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It was the day after Christmas, December 26, 2022, when six-months pregnant Maria Patterson began to feel strong labor contractions.

She had traveled from Texas to North Carolina with her husband, McKinley Patterson, IV, and their seven-year-old son to celebrate the holidays with family.

She’d experienced Braxton Hicks contractions just days prior, so Maria figured she’d simply been doing too much and decided to take it easy.

“Our entire family lives in the North Carolina area. My mother is in Wendell. My mother-in-law is in Wilson. My brother and sister-in-law live in Raleigh. We’d been going from home to home visiting, and I figured I was probably being dramatic about what I was feeling, so I decided to relax. However, the pain just kept increasing. The contractions grew closer and closer together, so I called the nurse advice line.”

Labor Pains Increase

They urged Maria to visit a local hospital, but she decided to hold out since she was out of state. The next day, Maria felt the contractions even more intensely.

“I had to breathe and walk around to to relieve some of the pressure.”

Maria also had discharges — indicative of losing her mucus plug and amniotic fluid.

“I remained in denial. All I could think was that nesting had not set in yet and that our daughter was supposed to be born three months from that time in Texas.”

A Drive to Maria’s Only Choice for Care — WakeMed

Late in the evening on December 27, Maria could no longer handle the pain. The couple dropped off their son with her mother in Wendell and headed to WakeMed Raleigh Campus.

“We were in Wilson, so my husband wanted to go to a local hospital, but I insisted that WakeMed was the only place I was willing to go. I’d had my son at WakeMed seven years earlier, and it was an amazing experience. I knew I would receive the very best care at WakeMed.”

The couple arrived at the WakeMed Raleigh Campus Emergency Department just before midnight. The team examined Maria, concerned that her severe back pain could be a sign of an infection and admitted her.

A Surprise Delivery

Maria learned that her daughter was breach, and she was already four centimeters dilated. The team, led by obstetrics and gynecology provider Jenna Beckham, MD, MSPH, FACOG, ruled out an infection, realizing she was experiencing early onset delivery, so they scheduled her for an emergency caesarean section.

“I felt such a swirl of emotions in those hours. This was not the plan I had for delivering my baby. Yet, I was grateful my husband was with me and our son was with family.

Dr. Beckham observes, “While much care and attention is needed for the health and development of the preterm infant, the parents also need support! In addition to monitoring the physical healing of the postpartum patient after delivery, we always assess for needs for emotional support, but particularly in patients who have a preterm or otherwise medically complex infant.

“I am grateful to work at WakeMed where we can take care of pregnant patients, including Maria, who need emergency care where we have a Level IV NICU that provides excellent care to the preterm babies we deliver.”

By 6:00 a.m. on December 28, Maria met her little girl, Melanie.

The team, including her nurses, Taylor Bouldin and Emma Finefrock, allowed the couple a few precious moments to bond with their new baby before whisking her away for an examination. Minutes later, the medical team reemerged with wonderful news. Melanie Patterson, who weighed just two pounds and 11 ounces, was healthy. The only concern was lung development in light of her three-month-early arrival.

“It was scary. Yet, I never had a doubt that she would be okay,” recalls Maria, “but my husband was afraid. He didn’t voice his concerns until much later since he felt I was under a lot of stress. We were both relieved for the good news.”

The care team performed a variety of tests to ascertain why Maria had gone into labor so early. Ultimately, they surmised that spontaneous early birth simply happens at times.

Dr. Beckham explains, “Preterm birth is when a baby is born before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Despite decades of medical research and advances, approximately one in 10 newborns in the United States are born preterm. In general, about half of these are due to spontaneous preterm labor, which is exactly what Maria had. During pregnancy, the developing baby goes through important growth and development, even in the final months and weeks. Babies born too early have higher rates of medical problems, including difficulty feeding and breathing and even higher rates of hearing problems, vision problems and developmental delays. We are happy Melanie is doing well.”

They kept Melanie in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for 32 days from December 28, 2022 to January 29, 2023, monitoring her around the clock while giving her lungs time to develop.

On January 29, 2023, they transferred Melanie to a military hospital NICU in Texas, so McKinley could report back to his military base, and the couple could continue navigating Melanie’s hospitalization together. Melanie was discharged on February 17.

Reflections on the Highest Quality Care

Maria felt incredibly supported by all of the staff during her time at WakeMed, including the lactation consultants.

“Because of them, I pumped for 10 months, which is a record for me.”

Maria is also happy that despite the circumstances, she was blessed to once again have a baby at WakeMed.

“We were transferred to a hospital in Texas to finish Melanie’s NICU hospitalization. I will say without a doubt that WakeMed offers a different level of care. WakeMed care teams are consistently supportive, kind and professional. My nurses were amazing. I’m grateful for every single care team member I met. Everyone who visited us would take the time to really talk with us and give us advice to care for our daughter. It was obvious they cared about our entire family.”

Maria is also thankful for the effort WakeMed care teams took to help her bond with her daughter.

“When you have a baby in the NICU, the baby is attached to all these wires, and you have to ask a nurse for permission to hold the baby. All this time of your child being in an incubator can weirdly make you feel like it isn’t your child or you’re not equipped to take her home and care for her. So, I really appreciated that they took the time to help us connect with Melanie through kangaroo care. They also constantly reassured us that Melanie was our baby and that we’d eventually get to take her home and be her full-time parents.”

Happy Birthday to a Healthy Little Girl!

On December 28, 2023, Melanie turned one, and the family had an intimate family party to celebrate this special milestone. Maria credits the exceptional care she and her daughter received at WakeMed for their happy and healthy outcome.

“Melanie claps. She crawls. She tries to stand up. She’s taking little steps with help. She’s aware now when she throws something that she did it, so she enjoys playing this little game where she’ll throw something. I’ll pick it up and give it back to her. She’ll giggle and throw it again. Developmentally, she is three-months behind in some ways, but I’ve learned not to compare her to my son or to other children. She’s on her own schedule, and that is fine with me.”

About WakeMed OB-GYN

At WakeMed Obstetrics & Gynecology, we provide a full range of services for women of all ages in Raleigh, Cary, Clayton, Holly Springs, North Raleigh, Brier Creek and Morrisville, North Carolina.

Our specialties include:

  • Prenatal Counseling
  • Low- and High-Risk Pregnancies
  • Infertility
  • General Gynecological Health
  • Gynecological Surgeries, including Laparoscopic Surgery
  • Maternal-Fetal Medicine
  • Urogynecology
  • Pre-Menstrual Syndrome and Other Menstrual Problems
  • Endometriosis
  • Menopause
  • Urinary Incontinence

About WakeMed NICU

Not all babies come into the world the same way. Some require physicians and nurses who specialize in high-risk obstetric care, an expert team of maternal fetal medicine specialists and the clinical expertise, vast experience and technological resources available in the neonatal nursery or intensive care.

At WakeMed, we are proud to offer high level neonatal expertise.


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