At 26 years old, Julie Albanese of Washington Township had never been more ready to be a mother.
Fate held other plans for Albanese and her husband Chris, though. In the four years to come, the couple would endure five miscarriages of six babies -- one set of twins.
"The idea of being a mom was there throughout my whole life," said Albanese, 30, a Little Ferry native. "To not be able to do it genetically and anatomically was devastating."
In December 2017, the couple welcomed baby Ella, who spent the first few days of her life in the NICU. Albanese is now sharing her story while raising awareness toward the importance of NICU care.
She and her team have raised more than $15,000 in advance of the NICU Strong walk next month in Paramus.
"People say babies after a loss are rainbow babies," Albanese said. "And we identify with that so much."
Albanese suffered her first miscarriage in April 2014. Although she and her husband were heartbroken, they knew miscarriages were common and thought it was a fluke.
They tried again -- and lost the baby.
While the doctor said a second miscarriage wasn't common, it could be normal.
So, one more time, the couple tried to conceive. Weeks later, the third baby was lost as well.
At the end of the day, having a baby was something that would happen when it was meant to happen
The Albaneses went to a fertility specialist who told them they were suffering unexplained pregnancy loss. Science held no answers.
The mom-to-be tried everything: Gluten-free diets, no cold beverages, prayer and acupuncture.
"I thought that maybe if I relaxed more or only thought positively it would help," she said. "But at the end of the day, having a baby was something that would happen when it was meant to happen."
Albanese would have to suffer two more devastating losses both through IVF treatments before a successful pregnancy.
"It was awful -- horrific," she said. "But I knew that one way or another, I was going to have this baby and be someone's mom."
Last March, Albanese and her husband were exploring the surrogate option when she became pregnant through IVF treatment with Ella. The routine ups and downs of pregnancy were magnified for Albanese because of all she'd already endured.
The pregnancy wasn't an easy one.
"I was pulling the short straw when it came to everything pregnancy-related," she said.
"I bled for months because of a subchorionic hemorrhage. I constantly had to be checked to make sure I wasn't losing the baby. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop."
I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop
While Albanese was for the most part experiencing routine complications of pregnancies, it all seemed magnified to her because of what she'd already been through.
After a long nine months, Albanese went to HUMC last December and figured the delivery would be the one part of her pregnancy that would be easy. Things had to be okay.
"Sure enough, I was in labor when I developed an infection that was passed to Ella," the mom said. "Once she came out, she went right to the NICU."
Meanwhile, Albanese had retained her placenta and needed emergency surgery. A hysterectomy was the only other option.
There began the Albanese family's NICU journey.
"Our baby was sick but getting better," Albanese said. "There were others sick babies who remained sick. We consider ourselves grateful, all things considered."
The experience opened the Albanese's eyes to what the NICU staff does during critical and emotional times for new parents. Months later after, Albanese and her husband returned home as a healthy family of three, their newborn niece was in the NICU for fluid in her lungs.
All of the emotions came rushing back.
Albanese says while she would never wish her journey upon anyone, it has made her stronger. Her way of paying it forward is in part with the NICU Strong walk on Sept. 16, from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in Van Saun County Park. All proceeds benefitting HUMC's Joseph M. Sanzari Children's Hospital.
"Ella is the brightest spot and our life," Albanese said.
"There is a value and treasure of going through this journey. At the end of every rainbow is a pot of gold. For us, that's Ella."
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