Prematurity Awareness: Becoming a Mom in the NICU

prematurity awareness
photo by Jana Richter from Getty Images

My whole life I dreamt of the day I would become a mom. After a lengthy and tiring struggle with infertility, we finally found out we were expecting. I was having a problem-free pregnancy; not even any morning sickness. Fast forward to the end of week 26 and everything changed.

I woke up Friday morning to lower abdominal pains, and my doctor told me to go ahead and head down to labor and delivery. The doctors told me everything was normal, so they sent me home. This being my first pregnancy, I trusted their opinion and went home. I spent all of Saturday watching movies, taking it easy, and attempting to breathe through the pain that still persisted. 

Sunday morning the pain turned into spotting, so we went back to the hospital. Upon arrival the nurse put the monitor on my stomach and, once again, everything appeared fine with baby. In order to lessen my worry, the doctor suggested to check my cervix since I was there. The next moments turned my entire pregnancy and life upside down. 

The nurse put her glove on and went to check my dilation when her face went blank.

She calmly said, “You won’t be leaving the hospital and will be delivering your baby today.”

We were in shock; my husband asked if he misheard what she said. She let my husband know he heard her correctly and that they would do everything they could to keep the baby in as long as possible, but I was already 10cm dilated and she felt the baby’s feet.

The next couple hours were a blur, but family and friends came to be with us at the hospital and at 4:22pm Braulio Leonardo (Leo) was born 13 weeks early weighing in at 2 lbs 13 ozs and 15 ½ inches long. 

prematurity awareness NICUWhen I was taken into his NICU room later that night for the first time I saw his tiny little body inside this little “tent”; I was overwhelmed with emotions. I had been dreaming of the day I’d hold my newborn baby, and there I was only able to lay my hand on my precious baby and comfort him with only my touch and voice.

In that moment I realized we had a long journey ahead of us and I just needed to place my trust in God that he would help guide us through every twist and turn. This room, the machines, the noises, and smells would all become my second home over the next 80 days.

I was now part of the Preemie Mom group. I would learn more than I wanted to know about medical terms and reading the numbers on all the machines. 

If you ask any person who has had a preemie they will tell you that life in the NICU is full of many highs and lows.

We learned early on to celebrate any victory, no matter how small. I spent the next 7 weeks during my maternity leave going to the hospital every day.

We definitely had a little fighter on our hands. God constantly reminded us that he was in control of every situation.

One of the things I love sharing as part of Leo’s story is the power of prayer. When the doctors and nurses would do their rounds I was able to listen to them and their conversation about Leo. Many times they faced problems they just couldn’t quite figure out. They would leave stumped, or as one doctor described it, “Leo likes to keep us thinking”. After they left, I would go to our friends and family to ask them to pray specifically for the problem at hand. We were blessed to have so many people lifting us in prayer. It never failed that when the doctors did their rounds the problem had corrected itself.   

There were so many times when I wanted to be angry about my pregnancy getting cut so short. I felt as if I had been robbed of so many things. I didn’t get to take maternity photos; I didn’t get a normal baby shower; I didn’t get the big uncomfortable belly. However, at the end of the day I had my Leo.  

world prematurity dayPremature births affect many families and sometimes their journeys produce different outcomes or longer hospital stays. The one thing that is always the same in every preemie is that they are born a fighter.

We now how a very independent, strong-willed, and energetic son. It is because of the doctors and nurses at Blank Children’s Hospital that we made it through our hardest days. The love and support from all our family and friends was priceless.

Now I don’t feel that I was robbed of anything. Our Leo was given an extra special story, and our family was given the purpose of telling it.

This post was originally written in 2017 and updated in 2023. 

Nativity Vallejo is a mother to her son Leo and two stepchildren Danny and Hallie. She has been married to her husband Xavier for 8 years. She is the ever-tired, ever-blessed “Nonny” to her daycare children that she’s cared for for nearly 5 years. When she is not hosting yet another large family gathering, she likes to get away with her husband for some salsa dancing. She serves on the Events Committee for Des Moines Moms Blog. She lives in Urbandale where her cat Milo is always escaping from their house, so if you see him let her know. Follow her adventures on instagram: @nmvallejo09.


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