Hers was one tough pregnancy. A physician told Jennifer Schwertfeger in 2004 that her placenta and uterus had separated, a condition known as placental abruption. Also, a large blood clot had formed on the uterine wall.
Said Schwertfeger, now 40, “We were told to plan for a miscarriage and were devastated with the news. So we prayed for a miracle. At about 14 weeks, I was put on bed rest, and was in and out of the hospital and losing amniotic fluid. It was a really tough pregnancy.”
Daughter Grace was born at 24 weeks on October 7, 2004. Schwertfeger couldn’t hold her daughter until week five. Grace spent six months in a neonatal intensive care unit and three additional months in a pediatric intensive care unit.
Grace would have chronic lung disease and an abnormal development of lung tissue. She would become more susceptible to viruses and develop asthma. Over time, she would have a half dozen surgeries, involving her eyes, esophagus, and heart, and would have a feeding tube installed and a tracheotomy, with the latter eventually removed.
Said Schwertfeger, “Today, Grace (also) deals with being developmentally cognitively delayed. In terms of how she functions around the house, she especially has daily struggles remembering things. She needs a lot of repetition. She drops things and is impulsive. She accidentally gets hurt a lot. She recognizes she can’t do certain things and as a result gets frustrated. Grace learns best by positive reinforcement.” She said her daughter rides the special education school bus. A paraprofessional helps Grace throughout the school day.
Schwertfeger, who has two other daughters, has authored a book, Life With Grace. It’s a resource guide that offers sound advice for preemie children parents, and inspires and encourages to help those parents survive.
She said, “My goal is to get this (book) to as many parents as I can. Grace survived, and so I felt in my heart that because of it I had to take all the information I learned and utilize it.”
In terms of advice for preemie parents, she said, “With Grace, I wanted to push the future ahead, but really you can only take one day at a time. (These children) need lots of time to catch up because of fighting so many health issues. My hope for Grace is she will keep learning from her sisters and family and become more independent.”