Marissa Hermer can’t help but be overcome with emotion when she reflects on this time last year.
The Ladies of London star had been on bed rest nearly all of her seven-month pregnancy with daughter Sadie when she was induced on April 21, 2016. She was expecting a touch-and-go delivery, and her medical team even flew in a vascular medicine specialist from the battlefield of Aleppo, Syria, to offset her blood loss.
“It was a very scary time,” she tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue.
Yet amid the life-and-death stakes, Hermer found unexpected peace: “When you’re faced with not knowing how your life is going to change in the next five hours, you feel a deep and great love for your family.”
Hermer admits that when she “met” baby Sadie five days after her birth, she had been so anxious throughout her pregnancy, she “had a hard time connecting to her.”
Hermer explains that the less of stress she was facing “can affect people in different ways. Rather than clinging to her, I sort of put up my own boundaries of, like, ‘Don’t get too connected to her because she is going to break your heart if something happens.’ ”
Now, 13 months later, mother and baby are “absolutely thriving.”
Sadie has managed to avoid common premie medical concerns and is weighing in the 99th percentile while developing a “cheeky” personality — she even bosses around her big brothers Max, 5, and Jake, 3.
- For more from Marissa Hermer’s first year with her miracle baby, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now
The past year also sparked “a life change” as Orange County native Marissa and her English-born husband Matt moved the family to Los Angeles. She’s focused on setting down new roots and growing her business empire (Princes William and Harry once frequented the Hermers’ former club Boujis, and the Hermers still own several U.K. Bumpkin restaurant locations along with London and Istanbul locations of their Eclipse lounge). This means Marissa won’t be able to film a new season of Ladies — but she isn’t ruling out Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
That said, she’s happy to steer clear of too much drama for a little while after many “very emotional” months.
“It wasn’t a sad year, granted there were lots of really awful moments, lots of lows, but we were very, very lucky and there were lots of highs as well. So it’s definitely been a year of extremes,” she says, adding with a laugh: “I don’t know if I need so many extremes in my life as I had last year!”
And so, before she returns to the reality TV roller coaster, Hermer is planning a slight detour … to the beach. These days she’s happy to wiggle her toes in the sand and spend her time “playing sandcastles with the boys and snuggling with Sadie without distractions. That’s very healing.”