It Takes a Village

Last Christmas (2020) in the NICU

What a year, Weldon’s first year. It’s true what they (all moms) say, there’s no way to understand how much becoming a mom changes you until you become a mom yourself. Weldon’s first few months were filled with lots of hard days along with joyous ones too. He spent 74 days in the NICU. It was a marathon, not a sprint to get him home. I learned so much information in those two and a half months that I never thought I’d know or need to know. Did you know babies don’t develop their suck/swallow reflex until 34 weeks gestation? Or how about the fact that most preemies need weekly eye exams to check for ROP (retinopathy of prematurity)? Did you know that most preemies born at a certain gestation almost all have some level of a brain bleed?

As hard as those 74 days were and even the days beyond our NICU stay, we were able to make it through thanks to our village. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about some portion of our NICU stay. But the thing I think about the most might not be what you’d expect.

Our Village

I constantly think about how lucky and blessed we are to have so many people in our lives including friends, family, nurses, doctors, hospital staff, my blog and Instagram family, and even complete strangers, who supported us, cheered Weldon on, prayed for us, sent baby gifts, gifted Uber Eats gift cards, and DMed me with words of encouragement and comfort. I’ve struggled over the past year to find the right words to adequately describe the space in my heart the gratitude for those acts of kindness and acts of care takes up.

Our 74-day stay in the NICU happened to fall over the holidays. During that time, we were blessed with so many thoughtful gifts from complete strangers and our wonderful nurses to make our NICU room cozy and cheerful and gifts from family and friends to make our lives a little easier, to take a little stress away.

I’m so thankful for our village. I’m thankful for every person that prayed for Weldon to grow stronger every day. I’m thankful for our family that dropped everything to support us from near and far. I’m thankful for my mom and dad for letting us move in with them for four months. I’m thankful for my mom who had dinner ready for Michael and I every night after we made it home from the NICU, did our laundry, drove me to the NICU every morning, and did a million other things to make our lives easier over those 74 days. I’m thankful for my Dad putting on a Santa costume so Weldon could have his picture made with Santa for his first Christmas. I’m thankful for my McHugh family for making the drive from Baton Rouge to visit and spend time with Weldon. I’m thankful for the nurses who I spent all day, every day with who not only took care of Weldon like he was their own, but who also took care of me on a daily basis. For the night nurses that allowed us to go home and sleep at night. For the doctors who took time to explain, in detail, every little thing, every single day. For the hospital staff who became some of the only people I interacted with for weeks on end – the smiles, good mornings, and little tidbits of chatter here and there brought some sense of normalcy to my days. For our friends who sent meals, gift cards, and baby items. For my Instagram and blog family, some whom I’ve never met in real life, who sent items off of my baby registry, thoughtful DMs, and even Venmo funds. I’m thankful for my friends who threw me baby showers after Weldon was born and for those that helped us celebrate. I’m thankful for friends who made and gifted us Christmas ornaments to decorate Weldon’s tree in his NICU room. For the strangers who handmade blankets, hats, and gift bags for all of the babies in the NICU. I could go on and on and on. I’ll never be able to find the words to adequately describe how thankful I am for for our village.

Paying It Forward

This year, I wanted to do something to pay it forward. For all of the kindness, care, and thoughtfulness that was showered upon us over the holiday season last year. I reached out to one of the charge nurses at the NICU, one of the first people to meet Weldon, who I know was meant to be there on that Thanksgiving Day, to see what the needs are for the NICU this holiday season.

The nurses, who work 12-hour shifts, multiple days a week, saving babies’ lives minute after minute (and take care of the mamas all day long too!), are always dealing with their microwave in the breakroom blowing out. Their need, a nice, heavy-duty microwave!

For the parents, gift cards to restaurants that are within walking distance of the NICU. I can personally attest to this need. I was at the NICU without a car on most days. And I didn’t want to spend a lot of time away from Weldon. In addition to gift cards to restaurants within walking distance, I’d also include gift cards for food delivery services like Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Waitr. I utilized these services a lot so I wouldn’t have to leave Weldon’s side. Keep in mind that many parents are from out of town. Babies are flown in from all over as NICUs are few and far between. Some parents are only able to visit their babies on certain days of the week because of other life commitments. Making the time spent at the NICU precious.

For the babies, the need here is mostly for the precious little baby boys. For some reason, the NICU is flooded with preemie baby girl clothes donations but hardly any preemie baby boy clothing items. Let’s get those baby boys some cute little pieces to wear when they’re able to.

How You Can Help

I’m so excited to fulfill some of these needs (maybe all of them?!) this holiday season. I thought we could have an even bigger impact on these special people and precious little lives if I shared this with you all! I tried to think of the best way to execute this, and I came up with using Venmo as other platforms charge a processing fee. I’ll be accepting donations via Venmo TODAY through December 20th. I’ll happily match all donations up to $250! I’m planning on delivering the gifts to the NICU while I’m home over Christmas. If you’d like to participate in any other way, aside from donating through Venmo, please email me at [email protected]!

DONATE: Donate via Venmo by clicking here! My Venmo name is ashlee-hightower if that’s easier for you!

Thank you in advance! I truly appreciate each and every one of you! You have no idea the impact these small acts of kindness will have on each family.