Danielle Fishel‘s baby boy Adler Lawrence is a happy, thriving 10-week-old, but his entrance into the world wasn’t an easy one.
The former Boy Meets World actress — who later reprised her role as Topanga Lawrence Matthews on its spin-off, Girl Meets World — opens up alongside husband Jensen Karp in this week’s issue of PEOPLE about Adler’s birth one month early, and his subsequent stay in the neonatal intensive care unit due to fluid build-up in his lungs.
“Adler is bottle-fed because of the issue that he had, something called chylothorax. It’s a leak in the lymphatic system,” says Fishel, 38. “Unfortunately, my breast milk was creating fluid in his lungs, and we had to take him off of breast milk and put him on a specially formulated formula that doesn’t use the lymphatic system.”
Chylothorax caused baby Adler to be “rushed via ambulance” to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles after staff at Providence Tarzana Medical Center, where he was born, noticed that his lungs didn’t seem to be healing themselves as they initially thought, which was something Fishel was told was common with the “rare” condition.
“That was obviously devastating for us. It was traumatizing,” recalls the new mom. “We were not expecting that. The last thing we had heard was that it looks good, the fluid’s going down. We expected to have this ultrasound done and be told there was no more fluid in his lungs.”
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Danielle Fishel Opens Up About “Best Days of My Life” Three Weeks After Son Adler’s Birth
“We really thought we were on our way out, and this was at like day 12 of being in the hospital with him,” Fishel continues. “To hear, ‘We have bad news: The fluid has tripled, and now we no longer think we’re the best place for him. This feels much more like an emergency and we need to rush him to Children’s Hospital,’ was extremely scary.”
“But we did. We left, we went to Children’s Hospital,” she says. “I rode in the ambulance with him. When we got to Children’s Hospital, we had been told that they were most likely going to have to tap his lungs to drain the fluid, which is a surgical procedure. Not extremely invasive in the world of surgical procedures for babies, but not something you want to have to do if you don’t have to.”
Thankfully, Adler didn’t have to undergo the procedure and his lungs did eventually heal on their own (Karp, 39, “kept joking that babies are like Wolverine,” Fishel shares).
“It’s a real long, slow process in the NICU,” Fishel adds. “If we have one thing to tell people about, if someone is going into the NICU with their child, it would be do not think you’re only going to be here for 48 hours or 72 hours. Maybe you will be and that will be great, but just think about this as being a marathon and not sprint. You’re here for a while, and nothing moves quickly.”
Karp, an executive producer of Drop the Mic, recalls feeling like “a mess” the first time he saw their son in the NICU — but “as hard as it was, I pretended I wasn’t crying and put a thumbs-up in the air and was like, ‘Yeah!’ Putting on a happy face as much as I could,” he tells PEOPLE of the expression he wore in photos he sent to his wife, who was still recovering from childbirth, before she could enter the NICU with him.
“We were trying to be as positive as possible, and letting each other know that we’re okay,” Fishel says. “We were obviously both still thinking of the other one, and saying, ‘Oh God, I hope he’s okay,’ and ‘She’s worried about me.’ “
“In the long run, when we ended up at Children’s Hospital and we saw the other things that children and parents are facing, we put it in perspective and we were just so happy to have Adler with us,” Karp adds. “For every first-time parent, it’s an adjustment to know it wasn’t ideal, but he’s healthy and he’s going to make it. We have the best doctors around us, etc. Those are the things you kind of ease into.”
For more from Danielle Fishel, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
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