A set of twins born 87 days apart have already made world history.
As Maria Jones-Elliott hugs her two babies, she hails them as "little miracles".
Maria went into labour four months early, giving birth to Amy – but Katie did not arrive until three months later.
Their incredible births will now become a Guinness World Record for the "longest interval between the birth of twins". The previous record is 84 days.
Doctors have told Maria and husband Chris they have achieved the medical equivalent of winning the lottery, with both girls surviving and healthy.
Maria, who has two other children, told how she was torn between joy and worry after Amy’s dangerously early arrival as Katie stayed in her womb, clinging to existence.
"I call the girls our little miracles," she said. "As I held Amy for the first time I stroked my bump and prayed to God. I just wanted my girls to be together and safe and well.
Usually you experience nothing but joy at the birth of a new baby, but it was so achingly bitter-sweet as both of their lives hung in the balance.
Amy was fighting for life in an incubator and Katie was struggling to survive in my womb. It was the hardest three months of our lives. But Chris kept saying, "Where there’s life there’s hope."
Family: Amy and Kate, With Mum Maria, Dad, Chris, Sister Olivia and Brother Jack Patrick Browne
Maria, 34, and Chris – a psychiatric nurse at the hospital where the babies were born – had been thrilled to discover she was expecting twin girls at her first scan at seven weeks. Maria said: "I always felt I was going to have twins – even when I found out I was pregnant Chris said "that’ll be twins, then" as they run in the family.
"During the scan I was looking at the screen and because I’d had two other pregnancies I expected to see a round circle with a tiny blob – but this time there was a line going through it.
I said, "What’s the line?" and the nurse said, "Oh, congratulations. It looks like twins."
The pregnancy went smoothly until Maria got to 23 weeks and five days.
She said: "I felt unwell at work with extreme pressure on my abdomen but I thought that must be normal as I was having twins. But I was worried enough to get an appointment with my GP who told me to go straight to hospital.
To my horror when I got there just hours later my waters broke. I was immediately admitted."
Maria was then dealt the devastating blow of being told that she was in labour and both her babies could die. She said: "The doctors told me there was very little hope of them surviving as they were so premature.
I thank God Chris was by my side. I was sobbing and in shock but I refused to give up. I kept saying, "This is not going to happen – I’m not going to lose them."
Scan: Kate and Amy Patrick Browne
"I willed my babies to fight for life. I prayed to God, day and night, asking him for a miracle."
After a gruelling two days of labour at Waterford Regional Hospital in Ireland Amy was born at exactly 24 weeks – almost four months before her due date of September 21 last year.
At just 1lb 3oz, she was dangerously small. Maria said: "Amy was rushed to intensive care. I was exhausted but it wasn’t over – there was another child and so I had to focus."
But Maria’s contractions finished. She said: "They stopped dead – it was like I’d never even given birth.
The doctors said they had never seen anything like it. It should have been a joyful time but it was horrific. I had one baby in intensive care and one inside me, clinging to life.
They tried to induce me the next day but nothing happened. Eventually Chris and I said enough is enough. Let nature take its course." Then came a seemingly endless wait.
Maria said: "I made up my mind I wouldn’t leave hospital unless it was with both my girls. Even if it meant that I would have to lie in bed for the full three months I had left of my pregnancy – I would do whatever it took."
As well as the desperate worry over unborn Katie, there was still concern for tiny Amy. It was four days before Maria could even see her.
Maria said: "I burst into tears when I saw her in the incubator – she was just so, so tiny and vulnerable. She was covered in tubes. All I could see was her mass of black hair.
I touched my bump and made the vow I would get Katie out safe and well and the girls would be together." Maria visited Amy in intensive care every day, while praying that Katie would survive in her womb.
She says: "I couldn’t enjoy being a new mother at all and continuing on with a pregnancy not knowing which way it was going to go was so, so hard. But I steeled myself. I was given a task to do and I was going to do it."
Incubator: Amy at one day old Patrick Browne It was five weeks before Maria was allowed to hold Amy.
Maria says: "She was so tiny I could barely feel her on my chest. She loved it. Her heartbeat stabilised as I held her. I couldn’t even speak. I kissed her head and held her.
"Her little feet rested on the top of my bump. I remember stroking my bump at the same time, hoping for a miracle.
Katie immediately reacted. She kicked and started moving, as if she knew. The second time I held Amy the following day she turned and put her head towards her sister inside the womb."
Every day Maria was on a knife edge waiting for the second twin to arrive safely. "I knew I could go into labour at any moment," she said.
"The doctors said we just had to wait but every day was a bonus. I viewed it as a mission to take the pregnancy on as far as I possibly could. There was no room for negative thoughts. And as the weeks passed the tiny life growing inside me got stronger."
Maria was finally induced on August 27 at 36 weeks and three days, after doctors decided it was safe. She gave birth to Katie, who weighed 5lbs 10oz, after just over an hour.
She said: "When they put Katie in my arms she smiled at me and the nurse said "she’s fine." We both cried.
What immediately struck us was that Amy takes after my side of the family and Katie takes after Chris’s.
Two hours later we reunited the twins. Amy was still in her incubator and they put Katie’s cot beside it.
The nurse took Katie and put her in the incubator, facing her sister as they slept and Amy immediately smiled. There was no doubt that they recognised each other."
Maria of Glenmore, Co Kilkenny, said: "It caused a stir. Their certificates say, "Amy Elliott, Twin One, date of birth 1 June and Katie Elliott, Twin Two, date of birth 27 August’."
Katie was taken home at five days old and Amy followed her seven weeks later on October 16, joining Chris and Maria’s two other children – Olivia, 13, and Jack, 11.
Chris said: "I never lost hope even in the darkest moments. The medical team did an incredible job."
Maria added: "I’m so honoured to have had these two girls that are so special. For all of us to be here, could I be any luckier?"
Guinness World Records spokesman Damian Field said: "If the claim of 87 days between the birth of the twins is substantiated they will break the world record."
The existing record is held by Peggy Lynn of Pennsylvania, with a gap of 84 days between births.