Sarah and Cory, we are lifelong friends who met in elementary school. We started dating in 2007 and in 2014 decided to try to start a family. Things didn’t go according to plan and after a few early pregnancy losses, 5 rounds of unsuccessful IUI’s we tried our first round of IVF.
We were ecstatic to find out we pregnant with twins! but after just 10 weeks we lost one of them. We still had one fighter! Growing strong! Around 22 weeks we went for a routine ultrasound and were informed there were multiple congenital birth defects and our daughter would not survive birth. It wasn’t anything we did, there was no way to prevent this, it was just terrible luck. Pentology of Cantrell was the official diagnosis.
At 23 weeks Rose entered the world for a brief period of time. She passed peacefully in loving arms shortly after birth. Those moments together will be cherished forever in our hearts.
There were some complications after birth and Sarah was rushed away for emergency surgery. Eventually we did our second round of IVF which was unsuccessful. Feeling defeated and still grieving the loss of our sweet baby Rose, we still held onto hope that we were meant to be parents.
Our third IVF was success and everything was going great. I was followed closely due to our previous complications but wasn’t showing any signs of an abnormal pregnancy. We were cautiously excited.
We decided to take a camping trip aka a “baby-moon” to Yellowstone National Park. I had a checkup up from our doctor and we were all clear to head out. After a few days I started to feel ‘off’. I was packing up our tent when I felt a strong sensation across my tummy but it went away as soon as I stood up. I knew something was up and we decided to head home early instead of moving to a new campground. We also knew we did not have travel insurance, due to this being an IVF pregnancy, we were not eligible. We drove to the Canadian border and the closest hospital was swift current.
There they confirmed I was in Preterm labour and 4cm dilated. I was told, “we are not set up to deliver a baby at this gestation, if you have this baby here we will not be able to save it.” I will NEVER forget those words. They rushed out to call Stars air ambulance but they had just went out on a call and were not available for us!
There weren’t enough resources to send us in an ambulance….
We had to drive ourselves to Saskatoon RUH hospital. The scariest ride of our lives. I just kept saying, I can’t lose this baby. Please make it to the hospital. Please make it. I can’t lose another baby”
When we arrived I was admitted right away and rushed for an emergency C-section.
Willow Rose Hjelsing was born Sept 2, 2019 at 26 weeks, weighing a mere 1 lb 14oz. Her lungs collapsed during birth due to being so underdeveloped. She was intubated and rushed away by an amazing team of NICU staff.
I was able to see her later that day. I’ll never forget being wheeled into a room filled with tiny baby’s only a few feet from each other. More machines and tubes in one small space then I’ve ever seen before. The nurse lifted the isolette curtain to show me my tiny, little girl for the first time. Under her blue light with the cutest shades on. Tubes and cords everywhere. Her chest moving so fast, trying to breathe… I didn’t know how to feel. I thought I was supposed to feel joy and overwhelming love but I was confused and terrified. I cried, I longed to hold her, I held my stomach where she was supposed to be. Swollen, sore and filled with staples. It was all so surreal, even thinking of it now, it seems like a distant memory; yet, the emotions are still very real and I feel the familiar pain and panic in my heart now the same as I felt then.
Willow is a fighter. She was quickly nicknamed Wild Willow by the nurses. She didn’t stop to rest, she was always moving, trying to pull her tubes and cords off and quite often being successful. She kept everyone on their toes.
Every day was a rollercoaster of emotions. They kept telling us take it day-by-day. But really it was hour-by-hour. A great start to the day could often turn fast into a scary afternoon of blood transfusions, new intubations or chest X-rays for a collapsed lung. Blown IV lines that burnt her leg and filled it three times the size with fluid. There was no shortage of reasons to worry. But she just kept growing. She kept overcoming everything that happened. Every time something new came up she persevered… eventually turning Wild Willow into Warrior Willow. A nickname that stuck.
After 27 days we transferred from RUH to the new Jim Pattinson Childrens Hospital. It was the best thing that could have happened for our family. Willow immediately started sleeping better, eating more, gaining weight faster. She was no longer just surviving, she was thriving.
Wespent 67 days in the NICU. She came home a full month before her due date. She was still on oxygen for another 3 months at home and was officially oxygen free Jan 15, 2020. I LOVED seeing my baby girl. All of her. Her whole face without cannulas, tubing, tape. We were over the moon.
There was no shortage of follow up appointments after we were home. We had weekly, biweekly or monthly appointments with the NICU followup team.
October 5, 2020 we were at a routine followup appointment. I knew she was delayed reaching some milestones but believed that was typical for most preemies. However; this day was anything but typical. I was shocked when she received a diagnosis of Spastic Diplegia Cerebral Palsy. I wasn’t really sure what that meant.
I know I’ll never fully understand what CP is, but I do know for sure, we have been blessed with a beautiful little girl who is pure sunshine and joy. We have learned to celebrate and appreciate every little moment no matter how small it may seem to others. Typical milestones are monumental to us. We meet her and honour her for where she is. Not where she is “supposed” to be. We have gained friendships and a community full of support from people we likely would have never met before.
Thank you for your kindness, your generosity and for following along on our journey. Being heard is a vessel to healing, for us. We are grateful for everything you have done for our family and all of the beautiful gifts Little Wonders has given us.
Sarah, Cory & Willow