The great power of positivity through the most challenging times
When life deals you a hard reality, you have two choices. Stay in that moment and never move forward, or stay positive and get to your next stop. Having the strength to accept the hardship, but challenging yourself to learn, grow, and move on, is one of the hardest things in life.
Jenn is one of the most remarkable women I have encountered. Her ability to process the world around her, and to radiate light, shines on everyone she encounters. She has chosen to be thankful for her life and her family, despite the challenges they faced.
Jenn had a 1 in 50,000 pregnancy. She had a hetertopic pregnancy, needed life saving surgery, and wasn’t sure of the survival of her baby. This is the story of “Zen Jenn”, and the miracle baby PJ.
Learn more about The Warrior Mama Series here.
1- Was your pregnancy planned? If so, how long were you trying for?
Yes. We had been trying since January but had a miscarriage in May. We finally got pregnant in August with twins.
2- When did you learn there were complications with your pregnancy?
I found out I was pregnant around 5 weeks (or so I thought at the time). This would be the second time I would tell my husband we were pregnant. Sadly, we were worried because of what happened last time, so we did not allow ourselves to fully get excited.
At 6.5 weeks I flew to San Francisco on a work trip, where only one co-worker knew I was pregnant. We were at a pretty big Sephora meeting, when I started cramping. I went to the bathroom and saw a lot of blood and thought I was having another miscarriage but I put on a brave face and went back to my meetings for the next few hours. After the meetings, I excused myself from the team dinner and said I wasn’t feeling well. I called my practice and it was after hours. Dr Mechlovitz was on call (this comes full-circle at the end, which is why I mention her). She told me to go to the hospital.
So I told my one co-worker where I was heading and he insisted he go with me, since we weren’t in the greatest neighborhood. I’ll forever be grateful to him and his wife for being so caring. I was checked-in and locked in a room away from all of the homeless people in the ER (talk about an interesting experience). They checked me for an ectopic pregnancy, which is a pregnancy outside of the uterus. I was not allowed to fly back to NY if it was ectopic for fear of it bursting. It was deemed that I was still pregnant but that the fetus did not have a heartbeat and there was no way to tell what would come of it, but I was cleared by the on-call San Francisco Dr to fly home the next day.
3- How did the doctors share this news?
Here’s where it gets interesting. I went to the ER Tuesday, I flew back to NY on a 6 hr flight on Wednesday. Thursday I went to work and then back to my OBGYN for a sonogram / checkup. I had some fluid in my belly and the same cramping, so they told me they thought another cyst could have burst. They wanted me to follow up with a specialist within a few days, and then I was on my way back to work. A few hours go by and I started to cramp again, so I decided to call the specialist. They had an appt later that afternoon and off I went, walking the 25 mins to the appt. The tech examined me and then stepped out. Examined me again, and then said she needed a second opinion.
Turns out they pulled someone out of a procedure to examine me. I’m still thinking this is just a miscarriage, why all the fuss? Can we just get this over with. The new Dr comes in and examines me for quite some time but is very quiet. No big deal. Then he says get dressed and meet me in his office. I had been there for over an hour, so I excused myself to use the bathroom (1st trimmest problems lol) and then made my way to his office. The Dr was very frazzled, and then there is me. I’m an awkward person, so I laugh when I’m nervous or don’t know what to do. All the while I am texting my husband about how weird this appointment is going.
The Dr was shuffling papers, checking his screen, picking up his phone to call people, hanging up exasperated when he can’t get through and then finally calls his professor. Mind you, this guy is in his 70’s. Finally, after 5 minutes he turns to me and starts listing off some medical jargon. I have no clue what he is saying, so he draws me a diagram. I had what was called a heterotopic pregnancy. Twins, except one was ectopic– stuck in the fallopian tube and would never survive, and the other was in uterine with no heartbeat.
Heterotopic pregnancies are extremely rare. I was 1 in 50000 because we conceived naturally. Heterotopic pregnancies are more common in IVF patients and the stats for that are 1 in 30000. Ectopic pregnancies are 1 in 7000. So rare that most Dr’s never see one in their entire career, which is why it was missed by the Dr in San Francisco. Even worse, my right fallopian tube burst and I was bleeding out.
At this point, I was in shock. It was all an assumption after all, since this was so rare and there was no way to tell. I was told I couldn’t leave the city because most likely I would need life-saving surgery that night, and there was no way to tell what would happen to the pregnancy with no heartbeat.
4- How did you handle this news? How did you feel? What were your conversations like with your husband and family?
I called my husband first as I walked the 25 mins back to work in shock. I think he stayed calm because there was too much unknown. I was told don’t leave the city, we will call you and let you know if we think you need to get to NYU for surgery. Next, I called my best friend who is a nurse practitioner. She’s my person and keeps me calm. She talked me down and explained what was going on.
At this point only my sister knew about the pregnancy. It wasn’t until I got back to work and sat down that I got the call that I indeed need to get to NYU asap for surgery. I kind of blacked out at that point. I was in such a daze that I stumbled out of the office without my commuting shoes or umbrella. It started to rain and I couldn’t hail a cab. I had to go east, so no subway could get me there. So I walked in the rain. I called husband and he was in the middle of a work emergency but said he would wrap up and meet me there. I texted and called my sister, but she didn’t answer right away. Then I called my college roommate in Boston, and apologized profusely that I was going to miss our weekend in Boston and told her what was going on.
Then the hard phone calls came. I called my mom, her and I are extremely close, so this was going to be hard. No answer. I called my dad and he answered. I said what’s up, guess what? I’m pregnant. Guess what again? I am being rushed into surgery to save my life! I’m on my way to NYU! He knows me and knows I use humor when I’m nervous. He was shocked and asked if I spoke to mom. My mom called and I said the same thing to her. And then I told my siblings. And my family being as close knit as they are, met at my sisters and my mom, dad, SIL, and sister drove down to meet my husband at the hospital.
5- What was your first surgery like during your pregnancy?
Surreal. I still can’t believe it happened. I didn’t cry. I just said it is what it is, do what you have to do. My husband also walked in the rain from Midtown to meet me at NYU. He held my hand and we kept a sense of humor with all of the Dr’s and soon-to-be Dr’s that came through. NYU is a teaching hospital and because this complication was so rare, I became a somewhat celebrity. To this day, I call my practice and everyone knows who I am or knows my story. It’s weird.
I don’t remember much about the surgery except for my family being there when I woke up after midnight. I was beyond sore. They did laparoscopic through my belly button and 2 additional incisions through my sides. I have 3 scars. I remember being sore and them making me get up and walk to the bathroom right away. More than that, they were able to save the pregnancy with no heartbeat.
I was told I had to wait 2 weeks to see if it developed but to prepare myself for another miscarriage. And I also felt so bad that my family was there, as they had to drive back to upstate NY and work in the morning. We got released at 2am and they didn’t get home until 5am. Yet, everyone got up and went to work the next day without complaint. I love my family.
6- How did you feel after the surgery?
Scared. It was probably the worst 2 weeks of my life. I remember taking 2 days of and then going back to work but taking it easy. At this point there were rumblings around my small office, so almost everyone knew what was going on.
I went to work the day of my sonogram and everyone knew that if I came back, it went well and I didn’t then the pregnancy wasn’t viable. My husband met me at the appointment and we were both quiet and nervous. But then we heard the heartbeat and myself, my husband, and our sonogram tech all started crying. She was the one who originally found the heterotopic pregnancy, and she said she prayed for me that it would all work out.
7- How did you feel during your pregnancy?
Scared. I wished so badly that I could feel excited about my pregnancy, but we didn’t know what we were dealing with. I was extremely careful with everything. I also felt insecure. I wasn’t allowed to work out for 4 months while I healed from the surgery. My weight ballooned up. I went from working out 5-6 times a week, and being in a calorie deficit (I did bodybuilding, so I was used to “dieting” in the summer when I wasn’t prepping for a show) to getting morning sickness the week after my surgery, where I was just trying to get any food in.
I would not say I binged while I was pregnant but I wasn’t so strict with my diet. My body and hormones were all over the place and I gained a lot of weight. My dr told me I needed to cut out carbs, to which I replied, I know my body and what works and carbs are fuel. Wherever I went, people commented on my weight gain and asked if I had stopped working out. Nobody knew I was pregnant, but this was very hard for me.
After 4 months I got back to working out in a safe way, but I gained 55lbs during my pregnancy. Sadly being scared and feeling insecure diminished the joy of my pregnancy. The good news is that finally let myself be happy for the most part, once my belly popped and my 20 wk ultrasound confirmed I was having a healthy baby girl.
8- Were you able to continue working?
I worked the entire time. 8-13 hour days, and commuted 1-1.5 hrs each way. It was hard on my pregnancy but I needed my job. Thankfully I had a Dr’s note, which excluded me from air travel, since I was considered high risk.
9- What were your daily thoughts? How were you coping? What helped you get through those difficult moments?
My husband, dog, family, close friends, and laughter got me through the scary times. Everyone kept telling me think positive thoughts, and I ended up with the nickname zen Jenn.
10- Can you share your birth story?
I was 34 weeks and 6 days. I just finished working a 10 hr day (plus the commute). I remember walking past a beautiful Cherry Blossom tree on the walk home, while signing along to my headphones. I did the usual, greeted my Harley Quinn (dog) and went to pee. Next thing I know, I get up and I am standing in a puddle. I automatically checked the ceiling, looking for a leak, not realizing the leak was me and that my water just broke.
Of course, I laughed. I didn’t feel wet. I didn’t feel pain, so did my water really just break? I called my husband, who was annoyed at me from earlier in the day. He answered the phone with attitude not realizing what I was about to tell him. Let’s just say, I don’t freak out in this relationship, I leave that to him. He told me to call the Dr. So once again, I call and Dr Mechlovitz is on duty (She answered the call with the heterotopic pregnancy months earlier, left and had her baby, and came back from maternity leave a few weeks prior to my water breaking).
It was 6pm. She told me that if I wasn’t in any pain, I had 12 hours to come in. Then she called me back and said, your 34 weeks and 6 days + she was breech last time we checked. We need you to come in ASAP. I explained that my husband was still at work in the city and she told me to take a cab in and meet him. This was not how this was supposed to go. My baby shower was in 2 days. My maternity shoot was in 3 days. We were supposed to meet the pediatrician in 4 days. I didn’t have a hospital bag packed, let alone anything other than a go-home outfit for her.
So I called my husband back and calmly, said don’t rush, take your time. I’m fine. I need to wash my hair, eat and walk the dog before we go. Check, check, check. Finally my husband was yelling at me that it was 10pm and we needed to leave. Whoops. I was fine I didn’t feel anything. So off to the hospital, with our unorganized bags we went. Thankfully my BIL was on his was down to take care of Harley. So we go to walk out to my husband’s car and it’s not there.
So I go, James, where is your car? Did you forget you drove today? Indeed he forgot he drove to the ferry, so he goes “can you drive me to get my car”. So I said, sure, I’m leaking but I WILL DRIVE YOU TO GET YOUR CAR. Again, I laughed. He was super nervous. We got to the hospital and checked in and my Dr was like what took so long? So I said I had to shower, wash my hair and eat. The nurse looks up and goes you ate? I’m like yeah, I was told I didn’t know how long this process would take and to make sure I ate before. He goes ummm you’re going in for a c-section, you’re not supposed to eat. Whoops again. How was I supposed to know?
Well, she was in fact breech / transverse, which means she wasn’t head down. Her head was in the right side of my ribs, her butt was in the let side of my ribs, and her feet were hanging down. I was 4cm dilated and felt nothing. No cramps. Nothing. So they asked if they could take someone before me and I said of course. Then they asked for mine and my husband’s proof of MMR shots because we were in the middle of a Measles outbreak / pandemic.
WHOOPS. We had forgotten my husband’s paperwork at the apartment and they were not going to allow him into the OR with me or be around the baby. So we called my parents/ sister and they agreed to stop in New Jersey on the way down from Upstate NY to get the paperwork before heading into the city. Thankfully my BIL and his girlfriend were there to help search, because we could not remember where we put the paperwork.
My parents and my sister made it down just before I was brought into my c-section at 2am. I was pumped with so many meds to protect me and the baby because she was over 5 weeks early. So at 2:30a/2:45a I said my goodbyes, and was wheeled off to my c section. The epidural didn’t hurt but the blood pressure cuff was excruciating. It kept cutting off circulation. Nobody tells you about this stuff. They changed me to another larger cuff and it did the same thing. Then I was laid down, arm out and head flat. My other hand was in my husbands hand and we sat there making small talk, as we heard them cutting me open. It was weird. The smells, the noises, but then they pulled her out. No sound. And my husband and I just stared at each other.
Next thing we know there are Dr’s flying all over and they have her in an incubator in the back corner, working on the baby. She let out a faint cry, but nobody would tell us what was going on. Meanwhile, my Dr continued to work on me. It felt like 5 minutes before the neo-natal Dr came over and explained that they were rushing our daughter to the nicu because she was early and they thought she had some neuro deficits.
Next thing I know the NICU Dr, and my Dr were arguing over me, while I am cut open on the table, about whether to wait to feed her until I could breastfeed or formula feed. I stopped both of them and said I don’t care what you need to do, get her formula if that is what she needs to be healthy, and then I begged to see my Dr. It wasn’t like the movies or anyone else’s c section story that I knew.
The baby was not placed on my chest. I was strapped down and then had her wrapped completely up, so that I could not see her face. They thrust her into my husbands hands, but he was too nervous to look away from my face, they took the pic, then they snatched her back, and out they ran to the NICU with my minutes old baby.
Peyton Jean was born on May 3, 2019, at 3:32am, weighing 5lbs 11oz. It was a mad dash with her so we did not get her height. We later learned she was 17.5” long.
As for me, I lay there being sewn up, worrying about my daughter, and thinking as if we haven’t been through enough, what else? But I knew she would be ok. I had to stay positive.
11- What happened immediately after you gave birth?
Chaos and fear. Peyton was rushed out to the NICU to check for neuro deficits. We learned that the back of her head was protruding, which may or may not be from her head being stuck in my rib cage. She had a very small chin, and her ears were slightly lower than her eye-line. All of these were signs of a neuro deficit. I saw the picture snapped on my husbands phone and automatically thought something was wrong with her.
Then again, she was swollen and had just been through a lot, what the heck did I know? And then everything went cold. Another thing they do not warn you about with c-setions. I was shivering and could not get warm. I had 6 heated blankets on my and I was shaking so much while they sewed me up that I felt like I was having a seizure. The being sewn up part took much longer than I thought it would. At least 30 mins.
As they finished with me, my husband was escorted out, and then chaos struck again. My team went into OT to cleanup, and get me out of the OR as their was an emergency case coming our way. Alarms were going off and there was panic. I just remember my gurney being pushed to the side to make room for this woman being wheeled through. I never did learn what happened to her, but I know my family and husband were up the hall and were pushed into a room just to make way for this woman.
I sat in recovery with my blankets until about 6am. PJ was now almost 3 hrs old, and still no word. I was wheeled up to mother and delivery aka my tiny half of a room that barely fit the bed, at 8am. Still no word. I kept bugging the nurses, and they told me to call the NICU. The NICU nurses told me to speak to my nurses. They were in the middle of a shift change, so still no word. I was growing impatient and frustrated.
I was ready to get up and TRY to walk to the nicu after my section, which probably wasn’t the best idea. I was told she was being brought up, then I was told I was being brought down. Finally, at 11:30am, 8 hrs after PJ was born, they brought me a wheelchair. I was not expecting the pain that shot through me from the c-section. I thought I would be sore like the first surgery.
But I sucked it up and made it to the chair and eventually down 2 floors to the NICU. Only my husband and I were allowed in the NICU due to the measles outbreak. I remember how tiny and fragile she was. I had never personally seen a baby look that small, and she was big for a preemie. She was hooked up to heart rate monitors and other machines. But she was cute in an alien looking type of way with big, rosy cheeks. I was exhausted from not sleeping but we cried when we finally got to hold her, wires and all.
12- How long were you in the hospital for after giving birth?
I was in the hospital for 4 days, and PJ stayed in the NICU for 13 days learning how to eat. She was a preemie, and had a hard time with the concept of suck, swallow, breathe.
13- How was your baby doing when you went home?
She was great and she was cared for when I was released before her. She was on a schedule, every 3 hrs, so we would be at the hospital at 6am daily and leave by 4pm daily.
I cannot say enough about the AMAZING nurses that staff the NYU NICU. Especially our Nurse Practitioner Michelle. She truly fought for Peyton to have the top neurologist come and test her. We met with him and he took one look at James, one look at me, and one look at Peyton and concluded she was fine. I am sure he reviewed all of her tests as well, but this man was gifted. He said her head was misshaped from being stuck in my ribs and her head was large because of my husband.
She had some more hiccups along the way with spikes in her Billie Reuben levels, but overall she was doing amazing. And did I mention that she was the best behaved, and best accessorized baby in the NICU? She never cried. She was adorned with bows, hats and swaddles over her little NICU shirt. She also had her stuffed boxer dog, and elephant to keep her comfortable when we weren’t there. The nurses all thought she was the sweetest, little pink baby.
Peyton was put on a high calorie formula because she dropped to 5lbs 2 oz from not eating. Every time that PJ did not hit her goal for feeding, another day was added to our NICU stay. We tried breastfeeding. She latched well, but we could not measure the amount that she was getting, and this unfortunately set us back another day. We ultimately decided that it was best that I pump, do skin to skin and feed her a high calorie bottle to determine how much she was eating. Each day the goal went up on how much she needed per feed, and each day we did not hit that goal. We did not get discouraged, and knew she would get it on her own time.
Our friends and family were upset for us that she was in the NICU, and that nobody was allowed to visit because of the Measles outbreak. We sent daily updates and pics, to which they created the hashtag #freepj.
I spent my first Mother’s Day in the NICU. My husband spent his birthday in the NICU. Every day was wake up early, drive from NJ to the city, get in 2-3 feedings, and then head back to our dog. I was recovering from a c-section and in it was rough on my body. It was the second time my abdominals were cut open within months, and I was pushing myself to get to the NICU, to get in the Jeep, and to get to the NICU.
A week and a half after being born she finally got the hang of eating, and was staying on track. We were moved to the other side of the NICU for further testing, which meant that we would probably be released soon. Peyton was released from the hospital 13 days after she was born, on May 16th. This was the happiest day of our lives. Her fur sibling absolutely loved her, and was her protector as soon as she got home.
She was already in a routine, and by 8 weeks old she was sleeping 8 hrs a night. She had some additional issues with eating when she got home, and had her formula changed 10 times, and eventually ended up on reflux medication, and the original formula from the NICU. From October- March she was in and off inhalers and nebulizers for breathing issues but she never cried.
Overall, she was a great and easy baby who rarely cried, and loved to sleep. I honestly can’t say I ever felt sleep deprived with her.
14- What is life like for you now that your baby is thriving each and every day?
I love it. She went from a preemie baby born during the measles outbreak, to turning 1 during Covid 19 pandemic. She’s a beast! She went from 5lbs 11oz when she was born, barely registering on the charts for her age, to 25 lbs at 1 years old. She’s in the 90th percentile for head, 55% for weight and 30% for height.
She loves to smile, clap, dance, and make herself laugh. Being home with Peyton during this pandemic has allowed my husband and I to see her grow and flourish. She babbles up a storm, walks, and is into everything. Her dog is her best friend, although sometimes Harley prefers to hide from Peyton!
15- What do you think is the number one thing that kept you going and fighting for your baby during pregnancy and birth?
Love and hope. I never realized how badly I wanted to be a mother.
15- What advice can you give to other Moms going through difficult times?
Stay positive even when everything is falling apart. Have hope. HOLD ON PAIN ENDS! It’s all worth it in the end.
16- What is the biggest thing you learned through your experience?
I learned quite a few things!
- I absolutely love being a mom. I am such a chill mom, and therefore Peyton is very chill. She is my mini me.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help or cry. Both are ok and much needed.
- NICU nurses are a godsend. I learned so much from the beautiful women that took care of our daughter. Everyone was amazing at NYU from the speech therapist, the NP, the every day nurses, the Dr’s doing rounds, etc. However, the every day nurses, NP, and speech therapist went above and beyond. We learned that if we set fear aside, we could learn so much. I was surprised how easy it was to transition home with a newborn because of how much I learned in the NICU. I like to tell people that the NICU was a blessing in disguise and had we not had that experience, we would have had a lot of sleepless nights and been overwhelmed. We chose to see the positive side of things.
- Stay positive and have hope. We went from our apartment burning down in 2015, and losing everything. To a miscarriage the first time we got pregnant. Then a 1 in 50000 heterotopic pregnancy where Peyton lost her twin and I lost a fallopian tube, and have a 50% chance of having more kids. Then a complicated delivery and a 13 day NICU stay. I have a lot that I could dwell on but I am thankful for my life. Everything happens for a reason and I truly believe that. I would not have my amazing daughter, had not all the things prior happened. I have hope of having 1-2 more kids in the future, even though my odds are cut in half. All I can do is stay positive no matter what life throws my way. I encourage all Warrior Mamas to do the same, so nothing can stand in our way of raising our Warrior Babies with all the love, strength and courage we have to muster.
Photo cred: Meredith Ingersoll Photography
Peyton, Jenn, and James have fought, and overcome some of life’s biggest challenges. Peyton has been a Warrior since she was in the womb, fighting for her chance to enter this world. Jenn and James supported her, and guided her in those early days to thrive in such an unknown environment. They never lost hope, they never doubted, they knew PJ would be the miracle baby she is.
Jenn’s internal strength and mind, radiates positivity and power. Her “zen” like ability, has the power to completely change her circumstances. Her calmness and innate motherly instinct, has already had such an amazing effect on PJ. PJ’s improvements, and health can greatly be attributed to Jenn’s mindset and Warrior Mama traits.