NEW LENOX, Ill. (CBS) – Millions of babies are born prematurely every year.
That translates to about one in 10 newborns that need extra support in the neonatal intensive care unit or NICU. CBS 2's Lauren Victory speaks with some suburban families who've been through that experience as part of NICU Awareness Month.
Little Brooke Schultz, bikini-clad and covered in birthday cake, has had lots to celebrate recently, including the wedding of her mom and dad.
"We just bought a new house, so there's that," said mom Stefani Schultz. "She just started walking."
Brooke has been hitting milestone after milestone.
The earliest memories for the proud parents were made in the Silver Cross Hospital intensive care unit, or NICU. CBS 2 was there last summer. Brooke spent 18 days getting some lung support.
But now, you'd never know she was in the NICU, but mom and dad will never forget.
"We still always talk about it," Stefani said. "Just like how crazy. It was a whirlwind, obviously."
NICU stays are often unexpected and can last months. Lillian Stornello was born several weeks premature this July.
"The security guards know us," said dad Gregg Stornello. "The parking attendants know us."
The Stornellos live in Lockport but call the hospital room in New Lenox their second home. Mom is usually on her laptop working remotely. The family said they pretty much do everything but sleep in the room.
"You learn to adjust your schedules a lot being NICU parents," Gregg said. "That's for sure."
Babies are treated in the NICU for all sorts of reasons. It's not uncommon for newborns to need special care, especially if they don't weigh that much.
"I think he's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," said Nate Childs, another NICU dad.
"He's so precious, so perfect," said mom Jess Childs
Their son Kashton is a healthy 7-plus pounds and wasn't born early but still wound up in the NICU.
"I had a whole birth plan. Everything worked out," said Jess. "Gave birth to him, and they had to take him right away. He had low oxygen levels. It was really worrisome for me and him."
Stress is so common for NICU families. You can find several support groups online.
"Don't Google anything," Stefani Schultz said. "And that was my problem."
It's mom and dad anxiety that'll never quite go away, but many of the parents of Silver Cross NICU "graduates" will tell you: to trust your doctors and the process.
CBS 2earlier this week: healthcare workers who drive long distances and make other sacrifices to care for the tiniest patients.
Here are just some support groups for NICU families:
for more features.