A month after I graduated college, I glanced down at a positive pregnancy test and a rush of emotions came over me. I had just accepted a full-time role at my dream job, I had a massive amount of student loan debt to pay off and—probably the most notable—I was no longer dating my ex-boyfriend. I went from being a college student who worried about schoolwork to being fully responsible for someone else’s life in a matter of minutes.
featured photo via Laughing Heart Photography at Skyland New Jersey Botanical Gardens
But as unexpected as this pregnancy was, there was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to keep my baby, even if that meant raising her alone. Would it be scary? Yes. Would it be hard? Yes. But as much as these things were true, I knew it would also be so worth it to keep her. I had blind faith that we would be okay.
After I told my ex I was pregnant, he had made the decision to be completely un-involved. He was in no shape to be a parent, and as unfortunate as that was, I agreed and understood. So, I was a single mom from the get-go.
I experienced morning sickness during the first trimester, some sweet and salty cravings here and there. Still, I had a lot of concerns about facing my pregnancy and baby alone: I worried about finances, my career, childcare and not being able to give this child enough as just one parent. Despite my worries, I kept moving forward—and I was so excited to be a mom, even if I was entering this chapter of my life alone.
I continued working my 9 to 5 job in New York City and saved every single penny I could by living at home with my own mom back in New Jersey. When I found out I was having a baby girl at my 20-week ultrasound, I excitedly started filling our house with the cutest little outfits, bows, shoes, a crib, a rocker. I spent my spare time reading parenting blogs and books. I was fully embracing motherhood, and so, so ready to meet my little baby girl.
Toward the middle of my second trimester, my OB-GYN diagnosed my baby with intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR); she was growing inside the womb, but at a much slower rate than she should be, putting her at health problems during pregnancy, birth and beyond. Instantly, my pregnancy was considered “high risk”, and I found myself at the doctor multiple times each week to monitor her progress and health a little closer.
About a month before my due date, I started experiencing stomach pains and nausea. When my mom and I arrived at my appointment, I was told almost immediately to go to the hospital. My baby wasn’t doing well, and I was going to have her tonight or tomorrow. I couldn’t stop crying. Suddenly, every other fear I ever had seemed so small and unimportant. This was life or death.
When Grace made her debut into the world, it sent me and everyone else into fight or flight mode. After quickly cleaning her up, they immediately called for a respiratory specialist. “Her lungs are at risk for failure,” they told me, as the specialist worked fast to get the CPAP machine hooked up to her. I’ll always be so grateful for them.
She was taken right away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). After a few hours of doctor-ordered bed rest, I finally begged my nurse to escort me down to see her. She led me to the NICU room where Grace was, and I lost it. She was perfect, even hooked up to all of the monitors and leads and wires and oxygen and feeding tube. Grace’s NICU nurse showed me how to open up her isolette (the contained crib where premature babies spend most of their time), and her soft little fingers grabbed mine. She was all I had.
I spent almost every waking moment in the NICU with Grace, and it was hard without a partner. The only time I left the hospital was to sleep in my car, or return home for a few hours to get some rest before visiting hours at the NICU started back up in the morning. I sat by her side just holding her hand, closely monitoring her progress. I bothered the nurses with questions and read so many blogs about preemies, learning everything I could about her lungs and what I could do to help. I borrowed handfuls of donated children’s books at the hospital and read them to her.
One of the most difficult and emotional times for me during Grace’s stay in the NICU was breastfeeding. During my pregnancy, I had dreams of cuddling her and sharing those priceless, important bonding moments you always hear about. But since Grace was a preemie with a feeding tube and low oxygen levels, it was definitely a challenge. When I wasn’t reading to Grace or sitting by her side, I was pumping in the hospital’s designated pumping area (read: a closet). The NICU nurses would store my breast milk, and insert it into her feeding tube.
When Grace’s lungs progressed and the feeding tube came off, I was finally able to breastfeed, hold and have skin-to-skin with her for the very first time—a huge milestone for the both of us. About 10 days after that, Grace was ready to come home.
Grace’s time in the NICU was difficult, scary, raw and emotional. Going through it alone as a single parent wasn’t always the easiest, but I truly believe it was these moments that made me so connected to her from the very beginning. I had to speak up, advocate and fight with her—and those trying moments still inspire me to the best mom I can be to her today.