NICU baby's adorable mermaid costume was the first clothing she ever wore

For one NICU mom, Halloween has a special meaning.
Jessica Wolff and her mermaid daughter, Lily, on Oct. 31, 2018.
Jessica Wolff and her mermaid daughter, Lily, on Oct. 31, 2018.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Alexander Kacala

For Jessica Wolff, October 31 has a special meaning.

Her daughter Lily's first piece of clothing ever was a Halloween costume.

Just barely 2 months old in the NICU at an Illinois hospital, Lily had just switched rooms, and the change was difficult on both mom and baby.

But still, it was Halloween.

"That was a really hard day for me because we were adjusting to being in the general population and it was a lot of sensory overload," Jessica told TODAY Parents. "She was not handling it super well, but Halloween is my favorite holiday and I needed to feel some normalcy. So I made the little mermaid costume the night before and we laid it over her because she couldn't wear clothes still. So that was her first outfit."

2-month-old Lily in her mermaid costume last Halloween.

The road to that Halloween had been a challenging one for Jessica and her husband Patrick.

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After being diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome and having a history of infertility in her family, Jessica knew that they were going to have difficulty conceiving even before they had decided to start having a family.

"We tried for a couple of years on our own and nothing happened. And then I went to a reproductive endocrinologist and it took 12 cycles of medicated injections," she said. "I didn't have to do IVF or IUI, but it was the step before that."

Due to the fertility treatments, Jessica was being heavily monitored. During one six-week scan, she found out she was pregnant with twins. "It was a huge shock," she said.

Patrick, Lily and Jessica.

Jessica's pregnancy went through various complications, including bleeding and a diagnosis of preeclampsia during the first months. Then, tragedy struck.

"We learned my other daughter passed away at 24 weeks when I went in for a scan, and we had to deliver Lily three days later," Jessica explained. "We were not prepared for that. We were terrified. Lily coming super early. She was 504 grams at birth, so a little over a pound. One of the smallest babies that our local NICU had ever been delivered and they prepared us beforehand that she was very unlikely to survive."

Despite the newborn's 5% chance of survival, Lily did, and after 256 days of being in the hospital, the baby got to go home.

"She came home on April 23rd of this year and my husband and I now talk about it like it was our wedding day, just a complete blur," Jessica said. "So it was like a going away party and it was terrifying because we were taking home this medically fragile child. So we had all of these terrifying things waiting for us at home, but we also were leaving our family. The people that truly saved my child's life, saved my life, got us through the worst eight months of our life."

Jessica, 31, was a clinical social worker for an early childhood program but had to resign to care for Lily. Patrick, also 31, is a biologist for the federal government.

14-month-old Lily.

This year for Halloween, Lily will be in quarantine as flu season is fast approaching. But that still doesn't mean she won't be dressing up. She will be a scuba diver this year, incorporating her tracheostomy tube as part of her costume. Mom will again be a shark.

Jessica said she has learned a lot about herself through this experience.

"I think more than anything just there is strength within all of us that you don't know exists until you have to access it," she said. "For me, stepping back and looking at everything we've been through and my husband and I and my entire family, we've been able to kind of persevere through this has been really kind of eye opening."

Since Lily's birth, Jessica has shared her story as contributor to the TODAY Parenting Team, a community where anyone can write posts, ask questions and share advice. Jessica also uses Instagram to share her and Lily's journey, amassing more than 17,000 followers since the beginning of this year.

At times, Jessica uses the social media platform to provide an inside glimpse at some of the more graphic moments of their experience. Other times, she uses it to provide hope to others.

On what she hopes others take away from their story of survival, Jessica said: "I think the biggest thing is we have been able to turn everyone else's worst-case scenario into this thriving life. And it's not fun and it's not easy, but we do it because we love our child and we do it because we love each other. And you do what you have to do for your kid and that is paramount, and that is what we will continue to do forever."