The tiny bit of human life in the incubator is so small, her entire hand can barely grasp her big sister’s pinky. But at 2 pounds, 4 ounces, the 19th child of Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar is already far bigger than she was when she was born on Dec. 10, 15 weeks premature.
“Little Josie is 7 weeks old today, and that’s a lot to celebrate,” Michelle told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira via satellite Thursday from Little Rock, Ark. “She’s doing very good.”
Surrounded by 16 of her children and her husband, Michelle gave TODAY viewers an exclusive first look at the tiniest member of America’s most famous supersized family. Confined to her incubator in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Josie has a substantial head of hair that was festooned with a tiny pink ribbon.
Touch and go
Also for the first time, Michelle and Jim Bob talked about the terrifying moment when doctors told them they had to perform an emergency C-section to save Michelle’s life and give Josie a chance at survival.
“I think that day was one of the most scary moments of my life, realizing little Josie was going to be born early,” Michelle told Vieira. “I was just scared to death thinking, here she’s 15 weeks away from her due date. Will she survive?”
After 16 mostly normal pregnancies that resulted in 18 children, the Duggars first realized there might be a problem with Josie in early December, when Michelle was admitted to the hospital with a gallstone attack.
Michelle also had preeclampsia, a condition that affects about 5 percent of pregnant women. Symptoms include dangerously high blood pressure. The condition can in some cases be dangerous to both mother and fetus.
After six days of hospitalization, doctors told the Duggars that they had to deliver Josie by Caesarean section to save both her and Michelle, and that they had to act within 30 minutes. The Duggars said they prayed for Michelle’s blood pressure to come down, but when that didn’t happen, they agreed to the surgery.
Jim Bob told Vieira that he and Michelle had hoped that doctors would be able to treat Michelle’s preeclampsia and continue the pregnancy.
“We thought maybe we’d be able to keep the pregnancy going for three and a half months so she could go full-term,” Jim Bob explained. “It was so scary when she had to deliver early. When they came in and said we need to deliver within 30 minutes, it was one of the scariest moments of our lives. We really felt that’s what we needed to do.
“We’re so thankful that Michelle’s doing great, the baby’s doing great,” Jim Bob added. “We’re just so blessed.”
But even though she is doing well, Josie is not out of the woods yet, the Duggars said. Premature infants are notorious for seeming to thrive one day and then developing problems the next. Josie is expected to remain in NICU while she gains weight, at least until March 18, which was her original due date.
‘Never trust a preemie’
“They take about three steps forward and two steps back. They say ‘never trust a preemie.’ That’s just typical,” Jim Bob said. “Overall, she’s done very well. She’s gained a pound. Probably within the next month she’ll gain another pound or two. We look forward to the day we can bring her home and join the rest of the bunch.”
Hospital rules that limit NICU visitors to 18 or older prevent most of the Duggars from visiting Josie. But Jill Duggar, who is 18, stops in frequently to see her littlest sister and is amazed that a baby can be so tiny.
“I had heard she’s 1 pound, 6 ounces — I couldn’t imagine the size. When I finally got to see her — she is itty-bitty. She’s so precious and beautiful,” Jill said.
“She is so very precious,” Josie’s 18-year-old sister added. “Just seeing a baby that small is amazing. I just cry every time I see her. She’s just so little. Like her whole hand can barely wrap around my pinky. Just seeing that precious little life, that it can be sustained at that age — it’s beautiful.”
“19 Kids and Counting: Special Duggar Delivery” premieres Sunday, Jan. 31, at 8 p.m. (ET/PT) on TLC. Season 4 of “19 Kids and Counting” premieres Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 9 p.m. on TLC.