After trying to get pregnant for over a year, my husband and I were thrilled to discover we were expecting. Unfortunately, complications ensued during my pregnancy, and I was monitored on a weekly basis by my OB/GYN. During a visit while I was 28 weeks along, my baby’s heartbeat kept dipping on the monitor, and I was sent to Greenwich Hospital for further monitoring. I never made it home.
The doctors determined that our baby would be coming sooner rather than later and that the baby’s best chance of survival would be at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital. After being transferred via ambulance, I found myself in the care of some of the top physicians on the East Coast.
After loading me up with medicine to protect the baby, our sweet, beautiful little girl Jessie Rose was born via emergency C-Section at 29 weeks gestation. She weighed just under 2 pounds and was barely more than a foot long.
In the immediate aftermath, I was devastated and in shock. Our beautiful girl, the one we prayed for, loved, and poured all of our hope into, was here and alive, but painfully early. She was in the best possible place for her survival; but the reality of seeing your baby girl with tubes and wires coming out of her tiny body is nothing anyone can prepare you for.
Two days after her birth, we had a visit from Gabby, a social worker at the hospital. I was an emotional mess; my discharge date was rapidly approaching, and the thought of leaving the hospital (and leaving her behind) was more than my heart could bear. We lived about two hours away, and there was no way I could handle making a 4 hour round trip every day. That’s when Gabby offered a solution: maybe we could stay at Ronald McDonald House (RMH).
We checked out of the hospital on a Sunday morning and checked right in to RMH. Sean, one of the volunteers, checked us in, giving us a tour of the house and telling us about things we’d needed to know. It was a haze to me; I’d just left my baby in the hospital, and I couldn’t breathe without crying.
In the 77 days that followed, RMH became a second home. At first, it was a place that was close enough to the hospital for me to take a break and rest (for true sleep was fleeting). As time progressed, it was a place where I could have a meal with people who came to be like family. Meeting others who were on a similar (or completely different) journey, but like us were far from home, allowed me to commiserate with the few people who could really understand what it felt like to be in our situation.
From shuttle services to yoga lessons, super hero costumes to hot dog Wednesdays, stocked pantries and ice pops in the freezer to Thanksgiving-in-August, the programs offered by RMH helped to both distract from the monotony of the NICU and unite the guests in shared activities. The amenities provided by RMH (showers; TV; laundry; fridge/freezer/cooking facilities) took those worries away from me and allowed me to focus on what was important: being at my daughter’s side every day.
During our stay, I got to know many different and wonderful people from all over the world. Many nights, after a long and draining day, I’d come back to RMH and inevitably find another family in the kitchen/dining area. We’d talk about our days, share pictures, and laugh at some of the absurdity we’d experienced. We’d offer a shoulder when someone needed to let tears flow. And we understood each other on a level that others, no matter how well-meaning, could never really know.
The staff at RMH was amazing. I don’t know how they can manage to help people who are, more than likely, experiencing some of the toughest times in their life, every single day! Yet there was always a positive vibe coming from employees and volunteers alike. Wendy’s down-to-Earth heart was visible on her sleeve every time you talked to her, and Carly and Tanya were always a welcome and friendly sight after a long day at the hospital. All of the people we met who worked for RMH clearly did it out of love and it showed!
Our little family of 3 has now been home for 6 weeks, and I am eternally grateful for all of those who helped us get here; the doctors who saved me, the doctors and nurses in the NICU (and Michelle and Amy from March of Dimes and Lactation) who helped us through our journey, and the people of Ronald McDonald House of Connecticut who made it possible for my husband and I to stay right by our beautiful little girl. We will be forever in your debt, and you will be forever in our prayers.
Rhea, Will, and little Jessie Rose.