The Covington Family’s NICU Journey

​​​​Kyndall Covington is the smallest baby ever born at UK. Her amazing story has been in the news and all over social media. She is a gorgeous healthy girl about to experience her first Christmas and do it at home with her family. She’s a true miracle and quite the little fighter! EBF wants to tell you another important story inside of her truly amazing story though. We want to share the story of HER FAMILY fighting alongside her, giving their all to make sure she felt their love even as their own hearts broke over and over. Read below as her mother, Tabitha, shares the story of the Covington family’s NICU journey!

My husband and I blended our families. He had two children and I had two children. We decided we needed an ours to add to yours and mine. Bobby, my husband was afraid to have another child because he had two boys and was worried we would have a girl. We prayed for a sweet baby and it was so easy getting pregnant. The first month off birth control we conceived our precious child. The pregnancy was easy as well, no morning sickness, I felt great.

I’m a labor and delivery nurse so I was very impatient to learn the sex. The doctor got me in early to reveal we were having a sweet little girl! Bobby was right. Little did we know; the girl part wouldn’t be half the terror.

At 18 weeks we had a blood test done, the Alpha Fetal Protein test. It tests for down syndrome and open spina bifida. My test results came back extremely high for the latter. This test often gives false positive, so I was assured by the doctor who called me with the results. She had a false positive with her daughter. It just required extra level 2 ultrasounds. They scheduled me for a level 2 ultrasound with the high-risk doctor. We had to wait two weeks for this appointment. The suspense built.

My husband assured me, along with everyone else, that our baby was going to be just fine. The day finally came for the high-risk ultrasound. Bobby went with me, both of us full of nerves. The ultrasound revealed that she didn’t have spina bifida and was measuring small, a week and a half behind. The high-risk doctor questioned my dates, but the dating ultrasound was only off by a couple of days. With these extremely high test results and her measuring small, the doctor was very concerned. My risk for preeclampsia and intrauterine growth restriction were very much increased. They would be monitoring me and sweet girl closely the remainder of the pregnancy.

Throughout my pregnancy I had dreams of delivering my baby. Every dream revealed a baby in the NICU. I never sensed any danger though. I always felt she was going to be just fine. My last dream was around 24 weeks pregnant. I dreamed I went for my ultrasound without my husband and received bad news. She hadn’t grown at all and things weren’t looking good. At 24.1 weeks my swelling in my legs increased greatly and my blood pressure was slightly elevated. I called my doctor the next morning and he felt like I needed to get into the office that day for an ultrasound. He was hoping with blood pressure medicine I could get ten more weeks along.

My blood pressure was even higher in the office. I was at work that day and my husband was at work as well and couldn’tbe there. The ultrasound showed she was measuring less than the fifth percentile. There also wasn’t any blood flow from my placenta to her. They diagnosed Absent End Diastolic Flow and were even seeing some reversed beats of blood flow. The high-risk doctor declared this an emergency and I needed to get to UK immediately to be admitted. Hopefully with medication to get my blood pressure under control, they could restore some blood flow.

I called my husband hysterically crying. He was an hour and thirty minutes away. He beat me to UK, he made the drive in 40 minutes. Things went fast once I got there. Her heart rate was dropping quite frequently. Being a labor and delivery nurse, I was afraid they were going to crash me to the OR. Things settled down, but according to doctors we would be delivering sooner rather than later. I felt like my world was crumbling.

​NICU doctors came in to discuss the plan of care for when our baby delivered. They informed us they wouldn’t want to do chest compressions on her tiny body, but they would if we wanted them too. They began telling us all the things we were up against delivering a baby this premature and this small. I felt like someone was stealing all the air from the room. When they left, my husband and I had to have the most candid conversation of our marriage, of our lives. We decided we wouldn’t have the doctors do chest compressions, we wouldn’t want to put her through that. As much as it hurt, we were fully prepared to let her go. That night we gave it to God. There was nothing more we could do. The control wasn’t in our hands. “For this child we prayed.”

​The next day the ultrasound showed the blood flow was worse. The doctors decided to deliver her emergently via c-section. Kyndall Ellis Covington was born on 4/5/18 at 12:36 pm weighing only a mere 360 grams, 12 ounces. I remember laying in the OR, typically a happy time, you are anxiously awaiting to hear your baby cry for the first time. There was no cry, it was extremely quiet. There was nothing to celebrate. Our baby’s life hung in the balance. I remember thinking she didn’t make it.

​When in recovery is when I met Dr. Patra for the first time. This is the woman I credit for saving Kyndall’s life. Her face was grim, she didn’t fill us with any false hope. She laid it on the line. Her odds of survival weren’t good. We would have to take it day by day, and many times we would need to take it moment by moment. The equipment was too small for her frail little body. The breathing tube was the smallest they make, and never use. The vent that she needed didn’t fit her breathing tube and the tube they were unable to suction. UK figured out how to adapt those things. I owe them my life for saving hers.

​I didn’t want to announce her birth. I wasn’t ready for people to ask questions. We may lose her, and I didn’t want to have to later announce her death. People began finding out anyway and the texts and calls began flooding in. What can we do is the biggest question I got. My response was always, just pray. That tiny little body would need all the prayers she could get. Modern medicine could only do so much.

​It was many hours before I was able to go meet her. My husband had been up there several times to see her. He took me up in a wheelchair, and in that moment and every moment leading up to that and every moment to follow, he became my rock. The nurse tells you to touch your baby for the first time and it’s the most terrifying thing you have ever done. You feel like your soft touch may break her. Every touch thereafter my baby would show me she knew me. Her heart rate would settle down, her oxygen saturation would increase. In her way she was saying, “I know you, you are my mom.”

​When you are told your child may not survive you are scared to fall in love too deeply. Everyday that passed and every obstacle Kyndall overcame, the nurses and doctors teach you it’s ok to love her, and in fact, she needed mine and my husband’s love more than we knew. Studies show that premature babies with involved parents have better outcomes. When we were told this, mine and my husband’s life changed. We vowed to do everything possible for Kyndall to live her best life.

​Being in the NICU, you experience every emotion known to man. Some you are ashamed of feeling and you isolate yourself even more. I was angry. Why would God put my child through this? I was fearful. I couldn’t stomach the thought of losing her. I felt guilty. The woman’s body is designed to carry a child, and my body failed me and Kyndall. The emotions I felt were endless. When people would tell me, “Well at least she is alive.” I wanted to scream. I didn’t need people that had never walked in my shoes, to tell me what to be thankful for. I was envious to see other pregnant woman sporting their big healthy nine-month pregnant bellies around. When I began to read other’s stories, I learned every emotion I was feeling was completely normal.

​Through this experience, we learned some things just simply don’t matter anymore, while other things matter more than anyone could every imagine. As parents we take for granted some of the simplest things. Your baby’s cry, holding your baby, dressing your baby, staying up with your baby all night. As a NICU parent you don’t experience these things for a long time. I didn’t hear Kyndall’s cry for the first 9 weeks of her life, I didn’t get to hold my baby until she was six weeks old.

​There are times you feel like you aren’t in control. Your child is laying there, and at times you don’t even feel like their parent. I’m here to tell you, you are your child’s biggest advocate. You are their voice. When I felt like this, the doctors and nurses always did an incredible job reassuring me, I was her mother and mothers know best.

​NICU life is the worst roller coaster ride you have ever been on. When you are on a high, you are flying high, and the lows are lowest of lows. Having four children at home, and one fighting for her life in a different city, there is nothing that can prepare you for that. Everyone just rolls with the punches. There are times you feel so torn. We were celebrating my child’s fifth birthday, meanwhile Kyndall was having a really bad day. My heart was being ripped down the middle. I couldn’t be there at her bedside, and it was a terrible feeling.

​I think the NICU gives you a little bit of PTSD. The entire 169 days of her NICU stay, I would jump when my phone rang. I would slightly hyperventilate if the caller ID said UK NICU. The middle of the night phone calls my heart would stop beating for a few seconds. Our girl, she was a feisty one. Thank God for that because that’s what got her through. Many times, the phone call was to inform us she had yet again pulled out her tube, and they had replaced it with no hiccups.

​When your child is living in the NICU, some days you are literally just trying to put one foot in front of the other. Breathe in, breathe out. The doctors would always say take it one day at a time. Sometimes to get myself through, I would just take it one minute at a time. Those long drives to Lexington, many days were spent reflecting and lots of tears. That long walk to parking garage, my heart broke over again and again. Everyday I left a piece of my heart in that NICU.

​While doing all of that, something amazing happens. Life goes on. Your baby grows every day. She gets stronger. They reach huge milestones. The nightmare that you think will never end, finally does. The doctor comes in one day and plans for discharge in a few days.

​WE ALL SURVIVED. The real MVP though is my sweet Kyndall Ellis. She endured so much. I believe she is destined to do something great in this world, but she already left her mark. The tiniest of souls can make the biggest of impacts. Kyndall Ellis Covington my wish for you, shoot for the stars baby girl. Our sweet miracle, “For this child we prayed.”

Kyndall will be nine months old in a few days. She is still on oxygen, but we are in the process of weening her down. She loves to be talked to and smiles frequently. Her eye doctor cleared us to come back in a year. Her eyes are doing great. She will require a hernia repair surgery in a few months. Other than that we have a healthy happy little girl! 

Join us in prayer for Kyndall and the Covington family as they continue to grow and heal from their NICU journey! We are so thankful for the amazing families willing to share the truths of their journey so that other families can read and gain strength from those who have gone before them!

The Masthay Family’s NICU Journey

We are so excited to share another Family of the Month story with you all! A big thank you to the Masthay family for sharing their journey with us! They are two years out of this journey and share with us how truly resilient these babies born early can be! Amanda shares their story in her own words below:

When my husband and I found out that we were expecting our third child at the end of August, we were so excited. Our other two children, Emory (age 3 1/2) and Paxton (age 1) were so much fun and had such unique personalities. We got pregnant quicker than expected, but after successfully navigating two young kids, I wasn’t intimidated about having another so soon. To add to the excitement, we decided not to find out the gender this time around!  Tim played football for the Packers at the time, so we were living in Green Bay and had the best doctor and nurses I can imagine. 

Tim and I both grew up in church, but I can honestly say that I had never encountered the audible voice of God before. Early on in my pregnancy, as I rested in bed during nap time, I heard what I can only describe as the Lord speaking directly to me. I heard him say that something would be “wrong” this time around, but that no matter what it was, I could handle it. Of course, I brushed this off as my mind playing games with me. We all know what hormones can do to a perfectly sane woman!

A few weeks later, in a routine ultrasound with my OB, he got very quiet and lingered over the same area for a while. He informed me that it looked like my baby would be born with clubbed feet. My mind immediately went back to my conversation with God. This is what He meant.  I was convinced. 

In doing all of my research, I learned that the nearest hospital to Green Bay that could do the intensive and specialized correction (which would span a few years) of clubbed feet was two hours away in Milwaukee. Having no family nearby and two small children, I couldn’t imagine driving to Milwaukee weekly for casting and corrective therapies. It was then that my husband and I decided even while he still played football, the kids and I would move back to Lexington, where we could live within minutes of Shriner’s Children’s Hospital. Shriner’s had a doctor who specialized in clubbed feet correction, and my parents lived less than 40 minutes away, which made child care so much more feasible.  

After the football season ended in Green Bay, our family left for Kentucky to get our home ready there. We planned to return to Wisconsin at least 6 weeks before the baby was due in late August and stay there until school was scheduled to start for our oldest in Lexington. 

One afternoon while I slowly organized our new house, I started having contractions. I was convinced I was just dehydrated and tired from moving, so Tim took the kids to the park so I could rest. The contractions became pretty regular, so I decided to time them… they were two and a half minutes apart! I immediately called my doctor in Green Bay, and he said to go to the nearest hospital with a women’s clinic, which happened to be St. Joseph East.

Tim and the kids came back for me, and I walked into the ER at 6:30pm on June 16 at exactly 30 weeks. They immediately rushed me to triage where I met the OB on duty. Since I wasn’t dilated at all, he wasn’t worried. I received 3 doses of terbutaline (about 30 minutes between each dose), and the doctor was very surprised when I progressed to 2cm and continued to have painful contractions. He decided to start a magnesium drip, which he was confident would stop labor. 

Tim drove the kids to my parents’ house so they could get in bed while we waited for my body to calm down and to be discharged. By the time Tim came back less than two hours later, I had progressed to 8cm, and the doctor said there was nothing he could do. He turned off the magnesium drip, and the most intense labor pain I could have ever imagine came full force. Darcy Rose was born at 3:23am and weighed just 3 lbs. 14 oz. She was tiny, but perfect!

Darcy was rushed to the NICU, where she quickly stabilized on the CPAP machine. Her lungs hadn’t had time to benefit from the steroid shot, so she needed help breathing. My mind went back to the conversation with God…. THIS was what He was preparing me for.  This baby was a miracle, and even though her birth was anything but normal and easy, God had already assured me that I could handle it.  I immediately had a peace about the entire experience, and felt completely calm. Darcy exceeded all expectations, and got to leave the NICU after 31 days! 

God continued to bless us with incredible surprises after she came home. At her first appointment with the foot specialist, I was told that Darcy’s feet hadn’t had time to set in the clubbed position, and even though her feet were turned in, she would naturally grow and they would fix themselves….. with no medical intervention!  I had mentally prepared myself for years of casting, leg braces, and physical therapy, but Darcy wouldn’t need ANY of it. 

Darcy is now two years old and just graduated from the NICU Grad Clinic. Her verbal, cognitive, and motor skills are all well above average. Her doctors said that you would never be able to tell that she came into this world 10 weeks early and had such a dramatic start to life. She continues to blow our minds. 

Parenting this precious baby has opened my eyes to the true miracles that God puts in our lives. We often can’t see the bigger picture, but I completely believe that God is always working for our good. Darcy is the living, thriving, perfect proof of His goodness and provision. We are so blessed to have her in our family.

The Page Family’s NICU Journey

Having our co-founder in the NICU with her own baby, frequenting the parent lounge herself, gave us a unique ability to really connect with other families at Baptist over the multiple weeks that she was there. Brittni and Kolbe Page was one family that EBF was able to meet and get to know while they were in the thick of their NICU stay with their sweet baby girl, Hadley. We are so thankful for the chance to get to know them and help be a support through that journey they were on and we thank them specifically for being willing to share their story with us and with others. Read on for their story!
“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

This was a verse that my family and I have turned to many times over the past few years. My name is Brittni Page and I live in Pikeville, KY with my husband Kolbe, beautiful daughter Hadley and dog Murph. After suffering two miscarriages my husband and I were elated to find out we were expecting a beautiful baby girl on October 5th, 2018. At 20 weeks I started to develop severe swelling and, shortly after, high blood pressure. I was admitted to Pikeville Medical Center on Saturday August 28th where I was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia, I received two steroid injections and was hoping to be able to be monitored inpatient until delivery. My condition worsened and I developed HELLP syndrome, I was transferred to Baptist Health in Lexington, KY where my daughter was born on August 2nd at 10:09PM via c-section at 30 weeks and 6/7 days. Hadley weighed 2lbs 11oz and was 15 inches long. And thats where my NICU journey began. 

Hadley Grace Page spent 49 days in the NICU and was discharged to come home with us on September 19th. When starting our NICU journey we were terrified. Terrified of all the alarms, the cords, the machines, the medical jargon, etc. Ive worked in a pediatric clinic for four years and even that could not have prepared me for what I was about to have to endure. We were blessed that we had few major obstacles that we had to overcome, one of the biggest was not being able to go home as a family.

I believe when you find out your pregnant you have a vision of all the things your pregnancy and delivery will bring. You never really think that you will be spending  more than 2-4 days in the hospital. You especially never think that you will have to go home at night without your baby. My husband had to come back to Pikeville to go back to work the day I was discharged. I was blessed to be able to stay with my brother and sister in law who lived 15 minutes from Baptist Health. My daily routine would begin at 9am where I would arrive to the NICU and stay till 9-10PM at night. Even after staying the entire day and being exhausted I still would feel guilty for leaving. My husband visited on the weekends, coming on Friday evening and having to leave on Sunday afternoon. This is where the NICU nurses literally became family.

NICU is one if the hardest things you will ever have to do. I went through every emotion possible. I was hysterical, anxious, angry, thankful, blessed. As hard as it was God truly sent those nurses to help us through. They, along with the amazing physicians, educated us, celebrated with us, worked through the hard times with us. They never failed us.

When being alone in a place like the NICU its so nice to have people to reach out to, and the Early Bird Foundation provides that for so many NICU families. We are thankful that they touched our family during our stay. They spend their time giving back to families during their most difficult journey and the world is a better place with people like them in it. I would encourage anyone that is placed in a very hard position having a baby in the NICU to utilize the Early Bird Foundation and their resources. 

Since returning home we have developed our own routine and a somewhat normal life. We still have fears and worries but we are placing our trust in God and praying he continues to provide for us and keep our amazing miracle girl safe.

Join us as we continue to pray for the Page family as they adjust to life at home and the leftover fears and anxieties that often follow a NICU stay.

The Tackett Family’s NICU Journey

During this very special month of NICU Awareness, EBF is so proud to share with you our co-founder and EBF President, Ashton Tackett’s story. She is both a veteran and current NICU mom so she has a very unique perspective to share with us as a mom with two separate NICU journeys under her belt (or most of the way under her belt.) Join us in praying for this amazing family as they finish up this current NICU journey strong and healthy, both mentally and physically, and are reunited at home together as a family for the first time in hopefully a very short time!

My name is Ashton, I am a co-founder of Early Bird Foundation, Inc. I am married to my best friend, Matt, we have a two-and-a-half-year-old son, Brooks, and are currently in the midst of a NICU journey with my beautiful daughter, Olivia. When asked to share my story, the process of sitting down and actually putting into words some of the most difficult days of my life, I have found is no easy task. Hopefully through this story I can adequately describe our experiences, impactfully, for awareness of NICU life, but even more for myself, for truly putting into words what the journeys meant to me. So let me begin…

My story doesn’t start with Olivia; although, it will continue with her. For God has chosen me as a NICU mom to not only one baby, but two. On January 20th, 2016 Brooks was born at 33 weeks and 5 days gestation (4 lbs and 8 oz) due to uncontrollable severe preeclampsia; which was less than two days after I was admitted for monitoring. He spent 30 days at Baptist Health NICU and had an immediate 10-day hospital stay at UK before we were able to bring our precious baby home. The initial days and weeks after Brooks was born I truly struggled. I was terrified…confused… anxious. Recovering from preeclampsia and an emergency c-section, coupled with a baby in the NICU had me in a downward spiral, most definitely had me experiencing a degree of post-partum.

NICU life is hard to explain to an outsider, but I promise you once engulfed in the environment it will forever be sketched in your heart no matter the length of stay. When entering the NICU, the sight of term babies to babies as small as your hand can be observed and the overwhelming sound of alarms going off can be heard from all directions. Nurses, doctors, therapists, and support staff all have their full attention on these babies fighting for their life. Parents participating as much as possible with their baby’s care is an encouraging sight, but looking closely exhaustion and concern can be seen on each face.

My experience was no different, and my emotional struggle began as soon as Brooks was taken away to the NICU immediately following his birth. Leaving your baby in the NICU, watching monitors, hearing alarms for brady events, and realizing other people were caring for your baby more than you, were all reminders of how my childbirth experience was not how I expected it; I later realized this was grief. Grief from my missed experience of holding my child immediately following birth, grief from being on the mother baby wing without my baby and without visits from friends and loved ones, grief from the “ideal” excitement and events of a new baby.

All in all, God provided and I have a very healthy baby boy to this day, but the impact of my first NICU experience was life changing.

Shortly after my son’s second birthday we found out we would be expecting another precious baby. The initial sickness and fatigue decreased around the time we found out we would be having a baby girl…just what Brooks wanted! As the pregnancy progressed, so did the memories and anxiety surrounding a pre-term birth and NICU stay. For some reason; I just expected it, maybe because that is all I knew.

In the first few weeks before Olivia was born some strange pregnancy symptoms had my OBGYN doing additional tests and ultrasounds to rule out any potential issues. Everything had checked out, but the end of July I had woke up feeling decreased movement from out sweet girl. I was hesitant to tell my doctor due to feeling like I was imagining it, but decided to anyway at a scheduled appointment. I was put on a monitor and Olivia was observed having a four-minute deceleration of heart rate in utero; which my doctor immediately did a follow up ultrasound and found a Velamentous Cord Insertion; a condition that can cause a baby to have heart rate drops, low birth rate, and even death in undiagnosed cases. A true sign from God, that Olivia would be my second miracle baby.

Ashton Hospital Stay-20

I was admitted to the hospital for monitoring and steroid shots were initiated less than a week before Olivia was born. When additional drops were observed I was put on a drip of magnesium sulfate to stall delivery for as long as possible. On 8-5-18, Olivia had two drops: a four minute and an eight minute drop in utero; the decision was made for an emergency c-section. For at this point, she was more stable out than in. Olivia was 31 weeks and 1-day gestation (3 lbs. 6 oz), and for the second time, my baby was swept away to NICU; the start of my second NICU journey.

The all familiar emotions and stresses of NICU life had returned, and this time accompanied by having a child at home who I had to care for as well. Let me tell you, that makes NICU life 100% harder, this I now know. In the couple of weeks after her birth I have asked myself why did my body fail me again? Why do I have to be pulled in so many different directions? Doesn’t God know the tole it has taken on me and my family, especially Brooks?

My only explanation: God has a plan for this experience as well. A year and a half after Brooks was born, I co-founded this non-profit after realizing the true need for peer support to NICU families. During my first NICU stay I realized I would have loved someone to talk to…someone who had been there. Someone to offer hints on how to survive this lonely journey. Someone to hold my hand in prayer when I couldn’t hold Brooks’. Someone to not only say “How is the baby?” but to also ask me “How are you?” I realized the sole purpose I went through my first stay was to be in a position to help others in a similar situation.

So why was a second NICU journey needed, hadn’t I learned everything there was to know about this journey? The answer is no. I can promise you this much though, God isn’t done with me is all I can process. God has more to teach me through this experience about myself, God’s timing, and further how I can help people through Early Bird. I also hope that through my recent trials and NICU journey I can expand NICU awareness. For others to see that this population is at a heightened risk for post-partum depression and see how much of a strain it can put on families emotionally, financially, and physically. I ask that when you see a NICU family remember my story and my purpose for suffering. Take a meal, give a ride to the hospital, offer to watch older children, walk a dog, stop for a visit in hospital waiting rooms…know your actions are worth so much more than words alone.

Thank you to Early Bird Foundation, Inc. and all of it’s supporters. EBF is truly making a difference, this I know…because I am seeing it first hand through my second NICU experience.

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In conclusion, I humbly ask you to pray for my family specifically and boldly for Olivia. We are on day 43 and just come off breathing assist. She is working on taking full feeds via bottle, getting off caffeine, and fine toning some other issues. We are still in the midst of the journey, and yearning to bring our baby home. We are tired, beyond tired; emotionally torn, but trusting in God’s timing in Olivia’s homecoming and allowing us to fully become a family of four!

-Ashton

The Lewis Family’s NICU Journey

Early Bird Foundation, Inc. is quickly coming upon its FIRST birthday! In light of this special occasion, we thought it might be a good idea to use these next two months to re-introduce ourselves to you all and tell our own stories. Since our President is currently journeying the NICU for the second time, this month has been designated as mine.

My name is Lyndsey Lewis and I am the Vice-President and co-founder of Early Bird Foundation! I have been married to my best friend Alec for 4 years and in that time we’ve been blessed with four sweet children! Our first set of twins, Brynlee and Jessa, were born in April of 2015 and our second set of twins, Ian and Emory, were born in December of 2016.

My experience with the NICU was very different from a lot of the stories that we’ve shared so far.  The differences among all the stories helps show the huge range of circumstances NICU families may find themselves experiencing once they find themselves at the beginning of a NICU journey. It may be expected or unexpected NICU time, it can be hours to a day to week to month long journeys, it can be a relatively uncomplicated stay to a stay where you feel like every step forward meets you with two steps backwards. However, no matter the path our different journeys in the NICU drag us down, there is one common theme that we all experience: the loss of precious time with our newborn babies.

I always say my NICU experience was relatively short, uncomplicated and ends sweet and for that I am forever grateful. It was, however, unexpected and undoubtedly one of the hardest times of my life and, to be honest, Im just now letting myself fully realize the huge impact it left on us.

Our second set of twins, Ian and Emory, were born at 37 weeks. After an attempted VBAC that ended in a csection, we found out that our daughter Emory Kay had undiagnosed intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) and was only 4 lbs compared to her brother’s 6 lbs 11 oz! Our first two daughters were little as twins tend to be but our Emory was tiny. Her small size warranted her a week long stay in the NICU at UK as a grower! She was, thankfully, perfectly healthy otherwise.

For daddy and I, as thankful as we were that she was healthy, we were heartbroken at what this NICU stay meant for us. Our hospital stay and subsequent first days home didn’t consist of snuggling our newborns, recovering from birth and getting acquainted with our new family of six. Because Ian couldn’t be in the NICU with his sister, it consisted of deciding between being in the room with Ian who I was nursing and being in the NICU with Emory attempting to nurse her, introducing Ian to his sisters without Emory, pumping for her for when I couldn’t be there, leaving her there and bringing her brother home, then finding caretakers for the three little ones we had at home so that we could still be with Emory during her care times at the hospital.

As we were weaving through the chaos of our seven day NICU journey, I don’t remember actually even realizing what was happening. It was all just a matter of getting through the next minute, the next hour, the next care time, the next weigh in and praying that soon they’d be telling us it was time to take our girl back to our room with us.

Even from the very beginning, I didn’t realize that we were beginning this journey. I remember them saying they were taking her to the NICU to check her out and, in my mind, she was coming right back like our older girls did. But she didn’t. And then it was twelve hours from that moment that I kissed her goodbye to the time that I first laid eyes on Emory again and held her for the first time.

Reflecting back on this part is hard. Twelve hours is a long time to be separated from your newborn baby you’ve carried for so long. There is so much I missed in those twelve hours. The first time her grandparents saw her. Her first diaper change. Her first bath. The first time she was fed. All her first littles cries. I wasn’t the first person to cuddle her or rock her or even dress her. In the grand scheme of things, those things I missed in those 12 hours and the countless hours I couldn’t be with her afterwards aren’t a big deal but those things are the little things, often taken for granted, that we lock away as precious memories. For me, there is a twelve hour void where memories with Emory Kay should be. You can ask any momma, thats tough to know.

The night before we brought Emory home was a tough one. We went to her 9pm care time hoping she would weigh enough that they would be ready to send her home. At weigh in, she didn’t quite make the cut and I just burst into tears. It was Christmas Eve Eve and we felt like we couldn’t face the holidays without her. We left the hospital that night feeling so defeated. Nothing had gone the way we imagined it would and we so desperately wanted to bring our girl home. It was not only tough on us but on our older girls who didn’t understand why we had already been gone so long and now kept leaving them again. We tried to mostly go to care times during their naps and after they’d gone to bed if we had help to stay with them. We also had Ian who couldn’t go to the NICU but who I also was nursing. We were just torn in so many directions and both of us were exhausted and grieving the loss of the postpartum period we had imagined. We just wanted our family together again. That night we sat in our driveway and cried together. we wiped our tears and we prayed together for our sweet girl to come home the next day in time for Christmas so we wouldn’t have to choose between being with her and being with our other children.

First thing the next morning when I woke to nurse Ian I called the NICU for an update. I said a quick prayer and dialed the number and asked to speak to Emory’s nurse. When I finally connected with her she told me that she had waited to record Emory’s weight until this morning and reweighed her and she had gained just enough through the night feedings for them to discharge her! It was our own little Christmas miracle! By 1 pm, we were all six in the same place for the very first time, just in time to celebrate the birth of our Savior!

My memories from our NICU journey still seem strange and far away, like maybe they weren’t even real. One of those dreams that you can vaguely remember, its just right there in the depths of your mind but you can’t really grasp the details. My baby wasn’t sick. She wasn’t fighting for her life. She was just away from me. Away from her twin brother, who she’d spent every moment from conception beside. Away from her daddy. Her family. And I didn’t even really understand what was happening or why. I don’t even know that anyone ever even explained to me why she was so small or what that might mean for her future or if there was anything else going on. Maybe they did but I definitely don’t remember it. I sometimes even have a hard time sharing my story as a NICU parent because it seems so small in comparison to so many stories. But that is not truth, truth is that the loneliness and the fear and the trauma of the NICU is evident in the littlest details of every story. Truth is that there is also a deep, strong love there as well. Truth is that the NICU changes you. It makes you both stronger and weaker at the same time and afterwards you’ll never be the same person you were before.

My short time with a child in the NICU and the challenges it posed for my family along with the emotional toll it took on my husband and I gave me a heart to help other families experiencing the same. Every story is different. Every story is important. I don’t want any momma or daddy to feel like they are alone in their struggles. Most importantly, I want every family to know the power and love of a Father who will walk with them every step of the way, regardless of the length or difficult of the path.

My prayers are that Early Bird Foundation allows us the opportunity to walk with these families and to offer them support in whatever area they need it most! I have already met some amazing people and built some incredible friendships and I look forward to meeting everyone the Lord will put in our paths, whether it be families who need our support or those who have a heart to help!