For most of my life, I have been called a "miracle baby." Just 16 years ago, in Norwalk Hospital, I was born at 24½ weeks at about 1½ pounds, even dropping to under one pound in my first week. According to my parents, my diagnosis and prognosis was not favorable. After trying to have kids for four years, my parents' hopes rested with this tiny baby — me — struggling to get through every second, minute, hour.
Since I was born in September, I spent that Halloween, Thanksgiving and Chanukah in the hospital. My parents had to go to a children’s toy store in Scarsdale to purchase the outfit, which was made for the smallest doll in the store. There were no stores that sold preemie clothes then. The dress was huge on me since I was just barely (or less than) three pounds at that point. Since my dad plays tennis, my mom decided to make me a tennis player for Halloween. Luckily, I came home on December 18th, which was just one day before my actual due date. My parents always joke I was only a day early vs. 3 ½ months early.
During that time in the NICU, I was surrounded by these amazing nurses who took great care of me. My parents were there every day, taking shifts and then coming back together. They also were joined by our extended family and lots of friends. Because I was in NICU for Chanukah, my parents decorated my little plastic blanket with dreidels and Jewish stars in anticipation of Chanukah. Mrs. Bauer, who donated the NICU at Norwalk Hospital and visited all the time, had stockings made for all the preemies. When she found out I was Jewish, she had a special blue stocking with a Jewish star made just for me. I still have that blanket and stocking, and even though the ink has faded a bit on the blanket, and the star is a bit bent on the stocking, there are still those special reminders of my first holidays.
And so for 3½ months, I lived at the Norwalk NICU before I had the opportunity to come home (one day before my mom’s actual due date), ready to face the world at five pounds. While there are hundreds of boxed reminders of those days (e.g., photographs, my plastic blanket, etc), the only reminder I can feel, touch or perceive is a long surgical scar running across my upper back (a remnant of the heart surgery to close a valve that took place when I was five weeks old). A scar that I only started noticing when I was 12 years old but that doesn't even bother me at all. A scar that reminds me of where I started.
Samantha, 16 years old
As I grew up, I learned about the kindness of strangers. When I first heard about Tiny Miracles, one of the first things I thought of was how nice it was that people cared about these little babies and their families. I thought it was an amazing idea, and I wished that my parents could have had something that wonderful to help them.
So where does that leave me in this world? To my family and parents' friends as well as medical people responsible for helping me over the years (and who I joyfully see on visits to the NICU or just by chance), I am a "special miracle" that is to be happily acknowledged and reminisced about. But to most of the people I encounter day in, day out, I am just a regular 16-year old girl; one who likes to hang out with friends, shop, babysit and travel. One who sometimes forgets to do her homework or clean up her room. One who is special... but not only for where I started in life or how I entered this world but for who I am inside, how I think and act, and for what I hope to achieve and give back to others.
It’s been a while since I last wrote on the Tiny Miracles website. During that time, winter has come and gone (hopefully), bringing in the sunshine and warmth of spring.
As a new season begins again, it seems days tumble into each other. My parents told me that they never thought they’d ever say that “time flies,” especially when I was just a micro-preemie in the Norwalk Hospital NICU. To them, at the time, every passing minute felt like the longest day of their lives. But now, almost 18 years later, they feel like every day is only a minute long. Where time stood still during those NICU days, now time is moving faster than they can imagine.
The Tiny Miracles Foundation came into my family’s life years after I was born (since there were no support groups around at the time), but I am forever grateful that it has allowed me to share my own “preemie” perspective up to this point in my young life. I hope my articles have provided other preemies and their parents with comfort and hope for the future.
In a few months, I will be a high-school graduate and then off to college in the fall. I can’t wait to start that next adventure, especially voting in the presidential election come this November. What an amazing trip it’s been!
I look forward one day to reading other preemie stories about growing up from a difficult start and how being a preemie has shaped their lives. In our lives, we are never certain of what the future may hold; nevertheless, no matter the ups and downs, we must always continue to support each other, letting our voices be heard throughout the community.
I wish you all nothing but happy memories and healthy lives.
P.S. On behalf of my parents and myself, I would like to thank all the caregivers and supporters, especially at Norwalk Hospital, for everything they did for me in those early, difficult months and over the years. We look forward to seeing them before I leave for college. What a great reunion that will be!
Samantha’s father Brian Rutter wrote an article comparing the amount of days she spent at Norwalk Hospital NICU (107) with the number of days she had until her college graduation. It was published by the Washington Post on their Parenting Web site. Click the link to read Samantha’s father’s words: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/03/21/107-days-until-my-she-graduates-from-college-heres-why-that-numbers-significant/