets to the hospital, so we could bring my fever down.
'Eddie and Mum sponged me down, so I was cool whenever the nurses took my temperature, and I laughed and joked if anyone came into the room.
'In truth, I was feeling worse and worse. I just had to keep the pretence up until we reached the stage that the doctors would resuscitate the baby. Finally, when I was 21 weeks and six days, I knew I needed treatment.
'A doctor and nurse came into the room, and I said: "Would you save my baby if it was born now?" He looked at the notes, and replied: "You are 23 weeks and six days, so yes."
'I made him promise, and when he did, I said: "You need to examine me. I think I have an infection." The doctor looked at my cervix, and said to the nurse: "Come here quickly and look." She came over, took a look and said: "Oh my God." They could see Amillia's feet sticking out of the birth canal.
Before the legal limit
'The doctor called for help and I was wheeled into the operating room. They gave me a spinal block for an immediate Caesarean, because the doctor didn't want the baby to have the trauma of a natural birth.
'I felt strangely calm and detached. Something in my head just told me the baby was going to be a fighter, that it would be a girl, and she would be OK.
'As the doctor began the Caesarean, he told Eddie and me that they would wait to see if the baby was breathing, or showing signs that she wanted to survive before they decided to act. She was so tiny, he couldn't even find her in my womb - she was trapped in the birth canal.'
Amillia's skin was so fragile that her ear was almost completely torn off as she was lifted clear. One eye was still fused shut, and she was just nine-and-a-half inches long, weighing less than 10oz, the equivalent of two bars of soap. But incredibly, her mouth opened and she attempted to cry.
Sonja says: 'She was put onto a resuscitating table, and the doctor called Eddie over. He said: "The baby is trying to breath. She's moving and she has a good heart rate. What do you want me to do?" Eddie said: "Do what you can to keep her alive."'
As doctors attempted to ventilate the baby, Sonja saw her daughter for just a few seconds. She says: 'They wrapped her up and showed her to me very briefly, but she was so tiny that I didn't see a thing, she was hidden in the folds of the towel.'
It would be another seven days before Sonja got to see her child properly. Having disguised the symptoms of an infection for so long, she was now seriously ill and needed intravenous antibiotics and bed rest.
Doctors who believed that baby was just 24 weeks warned her parents to expect the worst. She was placed in an incubator, with bubble-wrap to keep her warm.
Sonja says: 'Eddie sat by her side, talking to her and just willing her to survive. It sounds incredible, but we both thought she would pull through. We chose the name Amillia because it meant fighter in Latin.
The doctors wouldn't call her by her name, they just said baby. We realised later that was because they didn't think she would survive. At first, they said we should take it hour by hour. Then day by day.'
Against all odds
Against all odds, the baby was still clinging to life a week later when her mother was finally able to see her. Sonja says: 'I had photographs, but nothing could have prepared me for how tiny she really was.
'I was so shocked, because her skin was so translucent that she was see-through. I could see the veins in her arms, hands and legs, and I could actually watch her lungs as they moved.
'Amillia's hand was the size of my thumbnail, and her leg the same length as my little finger.
'I longed to reach out and touch her, just to stroke her and try to take away her pain. All I could do was sit and tell her that Mummy was here, that I loved her, and that everything would be alright.'
'The doctors couldn't believe my confidence. One nurse even suggested psychiatric counselling. But my mother's instinct told me that the baby would survive.
'Whenever new problems came along - they discovered she had suffered a brain bleed - I still knew she would be fine.'
Amillia pulled out her ventilation tube six times, until finally her own lungs shuddered into action.
'I asked friends and family to buy Amillia baby books,' says Sonja, 'and when I wasn't by her side I recorded my own voice, reading her the stories and singing nursery rhymes. The tape played beside her all the time.
'I didn't even see her little face for a month, because it had been covered with tubes. But once the tube went, I saw that she looked so much like Eddie, it made my heart jump. She was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.
'All I wanted was hold her. Doctors told me she had to weigh 12oz before they would let me hold her. The wait was agonising, and I just willed her to put on enough weight to allow me one cuddle.
'When she finally made the target weight, I was beside myself. The nurse lifted her out of the incubator and placed her on my chest, next to my skin. I felt her tiny little heart fluttering, like a baby bird. She almost sighed with contentment. I was so sure she knew I was her mummy.'
The miracle revealed
It was only after a month that doctors began to ask questions about Amillia's age. Sonja says: 'They said Amillia wasn't reacting like a typical 24-week gestation baby. Apparently, those babies rarely move, yet Amillia was always thrashing her arms and legs around.
'I told them the truth, that she had been born at just 21 weeks and six days, and at first they didn't believe me.
'Then I told them to check my IVF records, and the date of my implantation. One of the doctors came back with a chart, which confirmed her age. They started saying it was a miracle - they would never have attempted to save her if they'd known.'
It was several months before she was out of danger. Sonja says: 'Doctors had always referred to her as the baby, but then one day a doctor used her name, and said "when" she comes home instead of "If"' Amillia left hospital with her parents on February 21, 2007, 11 days before her actual due date.
She still needed oxygen and asthma medication to help her fragile lungs, and at the age of four months, she weighed just 4lb.
Sonja says: 'I was terrified when we got her home. She still needed oxygen and seemed so tiny and vulnerable. She slept beside me, so I could check she was OK. Doctors warned she was likely to have developmental problems, but she smiled her first beaming smile about a month after we got her home.
'At 13 months, as clear as anything, Amillia called out "Dadda" - the most wonderful sound I have ever heard. 'She did everything she was supposed to - sitting up, taking her first faltering steps, and now chatting away. She has grown into the little girl from Eddie's dream.'
After a further course of IVF treatment, Sonja is now nine weeks' pregnant. To prevent another premature labour, she is already on bed rest. Meanwhile, she is keenly aware that Amillia's survival has fuelled the row over a 24-week abortion limit.
Sonja says: 'When I look at my happy, laughing baby, and think that she could have been legally aborted and just left to die, it makes me feel physically ill.
'I hope the miracle of her survival shows the whole world that a fighting spirit can overcome incredible odds.
'I would never have an abortion, and I hope my daughter never has one. But I know it is up to individual choice. I just hope that doctors work to lower the age of viability, the stage at which they will try to save a premature baby.
'To watch her laughing in her Daddy's arms and then to think that she could have been a foetus aborted onto a slab, still gasping for breath, is unthinkable.
'I don't want the miracle of Amillia's birth to be overtaken by the abortion debate in America and the UK. But I do want the world to see how cheeky, happy, normal and loved she is, and hopefully this will persuade doctors to give other tiny babies the chance of life.'
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