real life

These pictures of premature babies are so, so beautiful and uplifting.

“Just because they were born early doesn’t mean they cannot do whatever they want when they grow up in life.”

Twice a day, Michele Forth drives 72 kilometres to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to visit her 4-month-old baby. She is a 2.5kg fighter in pink pyjamas who Michele affectionately calls “Miss Madilyn.”

Nurse Adrianna “Adri” Zimmerman, wearing purple scrubs and a warm smile, hands Madilyn to her father who is quickly surrounded by his wife and two young sons.

Shane Forth, Madilyn’s dad says, “She fights harder than any adult that I know, let alone a tiny baby” as he strokes his daughter’s delicate left foot in his hand.

“We always talk about how feisty this one is or how sweet this one is,” Adrianna says.

Bedside chatting between nurses and parents took on a whole new life with a photo series called “From the NICU to the Moon”. The pictures imagine what the babies dream about as they wiggle and smile in their sleep, and what they might become someday. It also aims to educate parents about safe sleep for newborns.

Madilyn as a chef.

The nurses and hospital communications team imagined Madilyn as a physician, surrounded by stethoscopes and Band-Aids. The photo series also features Brentley- the future astronaut, Arianna- the future chef, Sofia- the ballerina, and Carolina as an Olympian.

Madilyn was born two months early and has what is called vacterl association (a collection of birth defects), resulting in multiple surgeries and months in the NICU. Adrianna remembers Madilyn's arrival in the NICU like it was her own child.

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"I think she's strong and she's definitely got the will to see whatever it is through to the end, so, if that happens to be med school in a few years, I would not be surprised," says Adrianna. "It's funny how much personality these babies have."

And Mum is happy with the depiction. "Even though Miss Madilyn does have a whole bunch of obstacles ahead of her right now," she says, "she can do amazing things and she can aspire to be anything that she wants to be."

Carolina as an Olympian

Carolina, the tiny Olympian, is “a strong-willed patient who has a lot of heart and she is letting nothing hold her back," says Jessica Wright, a NICU Nurse with 10 years of experience.

"Just because they were born early doesn't mean they cannot do whatever they want when they grow up in life," Jessica says.

True to her athletic depiction, Carolina is hardly ever still in her crib. Gazing up at the green alligator and orange lion of her soother, Carolina playfully kicks her feet back and forth, her bright eyes fixed on Jessica.

"What are you thinking about?" Jessica asks, her hand on Carolina's blue and pink ensemble, "You tell 'em about it, wiggle worm."

Sofia, the ballerina in the photo series, is also on the move. Since she was photographed, Sofia was able to leave the NICU and go home with her parents, Fred and Dawnyale "Dawny" Hill.

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In the pale orange light of a sunset, Fred and Dawny cradle their daughter in their arms on the family's front balcony. It's Sofia's first time outside on the balcony and her longest stint outside in the evening since she went home. "What do you think? What do you think?" Fred asks his daughter, holding her hand. "Interesting, huh?"

This future astronaut is now at home with his family.

Sofia spent 157 days, 20 hours, and 6 total minutes in NICUs. Respiratory and reflux issues keep this 5 1/2-month-old on an oxygen tank and feeding tube.

"She has some accessories, as we like to refer to them as," says Fred, about the oxygen tank and tubes. "They kind of travel with her."

But in the "NICU to the Moon" photos, Sofia left all the tubes behind for the stage and curtains. "It made her seem normal. The way the pictures kind of erased all of the cords. All of the tubes," says Fred of his daughter. "I saw the innocence of Sofia as opposed to my child in the NICU."

"She's got a family full of dancers on both sides so we definitely are excited to see Miss Sofia the ballerina come about," Dawny says with a laugh. "She'll be dancing around."

But for now, Fred and Dawny cherish moments with Sofia at home, like their evening bedtime routine. Fred carries Sofia on his chest while Dawny wheels the oxygen tank and other cords towards the bedroom. "Good holding your head, Sofia. Look at you," applauds Dawny.

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Sofia as a ballerina.

As they gently place her on her back in her crib, Sofia rubs her eyes.

"Hey, you had a good day. You had a good day, right? Are you sleepy?" asks her father, the machine beeping and sighing next to the crib.

"Ready? Time to pray," Fred says, kneeling over the crib next to his wife. They pray for every organ in their daughter's body and give thanks to the doctors who helped bring her home.

"We will be keeping up our bedtime routine," Dawny says, looking at her husband. "Until she can start saying her prayers," he answers.

"Any child that has to go through that much opposition from day one, there's got to be something great for them to accomplish out of life, so my hope is that she accomplishes exactly what she was sent here to do," Fred says.

And with that, the bedroom light switches off and one more former NICU baby gets to dream of her future in her own crib.

Have you had a premature baby? What was the experience like?

Like this? Try these:

Hope and beauty, in one short video.

Holding my premature son for the very first time.

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