It was the middle of December in 2019 when I got a call from my brother. There was a problem. My niece, who was pregnant with the family’s first great-grandchild, was in the hospital.
The doctors at Good Samaritan Hospital decided the only way to save the baby was to take her via caesarian immediately. At this point in her pregnancy, the baby was barely 25 weeks old. Her due date was sometime in late March 2020.
Baby Violet entered this world kicking and screaming 15 weeks early, weighing in at just 14.8 ounces. That’s less than a plastic bottle of water. At only 10.5 inches from stem to stern, that’s about the size of an ear of corn.
Due to all the uncertainty, we were robbed of celebrating Violet’s birth. No congratulatory phone calls were inundating the proud grandparents. Facebook wasn’t lit up with photos of our beautiful new family member smiling or yawning in her little birth cap and wrapping. My brother wasn’t handing out cigars.
As I rushed to the hospital with my 87-year old mother in tow, we may have been thinking about (and possibly preparing for) the unthinkable, but we certainly weren’t talking about it. We spoke in positives, but they were grounded in reality.
Wondering what was going on, I privately asked my sister-in-law to give it to me straight. She ominously told me that right now, it’s hour-to-hour. Eventually, the milestones would progress to day-to-day, followed by week-to-week, and month-to-month.
Less than 50 percent of babies born under 25 weeks survive. Maybe baby Violet was channeling the great Han Solo from Star Wars fame, who once said during a crisis, “Never tell me the odds!”
With baby Violet in the NICU at Good Sam, not even the grandparents could see her at first, other than from afar. She was too fragile to hold, hug or kiss, even for her mommy and daddy. My niece and her husband were denied the simple joys most first-time parents routinely take for granted.
We all knew it would be a miracle if Violet survived until Christmas. But she did survive. Getting the necessary care and nutrition outside the womb helped her live on. She continued to develop and crossed the finish line from 2019 to 2020. Her progress was now moving into the day-to-day portion of our story.
By the time my brother celebrated his birthday on Jan. 21, baby Violet was up to two pounds (910 grams). She had progressed into the week-to-week portion of her development outside the safety of the womb. Her parents finally got to hold her for the first time after 41 days. By the end of February, baby Violet had gained another pound and we were beginning to focus on the next milestone—when she might be able to come home.
Even with the COVID fears looming in mid-March and her original “birthdate” approaching, the positive news coming out of Good Samaritan was overwhelming. It was no longer a question of “if,” it was now a discussion of “when” Miracle Baby Violet might be coming home. She was progressing well and, most importantly, gaining weight and developing. Instead of touting how many weeks old, she was, we were tracking her milestones by weight.
Of course, she was required to meet certain milestones before she could come home. Her weight needed to reach five pounds (2,000 grams) and she had to be able to nurse or take nourishment from a bottle. It was also required she tolerate sitting upright in a car seat for an hour.
In early April, with the country gripped deep into the COVID pandemic, baby Violet triumphantly left Good Sam after 113 days in the NICU. At just a shade over five pounds, she was now considered a petite newborn. Our miracle baby was home at last.
I can’t begin to tell you the feeling of seeing her for the first time. Following early socially distancing protocols, we did a drive-by (and a walk-up), as my niece held her behind the glass of the front door for us to see. There was joy and sadness on my mother’s face as she eyed her first great-grandchild from afar, longing to pinch those cheeks.
The month of September is designated as “NICU Awareness Month.” Violet was the second smallest baby they ever cared for at the Good Sam NICU, a rare “micro-preemie.” Due to advances in treating babies outside the womb, more preemies are being born today because the true heroes in the NICU can save them.
It took a few more months before I was able to hold her. Our Miracle Baby Violet looked up at me for the first time and smiled. I made a promise in this column, back in September when we first learned of the blessed event, to take this baby to a baseball game when they were old enough. At the time, I was joking about if she would become a Mets or Yankees fan.
Now I have a chance to keep that promise, thanks to the team of NICU physicians and nurses at Good Samaritan in what could only be described as a miracle. A miracle that recently clocked in at 10 pounds, 10 ounces.
A miracle baby named Violet.
Paul DiSclafani, a Massapequa resident, is a Press Club of Long Island award-winning columnist (2018, 2020) and an Anton Media Group contributor since 2016.