When Amanda Acevedo was pregnant she wasn't just planning for a baby, she was also planning a wedding. She was supposed to marry her fiancé, Edwin, on a beach in June and then welcome their baby boy in August.
But when Amanda's water broke early everything changed. She was admitted to the hospital for three weeks and went into pre-term labor on June 14. Baby Oliver came into the world two months early, weighing just 3 pounds, 14.6 ounces, and Amanda and her fiancé Edwin stopped thinking about romantic beach weddings, but certainly not about their love for each other and their baby boy.
Caring for their preemie together in the NICU the two felt closer than ever and decided they would just get married quickly down at the courthouse in Raleigh, North Carolina, and then plan a "real" wedding for next year.
But when they told a nurse they would be away from the hospital for a quick courthouse wedding, they ended up with the wedding of their dreams. It wasn't on the beach, but their baby was able to be part of it.
As Amanda tells Motherly, she and Edwin ended up walking down the aisle in the hospital chapel with their baby boy, thanks to hospital staff who went above and beyond in delivering family-centered care and an unforgettable wedding.
"We could not have asked for a more special or memorable wedding"
The morning of the wedding Amanda got a call from Mallory Magelli McKeown, a Family Navigator at WakeMed Children's Hospital. McKeown had heard from the nurses that Amanda and Edwin planned to dash down to the courthouse that afternoon and she had an offer for them.
"She said she would be happy to marry us at the hospital in the chapel," Amanda tells Motherly. "Oliver's doctor, Dr. Demeo, said he was stable enough to be unhooked from his monitors so I could carry him during the ceremony."
McKeown is amazing at her job as a Family Navigator, but she tells Motherly she is an is ordained minister and has also served as a chaplain. That's why she was able to officiate a wedding on the fly, and can now add "instant wedding planner" to her resume.
"They had planned on a 2:30 wedding at the courthouse so we held to that timeline. We have some really amazing nurses and they wanted to decorate for the wedding so I ran out and got some decorations to surprise the family with," McKeown explains.
Carrying her baby instead of a bouquet
Amanda was blown away by everything McKeown and her colleagues did to ensure she had a wedding she would love.
"The NICU staff was so sweet and surprised us by decorating Oliver's room, dressed him up in a little suit, decorated his crib, and made it possible for him to come down to the third floor to the chapel," she says.
Instead of carrying a bouquet down the aisle, Amanda carried her son, something that was very special to her as a NICU mom.
"It's just hard when you think the safest place for your baby is in your arms but being a preemie that wasn't always the case. You sometimes feel more like a visitor or [bystander] than a mother or father because the nurses have to do the medical side of his care so you just stand and watch and hope they get better," she tells Motherly.
Before her pregnancy complications changed her plans Amanda had always planned to carry Oliver with her on her wedding day and thanks to the efforts of McKeown and her colleagues she got to—with no wires or monitors to keep them apart.
Celebrating the formation of a family
When Amanda and Oliver got to the altar McKeown had yet another surprise for the NICU mama.
"Mallory made the vows personal to our time here and this new chapter in our lives," Amanda tells Motherly. "It was all just so sweet and special and I could not have asked for a more perfect wedding."
The WakeMed campus will always be a special place for the Acevedos. It is where some of the most stressful days of their lives took place, but also the venue for one of the happiest. The Acevedos are so thankful to the staff who have cared for Oliver as he's grown—because this little guy has grown a lot!
"He is currently 8 pounds, 5.7 ounces," Amanda tells Motherly. "If all continues well he will be discharged Wednesday morning and can finally come home."
We're not crying. You're crying.