Last July, Stephanie Stoudmire of Canton got news she never imagined possible. She was pregnant.
At 38, she had 2 children and 3 stepchildren, and just started a new job as a scheduler for a fire-protection company. After the birth of daughter, Malia, 2 years ago, Stephanie underwent tubal ligation — one of the most effective types of birth control.
How could she be pregnant?
It turned out her fallopian tubes had grown together again. The odds are remote, but it can happen.
“It was traumatic to find out I was pregnant,” said Stephanie, who formerly worked at Akron Children’s Hospital as a patient account representative. “It was not our plan. We had our hands full, but it wasn’t our decision at that point. Apparently God had a different plan.”
The surprises didn’t end there.
During a routine visit to the obstetrician in December, her blood pressure was alarmingly high. She had developed preeclampsia, a pregnancy disorder that can lead to serious complications. Her doctor immediately admitted her to Cleveland Clinic Akron General.
“He didn’t want me to go home,” she said. “I went from feeling like I had a healthy pregnancy to being yanked away from my family and my job, worrying about my unborn child and thinking I could be in the hospital until my due date in March. My husband, Isaac, works midnights, and I was terrified about leaving everything.”
Three days later, her son, Royce, was delivered by emergency C-section, 11 weeks, 4 days premature. Weighing 1 pound, 6 ounces, Royce was transferred to Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Akron Children’s Hospital. He would spend the next 11 weeks there.
Stephanie, who grew up in Akron’s Firestone Park neighborhood, went back to work while Royce was in the NICU. She visited the NICU as much as possible, but struggled like many parents balancing hospital visits with work, household responsibilities and trying maintain some degree of normalcy for the kids at home. Besides Malia, Stephanie has a son, 16-year-old Iverson.
“I came down on myself a lot,” she said. “I’m a perfectionist. I take pride in cooking and cleaning and taking care of my husband. I couldn’t be at the NICU as much as I wanted to be.
“There were times I called to apologize for not being able to come that day. There were times I cried because I felt I was disappointing somebody.”
Stephanie said she had to let go of worries about what others might think. And she took comfort knowing the nurses and volunteers cared for Royce as if he was their own.
“The nurses love the babies. The way they looked at him and cared for him, you could tell he wasn’t just an assignment. He had a piece of their heart.”
She has a message for parents of babies in the NICU who feel they are spread too thin: Don’t beat yourself up.
Royce is thriving. He came home March 10, weighing 5 pounds, 6 ounces. A month later, he was up to 7 pounds, 11 ounces. By Mother’s Day, he hit 9 pounds.
“He’s such a good baby,” Stephanie said as she gave Royce a bottle. “He likes to cuddle, he loves it when you talk to him. He’s really mild-tempered.”
Her family has adjusted to a new normal.
“We’re a stronger family for it,” she said.