When you become pregnant, you expect to get cravings. You expect to be uncomfortable with swollen feet. And you expect to be pregnant for 40 weeks, or at least close to it. But when all doesn’t go as plan, you end up hoping for a miracle.
That was the case when my triplets were born more than 17 weeks premature. Two of our children passed away after putting up a good fight and our lone survivor spent 4 months in the NICU before coming home. I’ve always been the type to lend a hand to a friend or a stranger in need. Little did I know, I would someday become the one receiving help. In the days and months following their birth, people reached out to my family in ways I never could have expected. A medical fund was set up to help our family with bills. Flowers and charitable donations were sent when Abigail died, and two months later when Parker joined his sister in Heaven. Meals were delivered to our home, cards were sent from strangers and prayers were made from around the world. And as hard as it was to sit back and let people help, I gave in and accepted the kindness of others. It was during that time that I said, “I will someday pay it forward”.
How do we give back to the tens of thousands of people who have generously helped our family? As my husband and I found out, there are many simple gestures that can mean the world to others. As our surviving triplet, Peyton, began to grow and gain strength, so did our own lives. Our typical routine of NICU visits and naps gave way to sleepless nights at home as we watched our micro preemie sleep in her crib. We returned to work full-time and began our life as a family of three, with two two angels watching over us from above. And as we move forward with life, we have found new purpose.
In August, as we reached the year anniversary of my son Parker’s death, we wanted to do something to honor he and Abby and help others at the same time. During Parker’s two months on earth, we would read children’s books through the isolette doors. Born at a pound each, we could barely touch or hold them, so we turned to our voices. Through reading, our children felt our presence and knew that mom and dad were by their side. We decided we could honor our two angels by giving books to the NICU where our children spent so much time. I planned to buy 50-60 books, enough for each baby in the unit to have a book to take home. But thanks to a simple Facebook post announcing our plans, friends and family sent me more than 200 books to donate to St. John’s Children’s Hospital in Springfield, IL. Inside each book, I placed a beautiful label with the words, “In memory of Parker and Abby”. It’s a simple gesture that I knew would help so many parents during a scary and uncertain time. And months later, I’m still hearing from NICU parents about how much that simple gift meant to them. It’s a tradition we plan to continue every year on Parker’s “Angelversary”.
Giving back doesn’t have to cost a dime. With ongoing medical bills, we have found other ways to thank our supporters. Ever since I was pregnant, I’ve poured my heart and soul into my blog. I have shared the absolute highs and the heartbreaking lows with the world in hopes of helping others. Being a public figure, I’ve been able to use writing and television as platforms to raise awareness about issues like infertility, grief, and the NICU life. And by sharing my experiences, not only am I reaching out to others, I’m helping myself in the healing process.
My husband and I were dealt a tough hand in 2013. Two of our children died and my husband almost lost me as well. 2014 brought us an outpouring of support following our tragic year and has shown us how much good is in this world. And giving back is our way of healing and saying “thanks”. When someone is raising money for a cause, I jump at the chance to donate. When a family hits a rough patch, I’m happy to drop by a meal or send a card to let them know prayers are being sent their way. And when others face a similar road as ours, I’m the first to offer a shoulder to cry on and to let them know that they will survive this difficult journey. I’m living proof. And it’s because of thousands of supporters that I’ve been able to heal and find that smile that escaped me last year.
The holidays are always a time of reflection and full of a multitude of ways to give back just waiting for someone like you. How will you give back today?