How an Alleghany County mom is paying it forward after her son’s journey in the NICU

Mariah and Caleb hold baby Slayter in the NICU at Carilion Children's. (Credit: Mariah Armstrong) (WSLS)

ROANOKE, Va. – Having a baby can be a miracle for many, but it doesn’t come without its challenges.

When 22-year-old Mariah Armstrong delivered her baby boy Slayter, he spent time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Carilion Children’s Hospital in Roanoke.

Mariah says the experience can be described best in one word: a rollercoaster.

“One day, it’s very good and then the next day, you go back in, and then it was like, ‘Oh, well, this happened.’ Kinda like one step forward, two steps back. It was hard,” Mariah said.

Mariah felt the support from the nurses on the 14th floor, a generosity she doesn’t take for granted.

“They’re amazing nurses up there. Many of them I still speak to weekly, and they keep up with us. It’s definitely the most difficult thing that we have ever had to do. But looking back now, he’s just so strong,” Mariah said.

Slayter, who is 11 months old, is a now healthy baby boy with the brightest smile.

11-month-old Slayter with Nurse Mariana at Carilion Children's in Roanoke. (Credit: Mariah Armstrong) (WSLS)

An Act of Kindness

While the journey in the NICU wasn’t easy, Mariah and her husband, Caleb, were met with support from someone who knew their struggle best.

Slayter shared a pod with another baby, who had been at the NICU for a few months. The baby’s mother left a note with Mariah and Caleb, sharing her sympathy for the hardship the two were going through.

The mother offered her support and even let the couple know she was there to talk at any time.

The next day, Mariah and Caleb sat down and spoke with the mother, who gave them a gift bag with NICU milestone cards, a gift card, and a water bottle.

“That just really stuck with me because it really meant a lot,” Mariah said.

Paying it Forward

This holiday season, Mariah decided to give back to those who are in the same shoes they once wore.

Mariah and Slayter returned to the 14th floor of Carilion Children’s in December to give back to the families of the NICU babies. This time, offering support of their own with gift bags.

Local businesses and family members donated to the gift bags, which held items new parents might find useful, and impactful.

Some of the donations included:

  • Ryan and Rose donated pacifiers
  • Mariah’s mom donated candy
  • Caleb’s mom donated onesies
  • Katie Browning donated lotions
  • Mariah and Caleb donated sleepers
Items in the gift bags for families of NICU babies at Carilion Children's. (Credit: Mariah Armstrong) (WSLS)

For Mariah, heading back to the 14th floor had its ups and downs. She describes the experience as “bittersweet.”

When Slayter was in the NICU, COVID restrictions prevented extended family from visiting him. Mariah and Caleb would meet with their loved ones in the waiting room, which proved to be an emotional experience for everyone.

“They would come up to the waiting room and they would meet us there. We would cry, we would pray, and we would just be there for each other. It was just very bittersweet to actually have my baby in my arms in that same place,” Mariah said.

After her son’s journey, Mariah wants other new parents with babies in the NICU to know they aren’t alone.

“There will be a light at the end of the tunnel. It is truly one step at a time, one day at a time, one moment at a time. All babies do things at their own pace — that is one thing that I have really learned,” Mariah said.

About the Author:

Lauren Helkowski joined WSLS 10’s digital team in August 2022, but has held a passion for storytelling long before.