By Barbara Allen, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Michael Luke Pelak IV. It's a long name for a little boy who came into this world well ahead of schedule and weighing only four pounds. His mother, Shrewsbury resident Jennifer O’Connor, calls her son by a shorter name, one that reflects the struggle behind that early arrival: “my miracle.”
After years of failed infertility treatments and four miscarriages, O’Connor had feared that her desire for another child would not be fulfilled. She eventually became pregnant again, but her joy was all but extinguished by the devastating news she received from physicians in her fourth month of pregnancy. Prenatal screening had determined that there was something wrong with the baby, perhaps Down syndrome or spina bifida.
“There's something “off” with this baby,” she was told by one physician.
O’Connor was monitored by high-risk pregnancy experts at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and was seen weekly by the Advanced Fetal Care Center at Boston Children's Hospital. The center has special MRI equipment that enabled better visualization of the baby. It was there that her physician confirmed that there was no Down syndrome, no spina bifida, but that the baby would most likely need esophageal surgery after birth.
O’Connor worried and prayed constantly about the wellbeing of her unborn child. Then, two months prior to the baby's due date, O’Connor's water broke.
“I was terrified to give birth to such a premature baby,” she recalls. Medical attempts to delay her labor were only successful in holding it off for a few days. O’Connor was afraid, that after the months of prayer and medical monitoring, she would lose the baby after all.
But Michael was truly her miracle. The esophageal problem noted by physicians while he was in utero had naturally resolved, and no surgery was necessary. He had to remain in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Brigham and Women's for a few weeks, until he reached his actual due date.
O’Connor can’t say enough about the NICU and the care Michael received there.
“You can call the NICU any time of the day or night and they’ll give you a report on your baby,” she said. O’Connor even nominated Michael's NICU nurse for a nursing award sponsored by the Boston Globe.
“I salute them every day,” she wrote in a blog post on Facebook, referring to the nurses who dedicate their lives to the care of newborns with health challenges.
She also salutes the March of Dimes, whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.
“I want everyone to have the support I had,” O’Connor said. “We’ve come so far with March of Dimes research. So many women are struggling with infertility issues, miscarriages. … People don’t realize how hard it is until they go through it.”
As a result of her experience, O’Connor has become a passionate advocate for March of Dimes. She will be walking, Sunday, April 27, in the organization's “March for Babies” event in Worcester.
“That's my thank you,” she said. She plans to push Michael in his stroller during the walk, which she refers to as “a celebration of life.” She invites others to join her in the walk itself or to donate to March of Dimes through her webpage.
“I want to do everything I can to help March of Dimes help other moms,” O’Connor said.
For more information about the March of Dimes “March for Babies” or to make a donation, visit