Victoria with parents“Now it’s different. Now I feel like a mom.”

Every new mom expects her world to change when her child arrives. What she doesn’t expect is to welcome her baby 14 weeks early.

At just 26 weeks, Shacara Waithe gave birth to her daughter Victoria. A first-time mom, she didn’t know what contractions felt like, but she knew something was wrong. Shacara and her husband, Bevon, went to Mercy Medical Center, where doctors said their baby needed to be delivered immediately.

On Oct. 26, 2015, Victoria was born at just 2.5 lbs. Shocked and stressed, Shacara and Bevon spent 65 days in the NICU, where Victoria was intubated, had surgery and fed through a feeding tube. On Dec. 11, they were referred and admitted to MWPH’s Center for Neonatal Transitional Care (CNTC).

The CNTC serves premature infants who are transitioning from the acute NICU environment to a more medically stable nursery to concentrate on feeding, growing, development and discharge planning. The program focuses on caregiver education and training, including feeding, CPR and developmental stimulations. Family-centered education, bonding and nurturing are the main goals.

The CNTC team is managed by board-certified neonatologists, pediatricians, nurse practitioners, nurses, respiratory therapists, nutritionists, child life therapists, care managers, rehabilitation therapists and social workers. They work collaboratively with the parents, the child and leading regional pediatric health providers—including University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Here, the Waithes learned the proper way to feed Victoria, CPR and other important skills for a healthy transition home. Having a preemie, the Waithes had no time to think about a baby shower, so staff threw one for them and other CNTC families. They received gifts but also learned educational ways to keep their babies safe at home.

Today, Victoria is 7 lbs. and no longer needs a feeding tube. “She’s really transformed into a beautiful baby girl,” says her proud papa. Mom is able to breastfeed now, and they’ve learned a hands-on approach to parenting.

Looking back on their days in the NICU compared to where they are today, Shacara can’t believe how far they’ve come. “Now it’s different,” she says. “Now I feel like a mom.”

She reacts to them now, and opens her eyes when they speak. “That bond has really grown, and you get to care for her like the mom you want to be,” Shacara says.

They credit the CNTC team, who Shacara says felt more like family. From bedside hugs after a rough day, to gifts at Christmastime and reading stories to the babies, “it’s the little things here that make this experience worth it.”

“I just look at Victoria and I know MWPH brought her to where she is today,” says Shacara. “She is a blessing to us, and so is MWPH.”

Outpatient appointments and program referrals to the CNTC can be made by calling 410-367-2222.