One month after he was born, Jaxson Mullenmeister’s parents had reason to celebrate: Their son finally weighed 2 pounds.

To Andrea and Steve Mullenmeister of Prior Lake, this was one of the many unexpected milestones they celebrated since Jaxson was born July 23, 2012, when Andrea was only 23 weeks into her pregnancy (almost four months before Jaxson’s Nov. 18 due date).

The week before their son was born, Andrea and Steve had gone on their annual summer camping trip to Boy Lake, Minn.

“We were going on vacation and then when we got back we were going to start taking care of baby things and painting the baby room pink,” says Steve. “If there’s a silver lining in all this, we didn’t paint the room pink. We were going to since the last ultrasound told us the baby was going to be a girl.”

On their vacation, Steve and Andrea went fishing, and Andrea even caught a 25-inch walleye.

On the day before they were going home, Andrea experienced some mild cramping, but she wasn’t worried.

“Never did I think the baby would be born the next day,” she says.

The next day she woke up, felt fine and packed up to head home. But as the morning went on, the pain came back and got worse.

“As soon as we got into cell phone range we called the nurse line and we thought they would just tell us to go to the clinic,” says Andrea. “Instead, the nurse said to go to the nearest ER – which was 40 miles away in Crosby.”

“As we drove I was completely hunched over,” remembers Andrea.

At the hospital, the doctors found that Andrea was leaking amniotic fluid. They decided the baby needed more care than they could provide, and had her transferred to the nearest hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), which was in St. Cloud.

After giving Andrea medication in an attempt to stop her contractions and steroids to help the baby’s lungs develop quickly, she was airlifted from Crosby to St. Cloud.

As she flew in the cramped helicopter, Andrea thought, “No, no I am not having this baby today. I was hunched over and thought somehow I was going to keep it in. I was thinking it was too small and too little.”

Steve couldn’t take the helicopter, so he had to drive to St. Cloud on his own.

He made it about 45 minutes before the doctors said Jaxson had to be born.

It took awhile for him and Andrea to come to grips with the fact that their son was going to be born months early.

“When I finally realized [was] when the nurse came and told me I have to roll over and push, or the baby would have to be born by C-section,” says Andrea. “Then I actively pushed, and I only had to push twice.”

Out came Jaxson Michael Mullenmeister. He weighed 1 pound 8 ounces. He was 11.5 inches long.

Steve says, “It was the scariest day of our lives.”

Struggling to breathe

Jaxson wasn’t breathing when he was born and had to be put on a respirator. He stayed on the respirator for a day before he could try breathing on his own.

He was able to make about four days breathing aided by only by continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), which uses slight air pressure to keep the airway constantly open.

However, this was too much for Jaxson – whose brain would sometimes forget to tell his body to breathe – and he was put back on a ventilator, which did the breathing for him.

Despite one other attempt to take him off the ventilator, he would remain on it until Aug. 29.

Still, he grew and despite some scares, his parents say he’s made progress.

“We feel lucky that he’s had more good days than bad days,” Andrea says.

But the progress is slow.

“He was so small that for the first couple days we called him ‘it’ or ‘baby,’” says Steve.

It took a chromosome test to establish that Jaxson was, in fact, a boy.

He first opened his eyes when he was three days old. His parents were finally able to hold him at 13 days old. In the first month of his life, Jaxson’s parents finally heard him cry.

“Life in the NICU is a roller coaster,” wrote Andrea in her blog about the experience.

Pulling together

Steve and Andrea credit their friends and family – as well as each other – for helping them pull through the ups and downs of Jaxson’s premature birth.

“We’re so lucky,” gushes Andrea, “to have the friends and family we do.”

They say they have “a family of doers” who have cleaned their house, mowed their lawn and walked their dog.

“We were worried about heart surgery and brain scans, and not much else,” says Andrea.

“It’s really hard and very humbling to have all this,” she says. “We’ve been struggling with it, but we know people who want to help.”

Jaxson was moved at the end of August to the St. Paul Children’s Hospital, which ended the hour-and-a-half trip that Andrea – and Steve when he was not working – had to take to see their son. He has done well on CPAP, but they’re looking forward to the day when he will be able to breathe on his own.

“After he can breathe on his own, the big thing then is feeding and growing him,” says Steve.

If all goes well for Jaxson, he will be released from the hospital in mid-November, close to his original due date.

Still Andrea looks to the future, when she can give back to someone else in a similar situation.

“They have a program where volunteer parents can talk to new parents in the NICU. I already think doing something like that is important,” she says.

Both Steve and Andrea believe that besides their friends and families, seeing Jaxson grow helps to keep their spirits high.

“Being able to hold Jaxson really helped us cope and bond with him. That’s how you cope – you do what you can do,” says Andrea.