Tomorrow, August 24th, my son Asher Jack will turn two years old. It’s a day that is forever imprinted in my mind for the obvious reasons – it was the day I became a mom, the day I met my son, the day I watched my husband become a father. But it was also the day I gave birth six weeks early and the first day of a 39 day NICU stay for AJ. The day that my blood pressure got so high that I was deemed a stroke risk and hooked up to a magnesium bag that would make me lose the ability to stand, eat on my own, formulate a complete sentence, and most egregiously to me at the time, spend time bonding with my newborn. It was a day of the highest highs and the lowest of lows, and this time of year always brings those feelings bubbling back up to the forefront of my mind.

On August 23rd, I walked into Piedmont hospital for my 34 week appointment and what was supposed to be a routine blood pressure and doppler check. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my blood pressure was high and escalating quickly. My doctor told me I needed to go into triage for monitoring and in a matter of minutes a nurse was pushing me in a wheelchair through the hospital doors. When we were crossing security and the nurse told the guard we were heading to L&D, I was met with a “congratulations!” to which I couldn’t even muster a response, it felt too surreal. I pulled out my phone and frantically texted my husband that he should not head to the airport for the work trip he was scheduled to leave for that afternoon: We could possibly meet AJ much earlier than planned.

After a whirlwind few hours of labwork, steroid shots, ultrasounds, and blood pressure checks, the dreaded diagnosis came back: I did indeed have textbook preeclampsia. ‘Your blood pressure is shit,’ were the exact words from the doctor. AJ was deemed ready to make his earthside debut and that evening I was given pitocin to induce labor. At 7:03am the next morning, my sweet 4lb 5 oz son was delivered and placed on my chest, where he spent about 30 seconds before he was whisked away to the NICU.

Given my condition, I wasn’t able to see AJ for another twenty-four hours. A full day later, once I was able to gain some functioning, both cognitively and physically, I was wheeled to the NICU where I got to truly meet my baby. He was hooked up to a CPAP mask and more wires and tubes than you can imagine and the room was constantly aflurry with beeps, alarms, and nurses moving purposefully. But despite his small size, one thing stuck out to me: he looked so strong. The definition of small but mighty. And over the next month he continuously proved me right.

After six days in the hospital, I was discharged. I felt a flood of different emotions – relief, a longing for my home and cuddles with my dog, and pure sadness that we were leaving the hospital without AJ. No family wants to leave just as two. I felt robbed of the traditional newborn experience.

That September was a complete blur, only made up of days going back and forth to the NICU. Since COVID policies were still in place, we were only permitted to stay and see AJ for four hours a day. We would spend the four hours in the morning with him and then head back home, where I usually couldn’t manage more than a long nap and a shower. The friends and family that dropped off food for us truly kept us alive.

NICU parents quickly learn that you can only take each day as it comes. It isn’t over until it’s over and each day will bring some small victories and small set backs. It is a true test in patience; for those of us that like to plan, it is the ultimate challenge. At around three weeks in the Piedmont NICU, AJ was diagnosed with Pyloric Stenosis, a rare condition that makes feeding impossible. While that diagnosis may seem scary to some, it came as an immense relief to us, as we finally understood why AJ was not gaining weight.  He was quickly transferred to CHOA (Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta) and after 48 hours in their NICU, underwent surgery to correct the defect. There really is no way to describe seeing your 4 lb baby in an incubator, getting wheeled back to undergo anesthesia and surgery. Teddy and I silently paced the garden outside until I got a call that the surgery was over and he was in recovery.

The surgery was a resounding success and just a few days later on October 1st, we brought AJ home. For the first time since his birth, we were finally able to settle into our new roles as mom and dad. That first night I probably got about 30 minutes of sleep – not only due to overnight feedings and soothings, but because I couldn’t take my eyes off of AJ, laying next to me in his bassinet. We had fought so hard to bring him home, and now, he was finally here.

Now two years later, the NICU days feel like a distant memory and just a small part of AJ’s story, but if you had told me that at the time, I wouldn’t have believed you. These days the only remnants of those tough days are manifested in positive ways – even the worrier, I have learned how to not sweat the small stuff. Each milestone hit is not for social media, but a private celebration of how far we’ve come, something that only we can understand. And the cherry on top is that we have the funniest and most resilient son that we get to hang out with every day.

If you or someone you know is or has gone through something similar and you would like to reach out, Liz would love to hear from you. Click here to send her an email.