Every day for nearly four months, Jessica Hill and her husband, Chris, walked out of the Newborn Intensive Care Unit and told each other that one day their son, Finn, would be with them.
Last week, he was.
They call him Fighting Finn. He was born May 21, 15 weeks early and weighing barely over a single pound. His feet were nearly the size of pennies. Doctors didn’t expect him to live.
“We honestly didn’t think he was going to survive. You just hold your breath,” Jessica Hill said. “Everyday you’re waiting to hear someone tell you it’s going to be alright, that he’ll be going home.”
The Lakeland couple’s road to parenthood started almost a decade ago. Jessica Hill, 31, and Chris Hill, 33, were married in their early 20s and wanted to have a family. It wasn’t working. For nine years they tried various infertility treatments.
In 2017, two rounds of in vitro fertilization didn’t lead to a pregnancy despite one viable embryo.
“It’s absolutely terrifying,” Jessica Hill said. “When you try to start a family for nine years and you watch everyone around you start their families, you want to be happy for everyone else. But you struggle internally wanting it for yourself.”
They didn’t give up, though. They started looking into embryo donation. It’s similar to IVF but uses donor embryos. Jessica Hill connected with a woman on Facebook who had frozen embryos before starting chemotherapy to treat breast cancer. Eventually that woman was able to have her family and had some embryos left over. She donated them to the Hills, giving them a chance to keep fighting for the family they longed for.
The embryos were shipped from Boston to Florida. One transfer didn’t take. Then, in December, they got the news that two embryos took and Jessica was pregnant with twins.
One of the babies was lost at 10 weeks.
“That,” she said, “is when all the craziness started with my pregnancy."
Her body tried to retain the lost baby, forming a clot, which is common. But hers just grew and grew, which is not.
Jessica Hill was put on bed rest at 22 weeks, unable to work her commission-based real estate job. Just a few weeks earlier, her husband was laid off from the home health company he worked for.
It was a tough pregnancy that kept getting tougher.
Finn was an intrauterine growth restriction baby. He was developing slower than normal and was about two weeks behind in growth. Doctors knew he’d be premature but tried to get Jessica to 28 weeks, where a premature birth could mean survival. Anything earlier would be far more dangerous.
Then, at 24 weeks, Jessica’s water broke during an ultrasound and she was rushed to Lakeland Regional Health. Still, the doctors wanted to get her to that 28-week goal. But then the placenta started to detach.
Around 7 p.m. that night, she had an emergency c-section and Finn was born weighing 1 lb. 2 oz. Doctors told his parents he had a 40-percent chance to live. It got worse from there.
Finn stayed in Lakeland’s NICU until early June, then got transferred to Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando. When he got to Nemours, the outlook wasn’t good. It wasn’t even okay. Doctors said he could go at any moment and even called the hospital chaplain in to talk to the Hills.
“You can’t allow yourself to look in the future,” Jessica Hill said. “You’re stuck in this bubble of time where you’re afraid to even consider what it’d be like to take him home, because you don’t want to get your hopes up.”
Then, after two surgeries and almost four months, things started to change. Nurses started using the phrase “when you take him home” and started showing them how to care for Finn on their own.
On Sept. 10, the Hills’ dream came true. They walked out of the NICU at Nemours, and their son was with them. He weighed more than five pounds.
“You literally saved our boy’s life,” Chris Hill told applauding nurses as the family walked out to the theme from Rocky.
The nurses said it was a miracle. Something like that wasn’t rare, it just didn’t happen.
But Finn is a fighter, and a community around the world has rallied to fight with him.
“It’s very humbling, the support that you receive,” Jessica Hill said. “It’s absolutely a miracle. There’s no doubt about it.”