Within the first couple weeks of finding out she was pregnant, Megan Phipps noticed something was off.
Phipps, 24, was born with uterine didelphys, or double uterus, a rare condition where a woman has two cervixes and two uteruses, according to the Mayo Clinic. Phipps has two older children whom she said she carried in her right uterus.
"I've always carried in my right uterus. They always thought my left side wasn't active," Phipps told "Good Morning America."
Phipps went to her regular OBGYN, who referred her to a specialist. In this rare case, she was told she was actually pregnant on both her right and left sides.
In June, Phipps said she was in "excruciating pain" and was admitted to Bryan Health hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska, after she noticed spotting.
"It was very unexpected. Nobody believed me that I knew something was wrong," she said.
Her cervix was slowly shortening, creating a risk of preterm labor, according to her doctors. Phipps said a nurse later realized she was actually in the process of giving birth. At 22 weeks, merely in her second trimester, she was rushed to the delivery area where a neonatologist explained the risks.
"He had said that the girls would have a 1% chance," Phipps recalled.
Dr. Mark Brisso, a neonatologist who helped treat Phipps' babies at Bryan Health's neonatal intensive care unit, said the hospital tries to follow the parent's wishes to resuscitate such premature infants as long as they understand the potential complications associated with severe prematurity. The neonatal intensive care unit at Bryan's Health is a level-three facility, offering specialized critical care for premature babies.
"Because of the special circumstances of mom's pregnancy their chances of survival were less," Brisso said. Many complications could arise due to their extreme prematurity and low birth weight.
According to neonatology specialists, decisions regarding resuscitation of extremely premature infants born between 22-24 weeks gestation require individual considerations and are made according to parents' wishes and infant's clinical condition at birth.
A 2017 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that looked at outcomes of extreme prematurity among more than 4,000 births from 2001 to 2011, found that although overall rates of survival for premature infants born between 22-24 weeks gestation have improved in the more recent years, infants born at less than 23 weeks gestation most often die or survive with long-term impairments.
Among those born at 22 to 23 weeks, death rates were 97–98% with just 1% surviving without neurodevelopmental impairment.
After counseling on neonatal outcomes and expectations at 22 weeks gestation, Phipps decided she wanted all interventions for her daughters if there was even a small chance of survival.
On June 11, Phipps gave birth to a baby girl named Riley, followed by a baby girl named Reece, on June 12. They both weighed under 1 pound.
Twelve days later, Riley passed away.
"I put her ashes in her new urn, and ever since then she stayed with me and Reece up in the NICU until the day that Reece got to come home with us," Phipps said.
Through her grief, Phipps found a support system in the nurses, she said. Due to COVID-19, additional visitors weren't allowed to come to the NICU.
"Basically the only family I had was the nurses, doctors and nurse practitioners that were there helping my baby," she said.
Reece stayed in the hospital for 144 days. During this time, Reece received over a "dozen blood transfusions" and "was on a ventilator for 45 days," according to the hospital. As she grew, her lungs and organs developed and got stronger.
Reece became the youngest baby born at the hospital to survive. Brisso called it a monumental moment for the NICU at Bryan Health, which is the seventh facility in the United States to discharge a baby born under 23 weeks gestation. "It's just another evolution or another step forward for our NICU to know that we can care for and successfully discharge even the smallest and most immature infant."
On Nov. 2, Reece was discharged from the hospital weighing over 8 pounds in time to celebrate the holiday season.
Reece was recently admitted to the hospital again with metapneumovirus. She now has a G-button to dispense food through her stomach and is back on oxygen to help her breathing while she is sick.
By sharing her story, Phipps wants to advocate for other women who have delivered early and let other NICU parents know that miracles can happen.
"I just want mothers to know that just to not give up hope that anything is possible," she said.