Mallory Weggemann Shares Her Birth Story: 'We Felt Our Hearts Expand Beyond What We Ever Thought Imaginable'

The Paralympic gold medalist and her husband Jay Snyder are adjusting to life as new parents

Mallory Weggemann rollout 4/10
Photo: Becky Ankrum

Mallory Weggemann is enjoying her "sweet little miracle."

The Paralympic swimmer and her husband Jay Snyder welcomed their first baby, Charlotte Ann Snyder, on March 16.

"Holding Little One in my arms after long carrying her in our hearts is something that is still hard to put into words," the Paralympic gold medalist, 34, told PEOPLE exclusively. "We felt our hearts expand beyond what we ever thought imaginable."

But it's been a long journey to get here as the couple navigated 18 months of IVF, including 707 injections, two ovarian stimulation cycles, two egg retrievals, two months of supplemental hormone treatment for suspected endometriosis and two embryo transfers.

Throughout the process Weggemann documented her pregnancy while being candid about Snyder's male-factor infertility, destigmatizing parents with disabilities and refuting the idea that female athletes have to choose between their careers and motherhood.

Mallory Weggemann rollout 4/10
Becky Ankrum

In August, they shared the good news with PEOPLE that their second transfer had been successful and Weggemann was pregnant. "We are over the moon!" she said at the time. Snyder, 40, added: "Hearing the heartbeat was truly a miracle."

But as the due date grew nearer, Weggmann had to reconcile with her past. Along with the excitement about the baby's arrival, there was also fear. Due to complexities with Weggemann's spinal cord injury, her birth plan included an epidural, which is how she became paralyzed 15 years ago during a medical procedure.

"The idea of facing that has triggered emotions and flashbacks I haven't had in years," she told PEOPLE a few weeks before the birth.

When labor started, she received the epidural. "I took some of my power back by not letting that day in 2008 define everything, and by being able to face it again so I could bring a baby into this world."

Mallory Weggemann rollout 4/10
Becky Ankrum

But there was one problem — the epidural didn't work. "I was feeling really sharp pains in my stomach and my back and areas that I shouldn't be feeling between the epidural and being paralyzed. Doctors thought it was because some of the scarring from my paralysis wasn't allowing the medicine to disperse correctly."

The extremely intense contractions put her at risk of autonomic dysreflexia, a potentially life-threatening condition that affects people with spinal cord injuries by causing a dangerous overreaction in the nervous system.

For more on Mallory Weggemann's pregnancy journey, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

With the baby's heart rate increasing, doctors advised a c-section and ended up giving Weggemann a spinal block in lieu of a second epidural, which allowed her to be awake for the delivery. Throughout it all, Snyder was by her side, singing their favorite songs and showing Weggemann uplifting photos to remind her that so many months of trying to conceive had led to this very moment.

Paralympic gold medalist Mallory Weggemann
Mallory, Jay and their dog Sam after celebrating their baby shower, hosted by Mallory's mom and sisters, earlier this month in St. Paul, Minn. Becky Ankrum Photography

It was an amazing experience for two people who thought they would never have a baby of their own. "Jay had long been told he couldn't have children," says Weggemann. "And I'd been told by society that women 'like me' can't be mothers."

While Weggemann and Snyder would love to give Charlotte a sibling, they also have to factor in the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, and how training will be for Weggemann as a new mom. "Female athletes should have the option to continue their careers through parenthood," she says, adding that she will "train differently" now that she has Charlotte.

"When I look at our sweet little miracle, who fought so hard to join us in this world, I see every ounce of love Jay and I put in to protecting our dream and our fight to grow our family."

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