Once a month, we share a wonderful organization with you that’s dedicated to helping NICU babies and their families – offering you an opportunity to learn more and to give back.
My little “Tazmanian Devil,” Eli, was born prematurely over 7 years ago. The doctors had told me there was a possibility of preterm labor because I have a bicornuate (heart-shaped) uterus. But in all honesty, I had no idea what the implications of “preterm labor” were. I had never heard of a NICU, and I had never known anyone else who had a preemie.
In the two years before my pregnancy with Eli, I had one miscarriage and one full-term pregnancy when my daughter Reagan was born. Despite both of those pregnancies being frocked with extra bleeding and tons of worry, it was my daughter’s healthy birth that gave me the misguided confidence that any future pregnancies would be just as successful.
Just after 10 p.m. on March 10, 2005, my body suddenly and without any warning began experiencing placental abruption and preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM). Of course, I had no idea what these things were at the time – I just thought I was bleeding to death. After about two minutes of complete shock, my husband and I finally got our heads on straight and realized we needed to call 911. It was a long 45-minute ride to the hospital, and I know that my body was literally in shock because I could barely respond when the EMTs were asking me questions. The ride was so bumpy that they weren’t able to hear Eli’s heartbeat. I was so afraid that he might already be gone. But when we arrived at the hospital and I finally heard that familiar swish-swish of his rapidly beating heart on the monitors, a wave of relief swept over me.
At 30 weeks gestation on March 11, Eli weighed in at an unexpectedly hefty 3 pounds and ½ ounce. And by the pure grace of God, he only spent 5 weeks in the care of the NICU. When we brought him home at 5 pounds and 35 weeks gestation, he only needed supplemental oxygen for 5 more weeks and acid reflux medicine for about 6 months. His development was behind, but always on track. He managed to avoid a lot of the typical preemie problems – most of which we never even learned about until years later. No doubt, we were given a genuine blessing.
But don’t let Eli’s physically smooth NICU journey fool you . . . the experience really took a toll on both my husband and me. I was experiencing severe depression already, after my miscarriage. That coupled with the traumatic way in which Eli arrived, and I was stricken with what I now believe was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. On top of all that, even though Eli’s health ended up being great, each day in the NICU was filled with a million unknowns. At any time, he could have taken a turn for the worst – infection, NEC, ROP, and the list of possible obstacles goes on and on. Every time his monitors beeped, my soul cringed as I imagined the worst. Each milestone was reached with a heaping helping of anxiety and worry from us. We had no idea how long Eli might need to stay in the NICU. And we didn’t fully understand everything that was happening to him. It was probably the most difficult time in my entire life.
Eli’s out-of-state grandparents were all able to visit and support us in those early days, but none of them had ever experienced having a baby in the NICU. When it came to getting support and education from other preemie parents, we had nowhere to turn. There were no NICU support organizations near us at that time. But this fact is precisely what motivated us to eventually create our own organization, Eli’s Hope (www.elishope.org). After making it through our own difficult NICU journey, we didn’t want other parents of preemies and NICU babies to go through the same kind of experience we did. And we wanted a chance to share with others how our faith in God got us through the toughest of days. It took us 7 years and moves to 3 different states, but we finally got the opportunity to pursue our dream when we moved to the Chicagoland area.
Because of our foundational belief in Jesus Christ, the mission of Eli’s Hope is to bring hope to families who have a child in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit by meeting some of their practical and spiritual needs. We do this through care packages, educational literature, in-hospital events and activities, as well as connecting NICU families with valuable resources like Life After NICU. Our first hospital partnership is with St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, where we have plans to begin delivering our first batch of care packages very soon.
I’ll admit, starting a nonprofit from scratch is very difficult and A LOT of work. But it is so worth it. Just like our NICU experience – as hard as it was, it was worth it in the end because now we have a purpose for our pain. We strive to bring hope and resilience into the uncertainty and chaos of the NICU. Our desire is to meet the needs of NICU families on a very basic and practical level, while at the same time comforting them with the same comfort we received from God when we were in their shoes. And amazingly, while we are seeking to help others, we are finding that it is also healing us.
Eli’s Hope is a currently-forming 501(c)3 organization, fully funded by tax-deductible donations (pending IRS processing). All proceeds go directly into the operation of this organization to help meet the practical needs of NICU families. The gift bags we create cost an average of $25. With your help, we will be able to distribute these gift bags to hurting families. Your monetary gifts will help us fill the bags, host special outreach events for the NICU families, in addition to helping with the other services we provide. You can donate online, or donate your time through volunteering.