Justin Lester chokes back tears as he describes the terrifying moments after his second daughter was born.
With the family finally all together in their Johnsonville home, the Wellington city councillor gently strokes Harriet's back as she snoozes contentedly on her mum's chest - looking the size of a baby just a few weeks old, not 14 weeks.
Harriet was whisked away to Wellington Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit moments after she was born two months early on November 4.
After accompanying the vulnerable 1.8 kilogram baby, Mr Lester returned to his wife, Liz, only to discover she'd been taken to surgery after losing too much blood.
The two events combined were terrifying, and for a few moments he was worried he'd be a single dad to Harriet and her big sister, Madeleine, 2.
"With Harriet it was pretty scary . . . but with Liz, it was pretty upsetting. Essentially she was pretty close to dying."
Now all home and with Harriet weighing in at 4kg - and starting to show the family's stubborn trait - the couple are full of praise for the staff who helped them through the first two months.
"I just cannot say thank you enough to those lovely, lovely people," Mrs Lester said.
"We never for a moment felt that we couldn't trust them."
Mrs Lester's waters broke at 30 weeks and she was in hospital until Harriet was born at 33 weeks.
After Harriet arrived, she was whisked off and Mrs Lester didn't get to see her until later that night when she was out of surgery.
"They wheeled me in in a bed that night and I reached my hand in and touched her back for five minutes, which is not that nice of course - you want a cuddle, you want to have a baby with you."
That was the start of a "limbo" life between hospital and home as Harriet gained strength and fought an E. coli infection. She came home four weeks later but was back in hospital with a cold in days - ending up on life support for two more weeks.
"We were just so lucky that we got in there [to hospital]. She just crashed so quickly. It wasn't even back to square one - it was worse than square one."
Mr Lester agreed: "She was fighting, but at the same time, without all the assistance she was getting she wasn't going to survive."
The unit sees up to 1000 babies a year, with up to 40 on the ward at any one time.
Neonatal nurse unit manager Rosemary Escott said babies stayed from 24 hours to 4-6 months. Parents could be overwhelmed.
"The role requires parents to be involved and to take each day at a time. We tell them it's their job to focus on the baby and it's our job to worry about everything else."
- The Dominion Post
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