Couple Marries in Hospital Beside Their Four-Month Premature Baby's Incubator

A couple whose wedding plans were hit by COVID and then the premature birth of their first child, has tied the knot beside their daughter's incubator.

Tracey Leonard and Adrian Dickens got married on Monday, February 14, in daughter Mandy's NICU room at the Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU (CHoR), in Virginia.

Family members were unable to attend the ceremony because of COVID restrictions, but Leonard said that the premature birth had given the couple "a new focus."

Around 380,000 babies are born prematurely in the U.S. each year, according to March of Dimes. Some 10.1 percent of babies born in the U.S. in 2020 were born prematurely, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on its website.

The preterm birth rate in the U.S. is among the worst of high-resource nations, according to March of Dimes.

The baby was born just 24 weeks into Leonard's pregnancy, 16 weeks ahead of her due date, the CHoR explained in a blog post.

At that stage, babies tend to weigh around 1 pound and they aren't yet able to breathe outside the womb.

As such, she spends the majority of her time in an incubator, where her lungs and vital organs can continue to develop within an enclosed environment.

Dr. Nayef Chahin, one of her neonatologists at the CHoR, said that a child born at 24 weeks would be expected to receive care in an NICU for around four months on average.

Leonard and Dickens were originally supposed to marry on Friday, December 17.

Unfortunately, they both contracted COVID days ahead of the ceremony, which forced them to cancel their big day.

They then decided instead to marry at their local courthouse on Thursday, December 30, after they had recovered and come out of self-isolation.

However, that's the day that Leonard went into labor, with her newborn daughter arriving on New Year's Eve.

Unusual Ceremony

The idea to wed at the hospital apparently stemmed from a joke that Leonard made to a social worker in the NICU.

The social worker set the wheels in motion, getting one of the hospital chaplains to agree to officiate the ceremony, and securing flowers, balloons and a small cake from Ronald McDonald House Charities.

"Having Mandy just refocused us on the small things, what's most important," said Leonard.

"When Mandy is home and we have a new normal, we're going to get a beach house and invite our immediate families—nothing big and showy. We have a new focus."

A research paper published in The Lancet in July last year found a potential link between COVID and premature births.

Analysis of more than 240,000 births documented in California between July 2020 and January 2021 found a preterm birth rate of 11.8% among those who contracted coronavirus, compared with 8.7% among those who weren't infected with the virus.

In December, the CDC revealed that it had recorded more than 125,000 COVID cases and 161 deaths in pregnant women over the course of the pandemic.

A baby in a blanket
Babies born at around 24 weeks are typically expected to spend around four months receiving care in an NICU. Big Joe/iStock