Looking at the bouncing Stojcevski triplets, it’s difficult to imagine the struggles their parents faced bringing them into the world.
At 17, mum Ayse Stojcevski battled severe endometriosis and was told she may never have children.
Years later, her chances of conceiving were further dashed when her husband, Bob, was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2015.
But the Stojcevskis beat near impossible odds to naturally conceive triplets.
Incorrectly told by doctors in Kazakhstan — where her husband was attending conferences — she had miscarried at five weeks, Mrs Stojcevski struggled on through a difficult and dangerous pregnancy and gave birth to Derya, Azra and Sofija six weeks premature.
“I was convinced I was still pregnant, I just felt different,” she said.
“I went to a different doctor ... and she congratulated us and said ‘you are pregnant, sorry about the mix-up, and it’s actually identical twins’.”
Minutes later, doctors were gathered around the ultrasound screen muttering in Russian and laughing, leaving the Stojcevkis utterly perplexed.
“They called in more senior doctors who told us there were actually three babies in there,” she said.
“I was having an anxiety attack thinking ‘what do you mean I’m having three babies?’
“I was just told I had a miscarriage and now I’m being told it’s triplets.”
Mrs Stojcevski got on a flight back to Melbourne where doctors confirmed the against-all-odds triplets.
Three months in to the tumultuous pregnancy, Mrs Stojcevski was categorised by the Royal Women’s Hospital as a high-risk pregnancy when one of the triplets, Azra, failed to thrive in the womb.
“I was getting checks every two weeks at first, then every week, then every two or three days,” she said.
“We were told we’d probably only make 24 weeks and lots of doctors said we’d be lucky to go home with three babies; we’d be lucky to even go home with one.”
And the growing family was dealt another blow when, 24 weeks into the pregnancy, Mr Stojcevski was told his cancer had returned.
The couple spent their days going between appointments at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Royal Women’s.
That’s when St Kilda Mums stepped in to help them deal with “the hardest time” in their lives.
“We were both unemployed; Bob obviously had to leave work and I was on bed rest and couldn’t walk around,” Mrs Stojcevski said.
“A social worker from the Caroline Chisholm Society contacted St Kilda Mums, who donated cots, a pram, car seats, clothes, blankets, change tables — whatever you can think of for babies, they gave it to us.
“There were many things we couldn’t manage on our own; we were struggling financially and had limited stuff we could get from friends and family, but with their help it was one less thing we needed to stress about.
“They really, really helped us in the hardest time of our lives.”
Mrs Stojcevski said the triple pram provided by the St Kilda-based charity was crucial to her mental wellbeing.
“I need to be able to go out on my own and I can’t push two prams.
“It still requires a lot of effort but I can take the girls to the park and their doctors’ appointments because of this triple pram,” she said.
“(Triple prams) are about $2000 new and $1000 second-hand and I cannot afford that; I wouldn’t have one still if (St Kilda Mums) hadn’t given one to me.
“I don’t know how it would be without a triple pram — it would be hell.”
Despite two of the girls weighing 1.9kg each at birth and little Azra just 1.5kg, the “miracle babies”, who have just celebrated their first birthdays, are now thriving and their dad is back in remission again.
“The girls are growing up and they’re all happy, cheeky little characters,” Mrs Stojcevski said.
“Bob’s chemo finished a couple of weeks after the girls were born and he’s almost been a year clear of cancer.
“Slowly, slowly we’re just trying to get back into everything.”
Story: Jordy Atkinson, Port Phillip Leader August 29, 2017
Photo: Bob and Ayse Stojcevski with their triplets Derya, Sofija and Azra. Picture: Josie Hayden