The four happiest days of my life were my wedding day to Michael, and birthdays of our three children, Sarah (13), Will (12), and Tom (9). As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a mom. Motherhood is one reason I’ve always been drawn to Hand to Hold and held its mission close to my heart.
When my husband and I were planning our own family, my friend and co-worker, Kelli Kelley, and her husband, Mike, were expecting their first baby. Jackson Kelley was born so early. He was tiny and his health was in jeopardy for months.
I saw Kelli at work every day and was hit hard by how quickly her life had changed, now caring for a baby in the NICU. We weren’t sure if Jackson would live. We all felt helpless, but tried to be supportive and give Kelli hope, praying with her and for her.
Another co-worker lost one of her twins; another miscarried at 5 months. Yet another had a still birth. There were stories all around us at a time when many of us were starting our own families.
These experiences opened my eyes up to the fact that sometimes things don’t go as planned, as pregnancy and birth took on a new identity of fragility.
Soon after this, I found out that we were pregnant. I am blessed to have delivered Sarah full-term, but my experience with Kelli stayed with me and during my first few years of motherhood. I went on to have two more healthy, full-term babies, but continued to hear from other friends who experienced loss and long NICU stays.
I volunteered to help Kelli as she formalized her vision for Hand to Hold. My family marched with the Kelleys to help other children born early like Jackson. Kelli and I met with leaders in our community who helped her focus and shape what Hand to Hold could be. After years of pouring her heart into this cause, Kelli got a 501(c)(3) and Hand to Hold was born.
Three years ago, I met a family new to our elementary school. They had a healthy son and daughter, and our families became fast friends. On a playdate early in our son’s relationship, the mom, Carolyn Bartelli, confided in me that they had lost a son. With tears in her eyes, she told me that Grant Maxwell had been born seemingly healthy, looking remarkably similar to her oldest son. However, Grant wasn’t absorbing food properly, and doctors suspected a blockage in his intestines. In surgery, they realized that Grant’s small intestine and colon (large intestine) were non-functional. There was nothing they could do. He lived just 5 ½ weeks.
The Bartellis are a strong family full of love. Grant will always be a part of their family. They needed Hand to Hold, but the organization didn’t exist yet. Through Hand to Hold, both Carolyn her husband, Dave, have reached out to other families who have suffered a loss. They have shared their story with volunteers and friends and listened to many other’s journeys that didn’t go as planned. Although they will never be completely healed, I have watched them turn a corner and begin to find joy again and celebrate the blessings they have.
This month the organization celebrates its five-year birthday and has helped thousands of families cope with loss and/or a NICU stay.
It means the world to me to co-chair the second annual Baby Shower Fundraising Luncheon benefitting Hand to Hold. As a former fundraising professional, this event lets me use my skills and something I enjoy so much for a cause that I couldn’t be more passionate about. It really does feel great to raise money for families in need!
I believe parents need to talk about their experiences and receive support from friends and family, as well as others who have walked in their shoes. My friend, Kelli Kelley, has created the nation’s best resource for NICU support, giving so many a Hand to Hold.
About Megan Helmbrecht:
Megan Helmbrecht spent her career helping others through nonprofit management and fundraising. While not a NICU parent herself, she has been touched deeply by the experiences of friends who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss. Megan is honored to serve as co-chair of the 2015 Baby Shower Luncheon for Hand to Hold. Read more about Megan in our Letter from the Chairs, and find out more about the 2nd Annual Baby Shower Luncheon, to be held on November 6, 2015.