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Michelle Stani gave birth to her fourth child, a son named Jayden, on Christmas Eve.
In announcing her pregnancy last fall, Stani called Jayden an "Irish twin" to his sister, Jordan, 11 months, adding that he would even out her clan — two boys and two girls.
Just three weeks later, Stani was gone. The 37-year-old died of COVID-19-related complications on Jan. 12 at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.
Stani never got to hold her newborn son.
Family and friends are left to mourn Stani, whom they called a "beautiful soul." They've launched a GoFundMe page for "significant" medical, child care and education expenses. As of Wednesday morning, the effort has raised more than $32,000.
In addition, Stani’s eldest daughter, Samantha, 19, created a custom gift list on Amazon for household items the family needs.
In addition to Samantha's siblings, Noah, 4, Jordan and Jayden, Stani is survived by her parents, John and Susan Stani, her partner, Frank Allen, and her two brothers, Sean and Jack Stani, according to her obituary.
Described by family and friends on social media as a vivacious, fun and loving woman, Stani was dedicated to children — her own and the many she cared for and taught as a child care director. She "valued education highly" and "loved being around children," her obituary said.
Born in New Brunswick and raised in the Somerset section of Franklin, Stani graduated from Franklin High School and earned education degrees from Raritan Valley Community College and Caldwell University, according to her obituary. She graduated last year from Rutgers University with a master’s degree in education, her obituary said. In October, she posted a photo of herself "rocking" her cap on the way to graduation ceremonies and planning to wear it all day.
Before her graduation from RVCC in 2009, Stani told a MyCentralJersey.com reporter that necessity started her career in early childhood education.
"I started working at a day care (center) so I could make money and bring (Samantha) for free at the same time," said Stani, who added that a boss encouraged her to pursue studies in the field because she was good with children.
Stani overcame several hurdles to reach this milestone. She once lost her apartment because of a legal dispute with the complex's owner and was forced to seek shelter assistance. In her final semester at RVCC, she not only cared for her daughter while taking six classes, but also worked two jobs and accumulated field experience.
"When I really think about it, it's almost like a dream, I felt like I dreamt this was going to happen, but I could never picture how it would feel," Stani said. "It's very emotional for me, and it feels really good."
On social media, Samantha said she was "so proud" of her mother and her accomplishments, adding that she "impacted so many people" and is an "inspiration."
Stani loved music, particularly Dave Matthews Band, and loved to dance, according to her obituary, and she enjoyed having deep conversations but could also be lighthearted and loved to make people laugh.
"Michelle was a strong, independent woman with a soft heart and a beautiful soul," her obituary said. "She was the kind of person that if you met once, you would never forget her."
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: NJ mother dies of COVID weeks after giving birth to fourth child