It’s been less than a week since Rachelle Friedman Chapman became a mom – and less than 48 hours since she brought the baby home to Raleigh – but she is already head over heels in love.
“We’ve had so many people around us that I haven’t had a chance to change a diaper, but I’m going to soon!” Rachelle tells PEOPLE exclusively, gushing about her new baby girl, Kaylee Rae Chapman.
“I love holding her, though,” she says. “She looks right up at you. She’s so animated and so alert. She’s so cute and so sweet.”
Four years ago, 29-year-old Rachelle wasn’t sure this day would ever come. In the moments after she was hurt, becoming a mother was the only thing on her mind.
“I knew I was paralyzed and the first thing I asked the paramedics was whether I could have kids,” she says. “I was ecstatic when they said yes.”
Rachelle was at her bachelorette party when a friend playfully pushed her in the pool. She was paralyzed from the chest down.
She and husband Chris eventually married and soon started talking about how they could have kids.
Doctors said Rachelle’s medication would make pregnancy dangerous, so the couple were grateful when a college friend, Laurel Hume, agreed to act as their surrogate.
Kaylee made her parents wait, even after they’d already spent weeks – really years – waiting for her arrival.
Hume was due April 18, but Kaylee came April 26. Rachelle and Chris had traveled from their home in Raleigh to Laurel’s farm in Asheville, North Carolina, to welcome their little girl.
Hume finally started contractions Sunday morning, and in less than four hours, she delivered a perfect, 191⁄2-inch baby girl.
“It’s amazing but exhausting,” Rachelle says, admitting that like many new parents, the couple aren’t getting much sleep.
Not that they mind.
“We keep looking at her,” she says. “I think she has Chris’ eyes. She’s a chill baby and sleeps a lot except for one hour every night where she’s just inconsolable.”
Rachelle, who has some use of her hands, is already learning to care for her daughter.
“It’s taking some practice but I’m getting it,” she says. “I’ve fed her and burped her. It can be a little tough to move her from one position to the next while supporting her head, but I’m getting it.”
Leaving the hospital late Tuesday, they dressed Kaylee in the gown Rachelle herself wore home from the hospital as an infant.
“She looked beautiful in it, and it was so symbolic – until she pooped,” Chapman says laughing.
After the four-hour drive from Asheville to Raleigh, they didn’t get home until midnight and were grateful to hand her off to the grandparents.
Both Chris’ parents and Rachelle’s mom are there to help; the couple was anxious to finally get some sleep.
Rachelle was glad to get home, where everything is wheelchair accessible.
There is a specially built crib that she can roll her wheelchair under and a desk that will serve as a changing table that she can roll right up to.
“The wait is finally over and I am so, so excited,” she says. “I had this idea that I would be a mom by the time I was 27.
“It didn t quite happen that way, but it did finally happen and I think I m much more comfortable with my injury now,” she says. “I understand my body and I m ready to be a mom.”