Looking back on the birth of our daughter has me flooded with emotions I’ve buried for over a year now. She turned one year old a few days ago, and only now am I able to edit and share the photos from her time in NICU. I remember looking through the photos I took within a few days of finally getting home from the hospital, but the pain was too recent to relive. But now, over a year later, I’m excited to share Willow’s birth story and hope it gives fellow NICU parents comfort that they’re not alone and that there’s plenty of life ahead outside of the hospital walls.
Our sweet Willow was born on April 12, 2018. I was on bed rest beginning at 28 weeks pregnant for preeclampsia and began having signs of preterm labor. I saw my doctors regularly for Nonstress Tests to monitor the baby’s stress levels during contractions. The doctors weren’t getting very good readings during my visit on April 10, so I was sent to Labor and Delivery at the hospital for continued monitoring. Steven was at work at the time, and I told him that the doctors didn’t seem very concerned and that he should keep working. Of course, things didn't go as planned. I started having regular contractions and was soon in active labor. As the contractions progressed, my blood pressure continued to rise - soon reaching dangerous numbers. I was put on magnesium, and at 4 centimeters dilated was put in an ambulance to be rushed to Johnson City, Tennessee. Steven arrived at the hospital just in time to follow the ambulance to Johnson City Medical Center, a facility that was more equipped to care for a preterm baby.
The staff at Johnson City Medical Center was amazing. Within seconds of arriving at the hospital, I was in a room in Labor and Delivery and speaking with doctors and nurses. At that point, it was after midnight. I was having horrible headaches from preeclampsia and was hot and dizzy from the magnesium, so I was a bit out of it. I remember being in and out of sleep between contractions as my mother-in-law and doula arrived, and the following morning I was put on pitocin to increase the severity of the contractions. The only cure for preeclampsia is delivering the baby (in most cases). My health was worsening, so Willow needed to be born.
My sweet baby girl came into the world at 5:33am on April 12, 2018. Born at 34 weeks, she was big for her gestational age at 5 pounds 11 ounces and 18.5 inches long.
After only a minute or two, she was taken from my arms and brought to the NICU. Due to my sickness from the preeclampsia, I didn’t see her again for 12 hours.
These pictures were taken the first time I saw her again after she was born. She was having some breathing issues, jaundice, lung problems, and couldn’t eat on her own. I was amazed by her strength and couldn’t wait to finally hold her again.
A couple days later, Willow’s lungs had gotten stronger. My blood pressure had greatly improved, so I was discharged from the hospital. I was still pretty sick, and we were well over an hour from home. I hadn’t seen my son in days. He was staying with family. I was worried about how we were going to afford a hotel room to stay near Willow while she was still in the hospital, and I was so depressed and worried about my daughter. That’s when Ronald McDonald House stepped in.
We arrived at the Ronald McDonald house (located in the same parking lot as the hospital) where we were met with open arms. We toured the house and were shown to our clean, spacious, comfortable room where I immediately fell asleep. I remember feeling heartbroken at being separated from my baby girl but so relieved and thankful for this place to call home until Willow was healthy enough to be discharged.
All of our meals and snacks were provided for at the Ronald McDonald House. As a parent of a sick child, who had just had a baby and was sick myself and separated from both of my children, knowing that I had a comfortable bed and good meals waiting for me was so comforting. The staff was so kind, and we met some amazing families also staying at the house - some of who had been there for over a month.
We spent day and night at the NICU with Willow, only leaving to eat and sleep. After about 8 days of NICU life (it was a BLUR), Willow could breathe completely on her own and was just working on eating on her own instead of through a feeding tube before she could go home. She was placed in her own room in the NICU where Steven and I cared for her around the clock, encouraging her to eat all her feedings so she could go home with us.
After 12 days apart from Mommy and Daddy, Landon finally got to meet his baby sister and be reunited with us! I still remember how full my heart was in this moment. And moments later, after 12 days total in the hospital - 9 in NICU - we were walking out those hospital doors and on our way home.
Today, Landon’s “Willow Pillow” is a sweet, healthy, and happy one-year-old. She's the most smiley baby I’ve ever met, and we just love her to pieces. I’m sharing her birth story because it isn’t just her story; it’s just one of the many stories of families who have benefitted from the Ronald McDonald House. If you feel it in your heart to donate to this AMAZING charity that is truly making a difference, please click HERE or sign up for our “Pay What You Can” mini sessions HERE. All proceeds will go to helping families stay close to their little ones at the Southern Appalachian Ronald McDonald House.
Nearly a year after we walked those halls, we returned to the NICU to their celebration of life where we put Willow’s footprints on the hallway.
Read more about premature birth and how March of Dimes is building a brighter future for all moms and babies HERE.