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Jace's Journey: From Premature Birth to a Year of Triumph

The McCoy Family

In this Q&A with Chelsea McCoy, we follow the remarkable journey of a family, from the dreams of parenthood to the premature birth of their son, Jace. Chelsea shares her family's NICU experience at Northside Hospital, and provides advice for parents facing similar challenges. She also highlights the vital role of the Miracle Babies Fund in supporting families through financial assistance during these trying times.


Q: Can you tell us a bit about your family, your pregnancy journey, and Jace coming into this world?

Jason and I met in college and moved to Georgia as soon as we got married. We have been married for six years with our German Shepherd, Koba. It was our plan to wait 5 years before having a baby so we could “be prepared”- or as prepared as possible. We planned and prayed for our sweet baby and were overjoyed when we found out we were pregnant. No amount of planning and preparation can prepare parents for their baby being in the NICU.

With the exception of the first few weeks of morning sickness, I had a relatively easy pregnancy. I (safely) worked out, walked daily, and ate decently healthy throughout my entire pregnancy. Every appointment, test, and blood work was completely normal. Late into my second trimester, fluid was detected on Jace’s kidneys. This was the only abnormality detected and doctors said it will likely resolve by birth (assuming birth was at 40 weeks) and not to worry. I never had any major “red flags” or any indication that my pregnancy would come to a very abrupt end. 

 We had our final appointment at 31 weeks. I had some swelling at this time, but nothing that was abnormal for the third trimester. After measuring my belly, I was rushed into an ultrasound because my measurements were closer to 36 weeks instead of 31. They wanted to check fluid levels and found everything was fine. The ultrasound tech even joked that he was head down and “ready to launch.” 

I felt like something was off with my body for a few days prior. However, since we had just gone to the doctor and everything checked out, I ignored my body’s signs. Many of the things I was experiencing were normal pregnancy pains. With this being my first pregnancy, there was no reason to take these “pregnancy pains” as early indicators of labor. 

At 32 weeks, I had more obvious signs of labor and reached out to my doctor. She suggested stopping by the hospital to get checked. With my baby shower being that afternoon, I asked if I could go to the hospital afterwards. She said, “unless anything dramatic happens” that would be just fine. My water broke within an hour of that call. We threw some clothes in a gym bag and headed to the hospital. 

By the time I was admitted, there was no doubt in my mind that I was not leaving that hospital without having my baby. The doctors made every effort to slow labor so Jace could get at least one steroid shot for his lungs, but I labored through everything. Sweet boy insisted on making his big debut just a few hours later!

Q: Did Jace spend time in the NICU? How would you describe your experience at Northside?

Yes. Jace spent about 5 weeks in the NICU. In the first 2 weeks, he was slowly weaned off oxygen and received a few days of phototherapy to help his bilirubin levels. Then, he struggled putting weight on when he graduated from an incubator to an open bed. By far his biggest struggle was eating. A feeding therapist came and helped get him a bottle that worked for him and tried different feeding positions. We would change bottles or positions and he would finish a few bottles, then none for another day or two.  It constantly felt like we would take three steps forward and two steps back. Jace had several setbacks in the NICU and since then, but it’s important to celebrate every little accomplishment. 

When I think about my experience as a whole, the thing that stands out to me is the incredible staff at Northside. The nurses and doctors did such an amazing job explaining everything so we never felt in the dark. They taught us the differences of caring for a premature baby and prepared us for life after the NICU. 

The first time we held him without wires or even walked across the room with him was the day we were discharged. It’s pretty intimidating (especially as a first time parent) to go from your baby being constantly monitored by machines, doctors, and nurses, to suddenly being unhooked from all of the wires and sent on our way. Though we were overjoyed to bring our boy home, it’s only natural to have some level of nerves bringing home this 5 pound, wheezing baby who still struggled finishing bottles. I’m so thankful they took time to answer questions, concerns, and were very comforting in preparing us for discharge.

Q: What advice would you give to other moms who might be anxious, scared or worried because their child is born premature?

The most comforting thing I was told is to remember that there is nothing wrong with him. Something happened that put him in the wrong place at the wrong time. When I kept this in mind, it helped put my mind at ease to let him bake a little longer- just in the hospital instead of my belly. Of course, I wanted to get him home, but I was working on his schedule. I’ve mentioned several of the things he struggled with in his time in the NICU, but these are things he would not have had to worry about if he were still in my belly. Just let your baby take the time they need to grow. All you can do is love on them and learn how to best take care of them. 

As for a mother, taking care of your baby is the only thing on your mind. I had a sweet friend say to me, “Remember that you went through a trauma, too.” Especially with your baby in the hospital and being your number one priority- it’s easy to forget that premature labor is very traumatizing. I had many people jokingly say, “at least you didn’t give birth to a full size baby.” Our bodies are made to carry a baby to term. In addition to recovering from childbirth (full size baby or not), many mothers experience additional problems with their body that make recovering that much harder. 

Take the recovery of childbirth and add the emotional trauma of not being able to hold, feed, and bond with your baby the way many mothers are able. Having to leave your struggling baby every time you need to eat, shower, and go home to your family. I would say to a new mom going through all of this to give yourself some grace. It’s only natural to keep your baby first- as it should be. However, you can’t feed or pump for the baby if you aren’t also eating. I hope and pray that mothers going through this have someone standing by them reminding them to take a breath, take a walk, and eat every few hours. I am forever thankful for my husband who would bring me every meal, walk with me around the hospital campus, and comfort me every night when I would meltdown leaving the hospital. Honestly I would have fallen apart without him and definitely not been able to take care of Jace.

Q: How is baby Jace doing today? How old is he now?

Jace is doing well! We still follow up with some specialists, but he is happy and healthy. He is one year old! Jace is the sweetest, spunkiest, chunkiest little boy and he brings us so many smiles! I am so proud of the growth he’s made in the past year. Jace (as with most premature babies) had to work so much harder to breathe, eat, sit up, and even crawl. It’s so fun to watch his little personality develop as he grows each day. From day one he has been observant and never wanting to miss a thing. He loves watching how things work and takes in everything with his surroundings. He’s very determined when he wants to be and does not get frustrated easily. Jace loves to crawl, play ball, and make you laugh!

The Miracle Babies Fund through the Northside Foundation provides transportation assistance and support to over 200 families annually. Could you share your insights regarding the significance of a program like this and the impact that contributions to this fund could have on other mothers and families facing stress and seeking emotional support in such circumstances?

When you consider the financial burden of having a child in the hospital for an extended period of time, any financial assistance will be a huge relief. Many of the parents I spoke with when Jace was in the NICU had one or both parents driving to and from the hospital each day. You have to think about food for yourself and your family when you spend the whole day at the hospital. Your food/grocery and gas costs are doubled or tripled for weeks. Then once you finally get your baby home and can take a breath, you get slapped with massive medical bills. 

The Miracle Babies funds gives many families financial breathing room when they already have so much on their plate. These funds could also help mothers who need postpartum counseling.  I know many mothers miss their baby shower and don’t have baby essentials. Then you take into account the things no one plans for like preemie diapers and clothes. While the Miracle Babies Fund may not make a dent in medical bills, it can certainly take care of many of these additional costs for families.


Jace celebrating his 1st birthday


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