"I didn't think I would ever be able to have a baby," says Jess Pederson of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. "There was a point when it just seemed like this wasn't going to happen."
Jess looks back thankfully now that her baby boy, Chet, is home, eating well and filling out with the chubby cheeks of babyhood. But her journey to motherhood was a long one, marked with struggle and heartache along the way.
Jess and her husband, Alex, started trying to have a baby in 2013. After two miscarriages, doctors found precancerous cells on Jess' cervix, which required surgery. This further delayed the couple's family plans. Then Jess had difficulty getting pregnant again.
"After a year and a half, I decided it was time to get help," says Jess, who works as a registered nurse at Mayo Clinic Health System. She underwent intrauterine insemination and then in vitro fertilization. In February 2017, she learned she was pregnant. But the challenges didn't end there. Jess experienced complications throughout her pregnancy.
"The whole pregnancy, I just felt like a ticking time bomb," Jess says. "The baby could come at any time." At 17 weeks, an ultrasound showed Jess' cervix was shorter than it should have been. She was having pain, and her cervix continued to shorten. The signs were pointing toward early labor.
"The staff was very helpful and understanding of the difficulty of the situation."Jess Pederson
"My goal initially was to make it to 28 weeks," Jess says. "Every week after that, we were happy just to keep him in as long as possible."
At 33 weeks, Jess was admitted to Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire for possible preterm labor. Jess' obstetrician, Suzette Peltier, M.D., administered steroids to help the baby's lungs develop. Jess' contractions stopped, and she went home for another week and a half. Baby Chet was born at 34 weeks and five days, weighing 5 pounds, 14 ounces, and measuring 18.5 inches.
"It was a relief when he was born and was able to breathe on his own," Jess says. After years of imaging it, she was finally able to hold her precious baby to her chest.
After he was born, Chet remained in the Special Care Nursery at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire for two weeks, where he received the level of care he needed to thrive. His heart and blood oxygen saturation were monitored around the clock. He also was on a feeding tube for the first week and a half to help him gain weight. Jess says the nurses helped the family through this anxious time.
"The staff was very helpful and understanding of the difficulty of the situation," she says. "I'm very thankful for the wonderful care he received."
"All the injections, tears and heartache were worth it to be holding this tiny human being and to be able to call him my son."Jess Pederson
In addition to keeping careful watch over Chet, the nurses assisted with bathing and diaper changes, and they let Jess know when Chet was ready to be fed. Jess and Alex were able to stay in a room at the hospital throughout Chet's stay, which allowed Jess to be available for night feedings and provide skin-to-skin contact to help Chet adapt to life outside the womb.
"We were able to see him as much as we wanted," she says. "But we didn't disturb him when he was sleeping, so he could get the rest he needed."
Now at home, Jess says Chet is doing well, and she does not take that gift for granted. "All the injections, tears and heartache were worth it to be holding this tiny human being and to be able to call him my son," Jess says. "Words really cannot describe the feeling. He is a blessing, and we will cherish every moment with him."
Note: A version of this story previously was published in Hometown Health.