Sydney mum Sophie Smith’s house is adorned with family photos of her three baby sons Henry, Jasper and Evan.
Pictures of their father Ash also light up the home.
‘They’re all still with us every day,’ says Sophie, 48, cheerfully.
Despite losing her precious triplets, one by one, and the subsequent death of her soulmate husband from a brain tumour, astonishingly, Sophie still counts her blessings.
‘That I had them in my life is truly wonderful,’ nods Sophie. The glass is always half full for this inspirational woman, who’s refused to let repeated family tragedies destroy her.
Sophie uses the precious memory of her sons to propel her to do more for the charity she’s founded in their honour, the Running For Premature Babies foundation.
‘So far, we’ve raised three million dollars for lifesaving neonatal equipment,’ she says with pride.
She credits her late husband Ash, who died two years ago, aged 43, for giving her the motivation to transform their loss into a chance to make it easier for other babies to survive.
‘Our first date was the night of the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony in 2000,’ she recalls. Smitten with each other from the outset, they married in 2005.
‘Six months later I was pregnant with our triplets,’ Sophie says. ‘We thought that we were the luckiest people on earth!’
Initially, the pregnancy went well – then at just 21 weeks, ‘my waters broke. I was told I’d soon go into labour, and my babies would die. I can’t begin to describe the horror of being told that,’ Sophie explains. Five days later, Henry was born.
‘He lived for just one hour,’ she says softly. ‘I got to hold him and talk to him, and the time we had with him is the most precious memory. He spent his whole life in my arms and knew only love.’
She adds fondly: ‘It was Ash who helped make it so special. He was so strong, positive and supportive.’ But she still had two more babies to think of.
‘They both made it to 24 weeks – so they had a 50 per cent chance of survival,’ she recalls. ‘I truly believed Evan and Jasper had made it’.
Hours later, the two arrived, ‘and though they were so tiny, we were so hopeful they’d pull through,’ she recalls.
But at 10 days, Evan had a brain haemorrhage. ‘We were told we should release him from his life support. The first time I held Evan was when he died. But I’m so grateful I was able to hold him, to hold each of my babies when they died.’
Jasper, meanwhile, fought on. ‘I believed he would be our survivor. He did so well. When he grew to weigh one kilo, Ash brought me a kilo of chocolate to celebrate!’ she smiles. ‘We were celebrating little milestones, like the day he opened his eyes.’
But after 58 days, the tiny baby succumbed to a lung infection, and he too, faded away.
‘Doctors did everything possible to save them all, but 12 years ago, the technology wasn’t there,’ she says. ‘If Jasper had been born today, he’d have survived.’
That is why Sophie has done everything in her power to keep raising money for better neonatal equipment for others.
‘When I was feeling so lost, after the boys were gone, Ash made me focus on the future. He was such a huge support in our grief. He said: “Let’s run a marathon and raise money for neonatal equipment.”’
Despite their sorrow, they threw themselves into preparing for a marathon, recruiting friends to run with them.
In 2008, 18 months after the triplets had died, their son Owen was born.
‘Ash and I were overjoyed,’ she recalls. But then Ash, who’d begun having headaches, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. He was given a year to live. Brain surgery performed by renowned specialist Charlie Teo saw the tumour removed, and in December 2010, the couple had another son, Harvey.
‘I felt so blessed!’ Sophie says. ‘Of course, I knew Ash’s cancer could return, but I didn’t focus on this.’
But five years after his initial diagnosis, Ash got sick again, and died in February 2016.
‘He died at home, in my arms,’ she says.
Sophie has now written a book, Sophie’s Boys, (co-authored by Deborah Fitzgerald) dedicated to her family.
‘Despite the sadness, there’s a lot to feel positive about. My life is richer for having shared Ash’s life, and for being parents to all five of our children. ‘
To donate or run with Sophie, visit runningforprematurebabies.com.