Lilliana Vazquez Welcomes Baby Boy Santiago Merrick: 'He Erased All the Pain and Struggles'
"I don't know if I have the words to really describe those first few seconds when Santiago was finally in my arms," the E! News personality tells PEOPLE
Santi is here!
Lilliana Vazquez and husband Patrick McGrath welcomed their first baby, son Santiago Merrick McGrath, on Monday, July 19, she confirms to PEOPLE exclusively. Baby Santi weighed 7 lbs., 4 oz., and measured 20.5 inches at birth.
"I don't know if I have the words to really describe those first few seconds when Santiago was finally in my arms. It felt like a lifetime of desire, love, joy and hope washed over me," Vazquez, 41, tells PEOPLE.
"I'm crying now just thinking about it. I remember looking at him with absolute wonder and amazement and thinking how blessed we are to get to share our lives with him. Nothing else mattered at that moment, and I mean nothing else, not even the fact that on the other side of the curtain behind my son, they were literally putting me back together."
"He erased all the pain, the struggles and the battle wounds left over from six years of fighting for this very moment," she adds. (Vazquez opened up to PEOPLE about her journey with IVF when she announced her pregnancy.)
Baby Santi was in a breech position until week 39, but Vazquez ultimately decided to proceed with a cesarean section after "much emotional and personal preparation," she says.
"I stayed firm and connected with my intuition and knew that going forward with a C-section was the best choice for me because I fully understood every angle of that choice — I spent weeks talking to my OB/GYN, had honest and at times difficult conversations with friends who had gone through the same thing," she says. "And that's the beauty of childbirth, there's no right/wrong, better/worse scenario. Each delivery happens exactly how it's meant to be and the only thing that matters is that both Mom and baby are healthy when it's all said and done."
Vazquez says "everything went according to plan" thanks to the medical team at UCLA's Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles.
"I wanted what is known as a 'gentle' Cesarean — delayed cord clamping, limited medical assessment for the baby and skin-to-skin contact as soon as possible," she says. "Everyone in the room was on the same page and once we started, my son was in my arms in under 30 minutes."
"I was so scared of every little thing, but my husband was right by my side, holding my hand and keeping me strong through pretty intense shakes and many, many tears," she adds. "He focused my breath and used music (a very special playlist he created for Santi and I) to keep my mind and heart present for the beautiful miracle happening in that moment."
The song that played when she got to hold Santi for the first time? "Ojos de Sol" by Y La Bamba.
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"One week later, when I hear the first two notes from the song that was playing when they put Santi on my chest, I break down into one of those ugly Oprah cries!" she says.
Vazquez and McGrath decided to wait until the birth to know the baby's sex, but had two names selected that reflected the duality of her Latina identity and his Irish culture.
"We knew we wanted a Spanish first name and Santiago has always been one of my favorites — Patrick loved it the moment I said it!" she says. "We also agreed pretty early on that we would call him 'Santi' for short — it creates the most beautiful sound and I love the way the name manages to feel both soft yet strong at the same time… just like our baby boy!"
It's an element of the baby's identity near and dear to Vazquez's heart. It's "really important to me that the baby understands that they are a part of two beautiful cultures, and that is the Latina side of me and my husband's background, which is Irish," she told PEOPLE in March.
As to what she's looking forward to with her baby, Vazquez says, "Just being a little family of three."
"Patrick and I have been just the two of us for 15 years so we're ready to share our life with Santi — learn about who he is, who he wants to be, and seeing adventure and discovery through his eyes," she adds.
"My heart is so full right now, watching Lilliana become a mother has been the most challenging and rewarding chapter of our relationship so far," adds McGrath. "I'm so excited for Santiago and all the adventures we have ahead of us as a new family."
Vazquez says she's "thrown out" all of the preconceived sentiments of parenthood.
"Trust me, you will do things you swore you'd never do, say things you used to roll your eyes about and laugh at how much you thought you knew about motherhood, parenting and just surviving a newborn," she says. "Thinking about all of my lists and rules and preferences makes me laugh — but not too much, remember C section! — at 4 a.m. when Santi is up for what feels like his 87th meal of the day."
"In those really difficult moments, I find myself going back to a piece of advice given to me by Kathie Lee Gifford that changed my journey from that moment on," she adds. "One simple word: surrender."
Vazquez and McGrath exclusively announced their pregnancy news with PEOPLE back in March.
"It was just complete and over the top elation," she said at the time. "I don't think it's a feeling I'd ever really felt before."
It was a long process getting to her positive pregnancy test. Vazquez started her in vitro fertilization and intrauterine insemination journey back in 2015 and the pair eventually got used to experiencing loss.
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Several weeks after treatment last year, the couple got the news that there was a heart beating in her belly. "I thought it was a prank call," she said with a laugh. "I'm 40 years old and I'm pregnant for the first time, and so I think when you've experienced so much loss... it hardens you and it makes you so scared."
"It's heartbreaking to say, but for the first trimester every day, I was like, 'Is today the last day I'm going to be pregnant?' " she added "It took a long time for me to get out of that phase to feel like, 'Okay, Lilliana, you can't be afraid. You have to let this feel like what it is, which is a miracle.' "
Vazquez has been open about her infertility struggles and continues to use her platform to offer advice to other women experiencing similar challenges.
"It's important we begin to normalize that this beautiful yet often challenging time in life is different for each one of us — our journey to motherhood and through it, like our babies, will be unique and one of a kind in this world," she recently shared on Instagram.
Adding, "So to all the other Mom's, soon to be Mom's and wishing to be Mom's struggling with feelings that the world doesn't quite understand, I am you and I'm here for you. ❤️"
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