Petersburg Family

Petersburg family

2023 March of Dimes "Petersburg Family Story"

Sometimes being a parent doesn’t feel like being a parent

Allison and John Petersburg’s world completely changed when they heard their pregnancy test was positive. While that’s true of all new parents, it was especially sweet for them after struggling with infertility for almost three years. They were pregnant with twins. Allison says, “It almost felt like it wasn’t real.” But it was, and even better, everything was going along smoothly. “It was probably the easiest pregnancy anyone would say they’ve ever had,” John remembers. “Right up until it wasn’t.” 

Baby B, Allison’s daughter Hailey, was fine, but the water broke on Baby A, her son Lucas. At 21 weeks, they knew that if she went into labor, the babies wouldn’t survive. Allison’s job was now clear. “And that job was to remain on bed rest and make sure I keep them safe,” she says. 

After three weeks on bedrest, Allison went into preterm labor. The babies needed to be delivered by emergency Cesarean birth at 24 weeks—more than three months early. 

The hospital staff burst into action and John quickly dressed into protective gear to be present during the Cesarean. Once delivered, the babies were rolled into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). They were tiny. Lucas weighed just 1 pound, 11 ounces, and Hailey weighed just 1 pound, 7 ounces. John saw the NICU team hook Allison up and supply the twins with oxygen and attach them to numerous other leads. He followed, but that’s all he could do. Allison says, “He went between me and my hospital room and the NICU and back and forth for the first 24 hours.” 

“I didn't get to see them or hold them at all after giving birth,” Allison says. Eventually she could leave her room from recovery to see the babies. “I remember the look of joy and sadness on her face when she saw them,” John says. “It's heartbreaking.” 

For Allison, it was nothing like what she imagined it would be. There were no sounds of babies crying, only the mechanical buzz, chirps, and whirrs of machines. “I was afraid,” she recalls. “I didn't even feel like a mother at that point.” John felt the overwhelming crush of reality to see how much was needed just to keep his children alive. 

Lucas had a grade four brain bleed and his heart was deteriorating. The doctors spoke to his mom and dad and said words no parent wants to hear: their son wasn't going to make it. Allison and John got the call that it was time to get back to see Lucas for a final goodbye. They hadn't ever even seen him, let alone hold him. 

John’s recollection of the moment was bittersweet. “March of Dimes gave us a beautiful little blanket that was made to wrap him in. So, the first and only time I held him was when he died.” Allison adds, “And it was beautiful. Just to hold him. We had a moment with our son.” Lucas passed away 40 hours after being born. 

But their daughter had challenges of her own. Haley’s NICU journey was extremely difficult with one complication after another, particularly her lung development, which affected her breathing. It was a roller coaster with more lows than highs. “She's such a fighter that she overcame every obstacle that came her way,” John says. Slowly one by one the machines were taken away and they were able to see her face. After 29 days, Allison and John held their daughter for the first time.