September shines light on NICU Awareness Month

Published 6:52 pm Friday, September 22, 2023

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Awareness Month is the time to celebrate families who have faced the challenging NICU journey, the dedicated healthcare professionals working tirelessly in these crucial units, and the profound impact these facilities have on the lives of newborns and their loved ones. 

For Michelle May of Helicon, Cameron Smith of Luverne, SalLee Sasser-Williams of Brantley, and their families, the NICU journey was an unexpected and challenging chapter in their lives.

A Mother’s Journey

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May’s typical pregnancy took an unexpected turn when she went into active labor at just 26 weeks, leading her through a whirlwind of emotions, fear and uncertainty. 

“We were given the choice to try and get to Baptist South before delivery via Life Flight or to transport after delivery,” May said.” A quick ultrasound confirmed we were having a boy. Until then, we hadn’t asked or wanted to know the sex of our child. At 3:26 p.m., our son Brandon was born and swiftly transported to Baptist South in Montgomery for specialized care.”

It may have been an arduous journey, but May fondly recalls the tremendous support from fellow NICU parents.

“Often NICU parents would sleep in the waiting room overnight and hold prayer sessions, seeking everything from understanding to strength to healing,” May said. “We forged deep connections with other NICU families in varying stages of recovery, development, and, in many cases, grieving.”

Brandon, now 22, has faced health challenges stemming from his premature birth, including lower airway disease and asthma, but he has grown into a resilient young adult. 

Chloee’s Strength

Smith’s NICU encounter unfolded during her third pregnancy when her daughter, Chloee, arrived prematurely at 31 weeks and one day. Chloee’s medical challenges included underdeveloped lungs, difficulty gaining weight, and the need for a bili lamp. At birth, Chloee couldn’t suckle, swallow, breathe independently or regulate her body temperature, and spent 30 days in the NICU before finally going home.

“I struggled deeply with leaving her at the hospital when I was discharged,” Smith admitted. “But Chloee was my inspiration. She displayed incredible strength, never experiencing setbacks or weight loss. The love and support from my husband and our older children at home also helped me navigate this challenging time. Being able to call the NICU day or night, provide her code, and inquire about her well-being significantly reduced my anxiety.”

Today, Chloee is a thriving 3-year-old who has met or exceeded all developmental milestones, bringing immense joy to the Smith family.

Twice the Love, Twins!

SalLee Sasser-Williams of Brantley gave birth to rare Monoamniotic twins – babies who shared the same amniotic sac. This unique pregnancy, occurring in only 1% of identical twins and less than 0.1% of all pregnancies, came with uncertainties and challenges, including a hospital admission and doctor-ordered bed rest at 28 weeks, with the goal of reaching 34 weeks for a scheduled cesarean section on Nov. 8. 

However, her twins had other plans, arriving via an emergency delivery on Nov. 4. MyLee weighed 3 pounds, 15 ounces, and MalLee 3 pounds, 9 ounces.

“I think about the journey of our precious girls almost every day and this month and always we celebrate our preemies and the NICU staff who not only cared for our babies but loved them as their own,” Sasser-Williams said. “We continue to pray for those who have been on this journey and those walking it, asking God to guide the doctors, nurses, and staff and to be with these mothers, granting them the strength they need. Leaving my babies at the hospital was the most unbearable moment I’ve ever had, but I was reassured by God and my family that the girls were in the best of hands.”

After 25 days in the NICU, the twins were able to come home. Although MalLee had to return twice for a few days, on Christmas Eve, they were all reunited at home as a family.

During NICU Awareness Month, individuals are encouraged to extend support, compassion, and gratitude to all those who have been touched by the NICU journey, and to renew their commitment to creating a more understanding and supportive community for the families who have faced the NICU with unwavering strength and resilience.