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Preemie Parents & Co.

Updated: Apr 18

This week we are singing the praises of Emily Gregory, founder of Preemie Parents & Co., and a micro preemie mom. Emily and her husband, Mike, welcomed their daughter into the world at 24 weeks and six days. Olivia was only 1 pound, 11.9 ounces and was 12 inches in length. They spent the next 100 days in the NICU, and after discharge Olivia spent eight months on oxygen.


Olivia is now three-years-old and doing everything a healthy three-year-old does. Emily’s experience in the NICU inspired her to create Premie Parent’s & Co. as a way to provide care packages to preemie parents. Emily’s mission to support NICU parents deeply resonates with Bonsie, and we are honored to have partnered with her organization and share her story with our audience. 


Photo of Emily’s family in front of bridge on grassy lawn.
Emily’s family

Premature delivery


After a totally uneventful and healthy pregnancy, I was leaking amniotic fluid, my cervix was thinning and I was 1 cm dilated at just 24 weeks and 4 days. I remember so vividly, just 4 days prior, my husband Mike and I were having dinner with dear friends and I was celebrating 24 weeks of pregnancy. Viability. A milestone you really don’t think about celebrating until you have a baby just 6 days later and praise Jesus you hit that 24 week mark of viability. After seeing my doctor on that Wednesday afternoon, the only thought going through my head was bedrest. The thought of being on bedrest for the next 15 weeks felt so bothersome. She told me to head over to the hospital and get checked out there and that they were likely to keep me overnight for observation. My husband and I packed our bags and off we went. 


After a pitstop in triage, we were admitted and I was told that I would be on bedrest, at the hospital, for the next two months, when they would induce me at 34 weeks. I was given magnesium and steroids. I knew how important it was to get both steroid shots to help our baby’s lungs. After we were a bit settled, our nurse asked if we wanted to have a NICU consultation. My husband and I both believe that knowledge is power and wanted to be prepared for anything that came our way. We were warned by the nurse that there would be a lot to take in, and there was. When the NICU team came in, all I heard were all the things that could be wrong with our baby. Cerebral Palsy. Brain bleed. Impaired learning. Vision problems. Hearing problems. And I get it. I really do. I understand that it was their job to educate us on the percentages and facts of a baby that decides to come before 25 weeks: A micro-preemie. We were given a stack of pamphlets and information that sat in a pile and weren’t looked at once. 


Olivia in the NICU
Olivia in the NICU

36 hours after being admitted, I went into labor and Olivia was born an hour later at 3:48 am. The room was buzzing with people, as it does, when you give birth to a baby born at 24 weeks and 6 days. At 1 lb 11.9 oz, I remember thinking how much bigger she actually was than the thought I had in my head. I tried to soak her all in while they kept her attached to the umbilical cord for a few extra minutes. After she was intubated and stable, they brought her over to the bedside so I could see her before my husband followed her up to the NICU for intake, while I finished up in the delivery room. 


NICU stay


Maybe 3 hours later, the neonatologist came down and gave us an update on how she was doing. He apologized it took so long, but had to rush to another delivery of 28 week old twins.  Around 9:00 am, about 5 hours after birth, we made a stop in Olivia’s NICU room where we were able to see her, give her hand hugs, and take a few first family photos before making our way down to postpartum. In the hazy days that followed, every specialty under the sun came in and introduced themselves and “gifted” us with – you guessed it – another packet or brochure that got added to the ever-growing pile to never be touched again. I just want to say, praise Jesus that everyone wears a name tag because it felt like the first day of school when you were handed each course syllabus that wound up in the trash and had to try and remember all the names of the people in your class. The overwhelm you feel as a new NICU parent is a lot. You’re overwhelmed with information, with emotion, with worry, and with love. You’re now given this new mental load to carry and the mental capacity you have does not allow much more than being there for your baby


Emily, her husband, and Olivia in the hospital. 
Emily, her husband, and Olivia in the hospital. 

Olivia spent the next 100 days in the NICU. 100 mornings of rounds. 100s of hours pumping breastmilk. 100s of handhugs and snuggles. I soaked in everything there was to learn about my baby. I learned new medical terminology and I became an advocate. It wasn’t until five days after giving birth I was able to finally hold Olivia. That first hold took fifteen minutes, two nurses, two respiratory therapists, Mike, myself, and a whole lot of pillows to get Olivia from her isolette onto my chest. When babies weigh less than 2 pounds and are attached to a heavy jet vent, the time and effort it takes to bust them out isn’t easy. I know how busy and understaffed many hospital workers are – and to have four of those workers in my room for fifteen minutes, for just a one way ticket into my arms, doesn’t go unnoticed. 


In those first several weeks while Olivia was intubated, there were many days we didn’t get to hold her. Honestly, some weeks, we only got to hold her once a week. If she wasn’t having a good day and her oxygen needs were all over the place, we were told “not today.” I was very understanding about it because I only wanted what was best for her. After all, I wasn’t a medical professional. What did I know? The jet vent was new to our hospital at the time and many nurses didn’t feel comfortable taking her out on it or had never done Kangaroo Care with a jet vent. 


By week three or four, I knew the drill even if some of the nurses didn’t. As a former teacher, and a mother who desperately wanted to hold her baby, I did what I knew best and taught. I explained how to do Kangaroo Care on a jet vent. I’d done it several times and felt confident in teaching others how to do it too. I take Olivia, you have one person who moves the cords, one person who moves the jet & one person manning the isolette.  I would hold her as long as she’d tolerate and when her sats started dropping, we knew it was time to go back. Sometimes it was only 20 minutes and sometimes it was closer to an hour. Once she wasn’t intubated, Kangaroo became more simple and towards the end of our NICU journey, I was able to take her out whenever I wanted. And that’s when I knew we’d made it big. 


Going home 


Olivia was discharged one week before her due date. I’m sure you all know how uncommon it is for a 24-weeker to go home before their due date. The day before discharge one of the physicians came into our room after rounds and told me the reason Olivia was doing so well was because of me, because I did the handhugs, I decorated the room, I sat there for a week staring at her waiting to snuggle. We read books and snuggled some more. She heard my voice there with her every single day – for hours on end. Working remotely was one of the biggest blessings during the pandemic that allowed me to be with Olivia every day, but I know not all parents are fortunate enough to be with their babies every day in the NICU. 


Olivia and her mom and dad on day 100 in the NICU


Today, Olivia is doing everything a normal three-year-old does and I have no worries about the wonderful, strong, beautiful, and smart woman she’s going to grow up to be. 


Preemie Parents & Co. is born


Right before discharge from the NICU, Mike and I were looking for a way to give back to the NICU. We knew no gift would be able to say Thank You enough for the NICU staff keeping our daughter alive for 100 days, but we sure could try. We set up an Amazon list and collected donations for the NICU including books, onesies, swaddle blankets, hats, bows, milestone cards, craft supplies for nurses. The day of Olivia’s discharge, we gifted our items to the NICU and knew that this would be a yearly fundraiser for us. In 2021, when we decided to do it again, I wanted to be able to collect enough donations to gift each individual room one care package that would be filled with some of the things I couldn’t get through the NICU without: a journal and pen, a coffee mug, a cooler and ice pack to transport breastmilk between home and the NICU, a $5 coffee gift card, a book to read to their baby and a “mama” bracelet. Again, I was blown away with our donations and had an abundance leftover. 


Photo of gift box contents

It was at this point that I really started to think about how I could make care packages for NICU families all year round and not just around Christmas time. I created a NICU journal where profits would go towards the creation of ongoing NICU care packages…and Preemie Parents & Co. was born. In 2023, over 300 care packages were donated not only to families at our local hospital, but shipped to NICU families in 39 different states!


Photo of "Our NICU Story" book


The last few years have been a whirlwind but I absolutely love being able to do such important work making NICU families feel loved and supported!



Photo of Emily Holding sign that reads, "Preemie Parents & Co"







 

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