(NEW YORK) — As Marie Massey went into labor four months early, she wondered in desperation whether keeping her legs closed would do any good.
“You just think stupid things,” she said.
Baby Faith was born anyway, and she weighed only 15 ounces — lighter than a loaf of bread.
“They didn’t think she was going to be alive, but I knew she was. Because I just knew it,” Massey told ABC News.
The day before, Massey, 42, stayed home from work because she wasn’t feeling well. She was 23 weeks pregnant and decided she only needed one day off, so she planned to return to her regular commute to Manhattan the following day.
But on the train from her home in Princeton, N.J., she didn’t feel right. She nearly asked a conductor to stop the train, but as a veteran commuter, she didn’t want to make everyone late for work, she said. She could wait 30 more minutes, she told herself.
Once she got to the bank where she worked, she leaned her chair back and rubbed her stomach.
That’s when her coworker turned to her and said the thing she couldn’t believe: “I think you’re in labor.”
“I said, ‘Are you sure? It can’t be. You’re wrong,'” Massey recalled, noting her coworker told her that she had “the look” his wife had before she gave birth.
Massey called her doctor, who suggested she go straight to NYU Langone Medical Center. A short cab ride later, she was lying in a bed and undergoing an ultrasound.
“Oh boy, that’s when everything started rolling,” Massey said.
Trying to keep Massey calm, a nurse gave her a pet name, “chicken,” and told her to relax. Then, Massey mentioned that she was feeling a little pressure, and the nurse said a little too calmly that she would be right back.
Minutes later, the room filled with doctors, who told her the baby was positioned to come out. They tried pills to stop Massey’s labor, but it was no use.
Faith was born at 4:43 p.m. on March 7. She wasn’t even born in a delivery room.
After Massey kissed the tiny baby hello, doctors told her that babies born at 23 weeks rarely survive, and if they do, they run the risk of cerebral palsy, brain bleeds and other complications.
“The list went on and on,” Massey said. “So I’m laying there, and I kept saying to them, ‘She’s gonna be fine. Don’t worry.’ They said, ‘But you don’t understand Ms. Massey. There’s no chance here.'”
Massey joked that “like a dingbat” she calmly suggested doctors give her daughter oxygen, steroids and anything else that might help her.
She remembered the dream she had the night before going into labor. In it, she said God told her he would take care of her daughter, but she had to have “faith.”
And that’s how Faith got her name.
Neonatologist Dr. Michael Espiritu at NYU Langone said Faith was the smallest baby he’d ever encountered and that she had a lot working against her. She was born because there was an infection in Massey’s placenta. Though doctors often give steroids to mothers who prematurely go into labor to boost lung growth in the time before birth, Faith was born almost immediately after doctors counseled Massey on the gravity of the situation.
“Right as we started talking to her, it all started happening very fast,” Espiritu said.
Babies born that young have only a 20 percent chance of survival, Espiritu said. And only 5 percent survive without significant brain damage.
The following morning, Massey got up to visit Faith. At the elevator, nurses saw her and told her she needed someone to accompany her downstairs. She’d just given birth, after all. She told them she’d wait, but left anyway. She wanted to see her baby girl, even though she couldn’t hold her.
Faith was bright red, with translucent, underdeveloped skin, Massey said. She was in an incubator with bright purple lights, and was on a ventilator to help her premature lungs breath.
“Her breathing tube was the smallest one that we have,” Espiritu said.
Faith’s tiny body was covered in a saran wrap-like material to keep her warm.
A few days later, Massey was able to return home, but Faith would remain in the hospital for months to come.
Massey spent her maternity leave visiting Manhattan to see Faith. When she went back to work, her boss allowed her to take two-hour lunch breaks to visit the neonatal intensive care unit. Babies and parents would come in and go out, but Faith and Massey would stay behind.
She could always tell when a family was about to take their baby home because a car seat would appear behind that baby’s bed. So when it was finally time for Faith to go home, nearly four months after her birthday, Massey bought two car seats for her.
That was in July. Now, Faith weighs nearly 10 pounds.
“She smiles like crazy,” Massey said. “She’s just a happy baby. As soon as you talk to her, she smiles.”
Faith can even get on her hands and push her body all the way up, Massey said, describing it as some kind of baby yoga pose.
Espiritu saw Faith and Massey the day they left the NICU.
“It was such a happy day for me, for everyone who cared for her,” he said. “Seeing her from when she was so tiny and seeing her look like she was a regular baby, as if nothing had happened to her.”
Espiritu called Faith a “miracle.” Her brain had no structural damage, she didn’t need oxygen at the time of her discharge, and she avoided major surgery, he said. Still, doctors will need to pay special attention to her as she meets her milestones for the next several years.
“She beat remarkable odds, I think, to go home the way that she did,” Espiritu said, adding that the NYU Langone staff took excellent care of her, but didn’t do anything out of the ordinary for a preemie. “It surprised everyone that took care of her how strong she was.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Ahiza Garcia, CNN Newswire
Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com