Claire Mills is 25. She owns her own home. She works 12-hour nursing shifts in the neonatal intensive care unit at a Texas hospital. She is around babies all day, but had no intentions of being a single mother.
Until she met Jackson, who arrived five weeks early and weighed in at just 3 pounds and 10 ounces. "It was an instant connection I felt with him," she told InsideEdition.com.
Jackson's mother was in distress and had to undergo an emergency cesarean section. Tiny Jackson spent the first weeks of his life in the NICU, where Mills fed him, cared for him, held and soothed him as she fell deeper in love with each passing day.
She knew the infant's mother was in a bad way. Because of medical privacy laws, she can't say much about that. Mills became close to her, as well as to Jackson, and to the child protective services social worker assigned to the baby's case.
The pediatric nurse was shattered to learn that mother and baby had been discharged from the hospital while she was off duty. She broke down in tears and called the social worker, offering to help the struggling mother with whatever she needed.
What she needed, it soon became apparent, was to find another home and mother for Jackson. She called Mills, saying she didn't have the means to give Jackson the upbringing he deserved, and asked if Mills would do that in her stead.
"I really felt like this was a sign from God," Mills said. Even though it ran counter to most everything in her life. Construction on her new home had just finished and "I was so excited about my bachelorette pad," she said.
Mills called her mother and ran the idea by her. What if I adopted a baby? What if I became a single mother?
"She was immediately ecstatic," Mills recounted, laughing. A leftover crib from one of her siblings was still in the house, her mother said. You can use that.
And so it was decided that Mills would begin adoption proceedings to make Jackson her son. Someone mentioned being a foster parent. "I just felt like fostering wasn't permanent," Mills said. "Because I didn't want to give him up."
She brought Jackson home in June. Transitioning from single woman to single mother has been a bumpy ride. "The first week was a lot of crying," she said. "I felt like I was crying every day."
But she built a routine, with her mother as an anchor, and it's been mostly smooth sailing these past months. Mills works four 12-hour shifts each week and Jackson stays with her mother during that time. Mills visits him each day before she heads to the hospital. He comes home with her for the remaining three days of the week.
"He's so happy," she said. "He's so pleasant." At age 4 months, Jackson is in perfect health, aside from a small cold, and just had cereal introduced to his diet of formula.
He's packed on some pounds and come a very long way from that rumpled-looking preemie who captured Mills' heart. "I was a preemie as well," she said. And that influenced her decision to become a pediatric nurse in an intensive care unit.
It's not something every medical profession is equipped for. Helpless infants are not supposed to be born addicted to drugs, or fighting for their lives from the moment they enter the world.
"It's not normal to see something that's supposed to be happy turn out to be so bad," she said. But she loves being around those babies, and being able to help, in matters small and large.
And it was that circumstance that gave her Jackson.
"I can't remember what my routine was like before him," she said.