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'She's a little fighter': A 1-pound, 5.5 ounce miracle baby

Now, nearly 5 months old, Zara weighs 6 pounds and 3 ounces. (Submitted photo)1 / 3
Brittany Schmidt, 27, gave birth to Zara at 23 weeks and five days. Zara’s twin brother, Arlo, was born at 18 weeks and did not survive. (Submitted photo)2 / 3
Born at 23 weeks and five days, Zara weighed only 1 pound and 5.5 ounces. (Contributed)3 / 3

When she found out she was pregnant with twins, Brittany Schmidt had imagined a perfect pregnancy ending with two babies at home.

But at just 18 weeks into her pregnancy, Schmidt, 27, went into active labor. She delivered her son, Arlo, who did not survive. Schmidt was told it was likely that she would lose the other baby, a girl, as well.

However, the baby girl remained in the womb until just after 23 weeks. On Nov. 8, Schmidt gave birth to Zara, who, at 12 inches long, weighed just 1 pound and 5.5 ounces.

"I would love to have my son here as well, but it's all in God's plan," Schmidt said. "I think Arlo had to go to give Zara the strength to continue on."

Against all odds

At birth, Zara had a 50 percent chance of survival. Nearly 5 months old now, Zara remains hospitalized due to a plethora of health concerns. She has had a grade-two and grade-three brain bleed as well as lung development issues and has undergone heart surgery.

She also has frequent apneic episodes, in which airflow is cut off and the heart rate drops.

"If you've ever had to hold your child in your arms and watch her turn blue and not know if she's going to come back from it, it's probably the worst thing as a parent," Schmidt said. "That's something we've dealt with since she was born."

Born at 23 weeks and five days, Zara weighed only 1 pound and 5.5 ounces. (Contributed)

But despite her current health concerns, doctors are optimistic about Zara's future.

"She's feisty," Schmidt said. "She's a little fighter, she pushes herself. She's pulled her breathing tube out on multiple occasions. They call her the chronic self-extubator because she'll just grab the tube and yank it out. They're really surprised at her progress considering how small she was."

A new normal

Since giving birth to Zara, Schmidt has been spending as much time as possible at the hospital with her daughter, meaning she has been unable to work.

"She needs to build that bond with me and know that I'm there and I'm not going to leave her," Schmidt explained. "I'm not going to leave her in the hospital for two weeks on end and only see her one time."

Until last week, Zara was at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo. Then, for her heart surgery, she was moved to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital. It has not been determined where she will be moved next, which Schmidt says is just another in a long list of unknowns.

"The roller coaster of the NICU and premature babies isn't even a roller coaster," she said. "You're just being dragged. It's so scary."

According to Schmidt, faith in God has played a large role in coming to terms with the unknowns of this journey, including what the next step entails. She says without her faith, she would be lost.

"That's the hardest part, the what-ifs," she said. "You never know. People ask me every day, when is she coming home, will she have long-term effects? And I don't know. I've constantly just had faith that He's going to take care of us, and He has so far."

This experience has also opened Schmidt's eyes to the seriousness of prematurity in babies, a topic she didn't know much about before becoming a mother to a premature baby.

Brittany Schmidt, 27, gave birth to Zara at 23 weeks and five days. Contributed photo

"Prematurity isn't as talked about as it should be," she said. "It really is a big thing. To watch something come from that small, that wasn't supposed to survive, to where she is now, it's just incredible. I'm lucky enough to watch a baby grow on the outside like they're supposed to on the inside."

Because of Zara's medical needs, Schmidt says she hasn't yet had time to come to terms with the loss of her son. For now, she is working on caring for herself and letting herself feel an array of emotions.

"Everyone is telling you you have to be strong for your girl," she said. "It almost is like them telling you you aren't allowed to be sad because you have to be strong. For anyone else going through this situation, they should know it's OK to be sad. It's OK to break down. You need to. You have to cry. You can't hold everything in. I have to be there for her, so self-care for myself is just as important as being with her."

Though Zara is doing well, doctors are unsure when she will be able to go home. Schmidt says that while this can be frustrating, it's part of the journey to giving Zara a good life.

"It's a lot and I don't know how I do it some days," Schmidt said. "It's scary and it's hectic, but I wouldn't have it any other way for her. I would do anything for her. She's already proving how much of a miracle she is, and it's up to me to make this life the best I can for her."

How to help

A GoFundMe has been set up by Shannon Chan, a friend of Schmidt's, to assist with Zara's medical expenses. Chan can be reached at scchan09@gmail.com for any questions.

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