(CNN)For expectant parents Shakina Rajendram and Kevin Nadarajah, the doctor's words were both definitive and devastating: Their twins were not "viable."
"Even in that moment, as I was hearing those words come out of the doctor's mouth, I could still feel the babies very much alive within me. And so for me, I just wasn't able to comprehend how babies who felt very much alive within me could not be viable," Rajendram recalled.
Still, she knew that there was no way she would be able to carry to term. She had begun bleeding, and the doctor said she would give birth soon. The parents-to-be were told that they would be able to hold their babies but that they would not be resuscitated, as they were too premature.
Rajendram, 35, and Nadarajah, 37, had married and settled in Ajax, Ontario, about 35 miles east of Toronto, to start a family. They had conceived once before, but the pregnancy was ectopic -- outside the uterus -- and ended after a few months.
As crushing as the doctor's news was, Nadarajah said, they both refused to believe their babies would not make it. And so they scoured the Internet, finding information that both alarmed and encouraged them. The babies were at just 21 weeks and five days gestation; to have a chance, they would need to stay in the womb a day and a half longer, and Rajendram would have to go to a specialized hospital that could treat "micropreemies."
The earlier a baby is born, the higher the risk of death or serious disability, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Babies born preterm, before 37 weeks gestation, can have breathing issues, digestive problems and brain bleeds. Development challenges and delays can also last a lifetime.
The problems can be especially severe for micropreemies, those born before 26 weeks gestation who weigh less than 26 ounces.
Research has found that infants born at 22 weeks who get active medical treatment have survival rates of 25% to 50%, according to a 2019 study.
Rajendram and Nadarajah requested a transfer to Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, one of a limited number of medical centers in North America that provides resuscitation and active care at 22 weeks gestation.
Then, they say, they "prayed hard," with Rajendram determined to keep the babies inside her just a few hours longer.
Just one hour after midnight on March 4, 2022, at 22 weeks gestation, Adiah Laelynn Nadarajah was born weighing under 12 ounces. Her brother, Adrial Luka Nadarajah, joined her 23 minutes later, weighing not quite 15 ounces.