Kelli and her family.

Photo Credit: Kelley Family

There are many defining moments in our lives. Some bring great joy – others sorrow and pain. If we embrace these moments, they can mold us into a new and improved version of ourselves – one that allows us to ignite change, instill hope and find a purpose for our lives we never thought possible.

My defining moment came on a hot summer day in 2000 when my son, Jackson, was born by emergency c-section at 24 weeks gestation (16 weeks premature – a micropreemie) weighing just one pound and eight ounces. I could not have known then, the extent of the impact this experience would have on my life, but I knew nothing would ever be the same.

Jackson spent four months in the hospital. He endured three surgeries before his first birthday and has received extensive occupational, physical and speech therapies for most of his life. His childhood has been filled with doctor visits, medications and many respiratory infections.

A little more than two years after Jackson’s birth, his sweet baby sister was born at 34 weeks gestation (six weeks premature). Lauren was a healthy weight, but suffered from a blood disorder. Once again, I was forced to leave the hospital without a baby in my arms. Lauren recovered quickly but has experienced challenges associated with auditory and visual processing disorders that are directly related to her preterm birth.

Read the full story of the first time Kelli saw her son Jackson.

Although my husband and I were surrounded by friends and family that showered us with cards, prayers, gifts and meals after the birth of our children, I truly never felt so alone. I searched for support groups and participated in online discussions, but still there was a void. I struggled to identify doctors and therapists. I searched for information about preemie health and development. I longed for someone to hold my hand and light my way. Thus came the inspiration for Hand to Hold, a peer-to-peer support network for seasoned parents of preemies (Helping Hands) and parents in need of support.

It has taken more than three years to launch Hand to Hold and those years have been and continue to be a practice in faith, patience and persistence. The business plan was written and many conference calls conducted while waiting in line for carpool, gymnastic class and therapy sessions! I have prayed over every decision and rejoiced at every milestone – and I have shed many tears along the way when the task seemed too daunting for a stay-at-home mom.

Just as in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), there have been many ups and downs, starts and stops, challenges and setbacks. But, just as I knew Jackson and Lauren would someday grow up to be healthy, happy children, I am confident Hand to Hold will one day be a national resource for parents across the country in need of support following the birth of a preemie or a baby born with a special health care need.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

I give my deepest appreciation to my husband, sister, parents, friends and extended family for their constant love, encouragement and prayers. This would not have been possible without your support.

My special thanks goes to Andrea Ball of the Austin American-Statesman, author of the award-winning series “Tiny Babies, Fragile Families,” that appeared September 8-9, 2007. It was this article that served as the catalyst for the idea that is now Hand to Hold. Andrea, you are like no other! Thank you for your tireless efforts to help raise awareness of the many challenges of preterm birth.

Welcome to Hand to Hold. May it be a blessing to you and your family.

Kelli D. Kelley
Founder and Executive Director, Hand to Hold