Renata Freydin and David Caldwell were surprised when their first baby was born 10 weeks early on Jan. 30, weighing just 3 pounds, 9 ounces. Like most parents with a newborn in the NICU, they were scared.
Then came another surprise, and this one gave them comfort: One of the NICU nurses lovingly caring for their baby had also taken care of David in the same hospital... 33 years ago.
"The contractions just came out of nowhere," Freydin told TODAY Parents. "It was a huge surprise."
Zayne Alexander Caldwell has spent the last three weeks learning to grow and thrive outside the womb in the NICU at St Peter's University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey — three weeks that have been among "the most intense and emotional" of his parents' lives, his mom said.
"This has been one of the hardest things we have ever gone through together, leaving the hospital without our baby," said Freydin, 34. "I have all the new mom hormones. I cry every day."
She is been grateful for the "amazing" nurses who have been caring for her baby. "Every single nurse has been so loving," she said. "It makes me happy he is there because I know they are taking care of him so well. NICU nurses are a different breed. They're special."
"NICU nurses are a different breed."
Having his baby in the NICU prompted Freydin's fiancé, David Caldwell, 33, to dig out his own baby book. Caldwell was a preemie himself; he was born six weeks early at the same hospital. He knew there was a picture of him as a baby with his mother's favorite NICU nurse, a picture his mother had shown him many times while he was growing up.
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When he shared the picture with Freydin, she couldn't believe it: She recognized the nurse's face. Caldwell's NICU nurse was one of Zayne's NICU nurses, Lissa McGowan — the same woman, still taking care of babies, 33 years later.
Freydin wrote about the incredible coincidence on her Facebook page, in a post that has since been shared more than 28,000 times on Facebook.
"The past two weeks have been filled with worries and uncertainty, but we can breathe easy knowing my lil nugget's nurse is the same one that helped the man I love when he was in the same situation," Freydin wrote in the post.
McGowan, who has been a nurse at St. Peter's University Hospital since 1981, told TODAY Parents that working in the NICU can be "very intense, very emotional" for the nurses as well, but that the relationships with the families of the thousands and thousands of babies she has cared for over the years have been a bonus in her career.
"Parents come into the NICU so frightened and scared. They get pregnant to have a healthy baby. I want to see kids get better — to see them grow and develop and shine," she said.
'An angel in the NICU'
McGowan noted that when she began working in the NICU in her 20s, she didn't know the emotional attachment and rewards that would come along with the job. She said that the impact of her work and the relationships she has formed with patient families and the NICU "sister" nurses on her team have been very rewarding.
"It's apparent that we are all loving what we do," she said.
Caldwell's mother always talked about his "amazing" NICU nurse, and how much she loved her. Unfortunately, Caldwell's mother died when he was in high school. The couple believes his mother sent McGowan to them as a way of telling them that everything would be OK for her grandson. Said Freydin, "She let us know we have an angel in the NICU."
Caldwell's reaction touched McGowan.
"To have this big bear of a guy tell me that I calmed him and helped him because of my connection with his mom gave me chills and brought tears to my eyes," she said.
Mom creates preemie milestone cards to cope with life in the NICUMarch 16, 201700:49
This story was originally published in February 2020.