Day Twenty-four: Dylan Franklin

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When Paige and Dedrick were married in October of 2015, they knew having kids was something they both wanted. They both came from large families and having a kid was the next step in their happiness.


After five months of marriage, a pregnancy test confirmed that in December they would be parents! During their first appointment and ultrasound, the tech kept saying how she had never seen a baby be implanted so far to the side. Once they saw the gynecologist, worry and concern began to set in. They were told that the pregnancy may be ectopic, implanted too close to the fallopian tubes, and they should prepare for the possibility of termination. Luckily, after meeting with a maternal fetal medicine specialist, they found out the pregnancy was, in fact, viable and the gynecologist had been wrong. On her next appointment, Paige was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. After trying a change in diet and a small dose of medicine, she had to be placed on insulin and administer it to herself four times a day. This regulated her blood sugar and things were finally going well.


At her 18-week checkup the baby was measuring two weeks behind and during the exam to check for chromosomal issues she was diagnosed with a blood disorder called anticardiolipin. This put Paige at a higher risk of blood clots. She was then put on another medicine to help prevent this. The hope was that this medicine would help the baby start growing. After nothing seemed to help, and after doing her own research she discovered that she had IUGR (Intrauterine Growth Restriction). At every appointment, she became more and more discouraged as she was told time and time again that her baby would most like not survive in utero. Paige’s mother would remind them, at every appointment, that God was bigger than this and only his plans mattered.


At her 26-week check-up, a nurse practitioner came in and informed them that there was no fluid left and that their precious baby would not survive the week.



Paige could not understand how this could happen. Every day she could feel him kicking and rolling around inside of her. This baby boy was strong and she refused to believe that he wouldn’t survive. The following week they returned to find the baby’s heartbeat just as strong as it has ever been and he was finally weighing a viable weight, 500 grams. This was finally the little hope that they had been needing. They were sent straight to the hospital and Paige was put on strict bed rest. She was hooked up to a magnesium drip, given steroid shots and prepared for an upcoming c-section.



On Saturday, September 17, Dylan James was brought into the world weighing 390 grams, 13.9 oz.


The first few days were great. Dylan was hooked up to the ventilator, but on the day that Paige was discharged he had to be put on the oscillating ventilator because he could not stay oxygenated.


That ventilator became his lifeline and he stayed there for a month. Dylan soon developed an infection from being on the vent and had his first transfusion. He eventually moved back down to the traditional vent and then onto a CPAP. He did so good on CPAP, that the next day he was placed on a high flow cannula. He was finally able to be held. This is such an amazing feeling as a NICU mom.



Dylan seemed to be growing well and gaining weight at a slow but steady pace but was still too small to be out of the incubator. Over the next few months, he was given a PICC line and more transfusions and had to deal with a distended stomach and apnea spells. When he was finally moved to an open crib he was able to get his first bottle feed. He was a great eater but it was soon discovered that he had reflux due to his premature birth. That began a long three-week process of finding what formula and medications would help control it. Dylan spent most of the rest of his time being held and loved on by the NICU nurses. At this point, he had been there for 3 months and had already gone through the circulation of nurses twice. Dylan finally came home after spending 135 days in the NICU.



Today he is a wild, loud, and crazy 11-month-old weighing around 14 pounds. He’s crawling, cruising around furniture, and screaming all the while. He is still taking medication for his reflux and seeing GI once every 3 months. He’s also in physical therapy.  Paige says “It was a struggle to get him here but he is our biggest and greatest blessing. I thank God that I never lost hope and faith in our baby boy.”








Writer Info: Franklin family story written by Tonya Nelms.




Photographer Courtney Edwards resides in Memphis, Tennessee and has specialized in newborn and family photography since 2013. Courtney’s daughter was born at 35 weeks, weighing 4.10 lbs, and spent 10 days in NICU, making the NICU a place that is near and dear to her heart. Find her business website at or on Facebook at  

Day Twenty-three: Eli Poblocki

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When you look at Eli now, it’s hard to believe how hard he had to fight during the first months of his life. With a full head of auburn curls and a glowing smile, he is catching up on milestones, charming friends and family, and interacting with the world around him – even the family dog. He is a healthy, normal little boy who happened to start life as a micro-preemie.


Twenty-one weeks into her pregnancy, Elaine and Patrick Poblocki were just starting to relax. After three years of failed fertility treatments and a miscarriage, they had finally made it to what felt like the safe part of Elaine’s pregnancy. Doctors were pleased with Elaine’s health, and she was just barely beginning to show. At 21 weeks, they visited the doctor for an echocardiogram – a routine practice for babies conceived via IVF – and that’s when their world turned upside down. Doctors gave them the devastating news that Elaine was already dilated and completely effaced, and the next weeks were filled with bedrest, hospital stays, and worry as doctors tried to keep her from delivering their son.


Elaine anticipated spending months in the hospital, and even invited a friend to teach her to knit while she passed the time. That knitting lesson never got finished – and her friend got a hands-on lesson in being a midwife. At just 23 weeks, Elaine was rushed to an emergency c-section. The doctors chose to put her completely under for the delivery, and she had to find out after the fact that her son was able to cry when he was born. When she and Patrick finally got to see baby Eli, he hardly looked like a baby. Tubes, wires, and goggles covered him inside the plastic isolette. It was hardly the journey to parenthood that they had envisioned. Without much opportunity for physical contact, Elaine found that it took her quite some time to actually “feel like a mother”. After all, she couldn’t do the things that new moms traditionally do. In fact, she was actually very ill herself, battling an extensive infection that doctors discovered after delivery.


The one thing she could do – and the one thing that helped her feel like a mom – was pump. Breastmilk was deemed to be the best possible nutrition they could provide for little Eli, so Elaine rallied and started to pump. She kept a newborn schedule – pumping every three hours around the clock – for six long months, ultimately producing enough milk to nourish her son and two other babies. While the schedule was brutal, it was often the only physical way for Elaine to mother her son, and she found it tremendously healing.




Meanwhile, Eli encountered one hurdle after another. Each treatment seemed to bring other unintended consequences. At one point, he sustained damage to one of his vocal chords, an injury that doctors suggested might delay his speech. They also promised that eating would be a challenge, and in the world of the NICU, where parents rarely receive an absolute statement, that one proved to be true.


In fact, Eli’s nourishment was Patrick and Elaine’s final hurdle as they fought to bring their son home. He simply couldn’t get enough to eat without external support, and the doctors felt it was time for a g-tube – a tiny valve that would deliver nutrition right to his stomach. Elaine in particular struggled with this decision. It destroyed her to think of putting this piece of medical equipment in her perfect baby boy. She worried that it would impede his development, and prevent him from becoming what she wanted most for him: a normal little boy. Ultimately, it became clear that in spite of a rotating schedule of cuddlers, the NICU just wasn’t developmentally appropriate for their not-so-little baby. Once the g-tube was in place, they were finally free to return home as a family of three.


Not that life settled down. They literally did not sleep the first night they were home. They stayed busy setting up IV poles and assembling medical equipment – even scrambling to find a middle-of-the-night replacement when the breast pump didn’t work. Every three hours, Eli needed to be fed and Elaine needed to pump, and by the time they finished all of Eli’s medical care, it was time to start over again. On top of that, Eli maintained a laundry list of appointments with one specialist or another. It was exhausting and overwhelming, but slowly Eli began to outgrow his necessary supports. One by one, medications were discontinued, and doctors began to check in less frequently. Patrick and Elaine learned to look forward to these milestones as gifts.


Having a child in the NICU is an overwhelming experience. In the midst of everything, Patrick and Elaine never lost sight of their ability to function as a team. They made time for little dates – things like grabbing a Starbucks on their way into the hospital or watching marathons of HGTV together while Elaine pumped. Since both of them like to be active, they made of a point of making sure both parents were able to walk the dog, run, and exercise as needed. And as Elaine has grieved some of the things she missed due to Eli’s premature birth – the experience of feeling and looking pregnant, getting to exclusively breastfeed her baby, hearing her son’s first cry – it’s Patrick who has reminded her that the goal wasn’t a pregnancy. The goal was having a child, and they have done that together.


As Elaine and Patrick reflect on Eli’s journey, they emphasize the importance of taking one day at a time. For the parents of a preemie, the future begins to look like a gauntlet of unknowns. Doctors throw out worst-case scenarios and dwell on unknowns. Other families in the NICU experience setbacks. It’s hard for parents not to look around and be terrified. In order to avoid becoming overwhelmed, Elaine opted not to join a micropreemie support group until after they took Eli home. Instead, Elaine and Patrick focused all their attention on the moment at hand, and it helped them maintain their sanity through the hard months. When Eli was on the ventilator, they focused on doing the best they could as the parents of a baby on a ventilator. When he got the g-tube, they focused on doing the best they could with that. When he finally came home with IVs and medical equipment, they threw themselves into Eli’s medical care.


In addition, they learned to rely heavily on family and friends. Even in the early rounds of IVF and during Elaine’s miscarriage, their employers and co-workers surrounded and a supported them. While Elaine was recovering, and when she had to return to work in order to save her FMLA for Eli’s return home, both sets of grandparents stepped up to the plate, spending long hours in the NICU, meeting Patrick and Elaine for weekly lunch dates, and helping them manage the demands of caring for a preemie. Friends took the time to be trained to be Eli’s NICU cuddlers, and their community created a GoFundMe that allowed Elaine to take an additional year off work to continue caring for Eli.



And Eli is thriving. Against all odds, he is meeting developmental milestones and closing the gap between his actual and adjusted age. He still works hard at feedings, and he still has milestones to catch up on. But at a recent doctor’s visit, his pediatrician told Patrick and Elaine that “other than that piece of plastic in his stomach, your kid is boring.” After months of just wanting a “normal” baby, those were the best words they could have heard.


Elaine and Patrick, meanwhile, find that they are so much more grateful for the little things. They unapologetically rock Eli to sleep every night. They are more patient with messes and noise. Elaine is thrilled to get up with her son instead of the pump during the night. They are much more tolerant of the hard parts of parenting. They willingly give up their time – and their sleep – for their son. Things that might be daunting to the average parent are routine to them.


Still, Elaine wants to make sure her son isn’t defined by his early delivery. So many people were convinced tiny Eli would “have problems”, but as time has gone on, he’s made it clear he won’t be defined by statistics. He now enjoys pureed foods and is beginning to take a few sips out of a sippy cup. He’s becoming mobile, rolling and scooting effortlessly on the g-tube that caused Elaine so much concern. He made it through cold and flu season with only one infection and one head cold. It’s very likely that his premature delivery won’t have any lingering effects.
Eli’s parents can tell you about a lot of amazing things: the community that showed up to care for them when they needed it, the medical science that helped their son survive and thrive, the doctors and nurses who cared for him in the NICU. But Eli himself is the most amazing part of the journey, and he’s made everything else worth it.








Writer Info:  Poblocki family story written by Laura Simon.




Joella Thombs is an award-winning newborn photographer in Wethersfield, CT.  She owns Josephine Photography which has been specializing in maternity and newborn portraiture since 2013.  You can view more of her work on her website,, Facebook, and Instagram,


Day Twenty-two: Saige Wright

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When Sheena Wright went to work that day, she didn’t feel particularly good. She was experiencing some cramping and discomfort, but she chalked it up to normal pregnancy aches and pains. As the day progressed, the pain worsened until she couldn’t take it anymore. Her husband, Tauge, took her to the hospital, and while the nurses waited for test results needed to call the doctor, Sheena went to the bathroom. Moments later, she delivered her tiny daughter, Saige, into her own arms.


She went into shock, screaming for her husband who started screaming for the nurses, while she instinctively cradled her newborn daughter to her chest. Born at just 23 weeks, 4 days, and weighing just a little over one pound, Saige was so medically fragile that nearly every nurse in the NICU came to see her. As Sheena and Tauge struggled to come to terms with their daughter’s frightening delivery, they discovered a new form of terror. Doctors threw out unknown medical terms and scary percentages. Saige had a 40% chance of life, a 70% chance of mental disabilities, and a 60% chance of physical disabilities. Even worse, the hospital they were in didn’t even have the equipment necessary for a baby that small. Sheena was devastated.



By the time Saige and her parents arrived at the NICU, Sheena was struggling to cope. All the fear was welling up into anger, and her first reaction was to lash out. The doctors she’d dealt with so far had dealt in medical jargon and percentages, and she didn’t feel like they saw her as a person. She was afraid to trust anyone.


Looking back, she wishes she’d known that the NICU staff would quickly become like a family to her. When she did lash out, the doctors and nurses gave her space, then calmed her fears. They were patient, explaining Saige’s many medical challenges over and over until her parents understood every facet of what she was facing. They didn’t offer false hope, but they didn’t throw out scary numbers or promise dire outcomes either. Dr. Bob, in particular, acted more like a father figure. When he offered medical advice, he took the time to counsel her through it. She could ask him the same question 10,000 different ways, and he answered it each time. The nurses made a bed for her to stay with her baby, they noticed her constant presence and they encouraged her. Even the cleaning lady, Rosa, became a friend. She began to see her daughter’s caregivers as people: as daughters, sons, mothers, and fathers…and she began to realize she could rely on them as a support system.


Her mother and her older daughter also stepped up to support her. The listened and cheered her on. At one month, Sheena finally got to hold her baby girl. At two months, she finally got to hear her cry while the nurses were changing her tubing. Saige spent a total of 126 days in the NICU, and 97 of them were spent intubated. For the rest of her time there, she relied on oxygen. Even when she returned home, she required extensive care, multiple medications, and scores of doctor appointments.


There were no guarantees that Saige would walk or talk, but at 20 months, she is defying all the odds. While her milestones are still delayed, she walks and plays like any other kid. She’s potty-trained and eats with her mouth. While she isn’t verbal, her intervention teacher believes that she is fully capable and will speak when she’s ready. She does say small words, and she babbles and laughs. She has a strong will, and it seems she communicates very well with sign language. Her family jokes that she’s part fish; she loves water of any kind and swims all over the pool in her puddle jumper. She’s also obsessed with balloons, and she loves to dance.



Saige has an eight-month-old brother now, and the two of them are inseparable. They seem to spur one another on toward new milestones, pulling up to standing and taking their first steps at nearly the same time. Saige will try to pick her baby brother up, but he’s actually bigger than he is. Her parents assume her petite size is the result of her premature birth. Sheena jokes that they chalk pretty much everything up to being a preemie now. While Saige is still medically fragile and her parents have to be vigilant about illness, she has managed to get through twenty months with very little sickness.



When Sheena reflects on those hard days in the NICU, she can’t help but notice how strong she is. She didn’t know what she could do until she had to do it.  She lost 42 pounds while her daughter was in the hospital, but she grew tremendously as a person. In the NICU, babies take it day by day and night by night; Sheena and Tauge had to do the same. Parenting a preemie taught Sheena how to live in the moment and be grateful for it. She couldn’t get wrapped up in the questions and concerns because she had to be present for her tiny daughter. As she puts it, she now “sees a bigger picture…a better picture.” While she wouldn’t wish her experience on anyone else, she looks at bubbly, vivacious Saige and knows that everything was absolutely worth it.










Writer Info:  Wright family story written by Laura Simon.



Jackeline from Sweet Little Blessings Photography is  located in Victorville, CA serving the High Desert and surrounding areas. She specializes in Maternity, Newborn, Family and Children and has been a professional photographer for close to 4 years. Married to her high school sweet heart 17 years and a mother to 4 boys whom are the world to her.  Family is her first priority and she knows the importance of capturing those beautiful moments before they slip away forever. Feel free to visit her page and see her work @ Zenfolio | Sweet Little Blessings Photography   Facebook page:  Instagram: Sweet Little Blessings (@sweetlittleblessingsphotograph) • Instagram photos and videos

Day Twenty-one: Alice and Lydia Wendt

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When Lynsey Wendt was rushed to the hospital during spring break, only 18 weeks pregnant with her triplets, she had no idea the roller coaster of emotions the following days, weeks, and months would bring her and her husband Nathan.


Unfortunately, one of the triplets, Baby A, heart stopped beating and Hope Alexis was delivered on March 19, 2016. Lynsey was still carrying two of her precious babies. Dr. Sina Haeri was willing to do something out of the ordinary and risk delayed interval delivery. He was going to let Lynsey continue the pregnancy after the delivery of Hope. They turned out to be a success story like no other!


Lynsey remained in the antepartum unit at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center. Her stay was full of oral and IV meds, blood work, and close monitoring of her vitals. Her stay was full of emotions. Her strong desire to hold her two remaining children in until 23 weeks all while daily mourning the loss of Hope. On the morning of her 23rd week, her contractions began. The neonatologist from the NICU had already begun to prepare her for the risks of delivering babies at 23 weeks.  They spoke of brain bleeds, cerebral palsy and other complications. It was scary but they wanted Lynsey to be mentally prepared. She had even toured the NICU where she saw the equipment needed to sustain life at 23 weeks. Luckily the babies were not ready to come and held on a few more weeks. The stress on her body eventually took its toll and after developing pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes, it was time. At 26 weeks and 3 days, on May 15, 2016, Lydia and Alice were welcomed into the world via cesarean section. They weighed in at 1lb 5oz and 1lb 13oz.













As a new mom, you expect to hold a swaddled newborn and hear their beautiful cry. But NICU moms know that isn’t the case. Lynsey did not hear either girl cry. She did not get to hold them. Each baby was delivered and swept away with a team to the neonatal ICU.  That night she would finally get to see her precious miracles and within two days she was able to start holding them.



Alice and Lydia both had a wonderful first few weeks in the NICU. The nurses and doctors all spoke of how well they were doing for how small they were. The first vivid painful memory of the NICU occurred while Lynsey was holding Alice. With her back to Lydia, stuck between both incubators and wrapped up in Alice’s cords, she was unable to turn and look when Lydia’s alarms starting going off. Unfortunately, Lydia had developed an infection. When Lynsey left for home that night she asked to be called with any changes.  That was the first middle of the night call they received from the NICU. Lydia was intubated and received two spinal taps. Later the unfortunate second call that Alice had begun to not act right. She was placed on preventative antibiotics.




Over the next few days, while Lydia improved, Alice worsened. After being diagnosed with the deadly disease necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), Alice was transferred to a different hospital. The hospital transition went well and they hastily worked on getting Alice as stable as possible.  The next day after meeting the surgeon, they performed surgery on Alice. The same day, it was confirmed that Lydia did have meningitis and would remain on antibiotics for another 21 days. Day by day the girls slowly improved. Lynsey and Nathan spent their days traveling between hospitals trying to split their visits to see both girls. Finally, a few weeks later, there was room for Lydia to come join Alice downtown and the sisters were finally side by side.  


Progresses and backslides made up the next months. These were the moments when it was a blessing to have an amazing NICU team. Daily updates, decorated signs, and cute bedding helped pass the time. Lynsey updated family and friends with a Facebook page that is still used to post about how the girls are doing! On September 11, 2016, when Alice came home Lynsey had spent 6 months of her life surrounded by hospitals.


Today, both girls are only slightly behind developmentally but have truly done an amazing job catching up!  Alice weighs 19 pounds and Lydia weighs 20 pounds.  Alice has short bowel syndrome (SBS), however, it hasn’t slowed her down one bit and she continues to impress her Gastroenterologist with her progress.  Despite a three-pound weight difference at discharge, she did a great job catching up in weight to her sister. After everything they went through, you cannot even tell that these girls endured so much. Through positive thinking that transcended from Nathan and Lynsey to the girls, things could only be better if Hope were here to be thriving with her sisters.







Writer Info: Wendt family story written by Tonya Nelms.



Photographer Kelly Colson resides in Round Rock, Texas and has specialized in child and family portraits since 2010.  Kelly looks for ways to give back and enjoys giving Austin area NICU families the gift of photos.  Find her business website at, on Facebook at or on Instagram at

Day Twenty: Joshua Hall

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When Oshela Hall started having small cramps in the 5th month of her pregnancy, she just assumed it was a stomach issue and saw no reason to rush to the hospital. She had an appointment that morning for her 6-month checkup and knew she could ask about it then. Once she told her nurse about the pain, the doctor was sent straight in and Oshela was told she was dilated to 2cm and needed to go to labor and delivery.


As a mother, this was the worst news to be dealt. The nurse walked them down to L&D to help keep her calm. The whole way Oshela was praying for her child. After being checked again she was told that she was now dilated to a 5. She was terrified and worried. She received a steroid shot to help develop the baby’s lungs, and medicine to help stop the contractions. On Sunday, her water broke and over the next week the contractions would come and go and would finally lead up to the birth of their son.





The NICU was tough on Oshela and her boyfriend. Guilt is a huge part of being a NICU parents and Oshela was no different. She felt as though her body had failed her and her son. She and her boyfriend spent hours each day in the NICU, getting there in the early morning and staying until the late hours of the night. Over the next 161 days, Joshua had his share of ups and downs. Infections and transfusions, tests and breathing problems. Though these are all commonplace in the NICU they are every parent’s hurt and pain to not be able to make their child feel better. Oshela relied on family, friends, Facebook, other parents, and even the nurses for support through this trial.




Joshua is now almost 9months old and is 5 months adjusted and doing amazing! He’s on .1 liter of oxygen and even though he was born 1lb 6.9 oz he is now almost 17lbs. Joshua is sitting up on his own and loves Mickey Mouse. Oshela knows that she saw God work a miracle with her son.







Writer Info: Hall family story written by Tonya Nelms.




Sara Carpenter owns Lemon Cherry Photography in Saint Louis, MO. Sara is a family and child photographer with a special interest in NICU photography. Sara is a mom of two boys 9 and 7 and a bonus mom to two more boys who are 16 and 13! Sara has been a practicing nurse for the past 10 years and owns her own home health care company, All Care Home Health. Sara always feels at “home” when in the hospital setting with special capturing hopes babies and their families!

Day Nineteen: Liam Monette

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Before Stephanie Monette and her husband, Chris, welcomed their son, she was nervous about the unexpected changes that having a baby would bring to her life.Then she was given this sage advice: “just let motherhood change you.”



The first two trimesters of Stephanie’s pregnancy were exactly what a type-A mama dreams of. She was the picture of health, and all her doctor’s appointments revealed that her still-unnamed baby was growing just as expected. So in the final days of Stephanie’s second trimester, when she left for a work trip an hour away from her home, no one batted an eye. The trip was going to be quick: a day-long training class in Waterbury, Connecticut, followed by a night with her parents who lived in the area.


Still, something didn’t feel right as her class commenced. She’d started the day with unusual back pain, which she attributed to the fact that she was finally starting to show. As the day wore on, she shifted her body and her weight in the chair, but comfort alluded her. After some internet research, conversations with family members, and several phone calls to her doctor, Stephanie found herself in a hospital over an hour away from home, where a nurse sat down after an internal exam and said, “Gosh, I hate to tell you this, but you’re in early labor.


The shock and panic hit her hard. Being blindsided is terrifying. She started shaking. Everything went dark. She remembers the nurse reaching over and resting a hand on her  knee, and she heard a voice telling her mom, “You should call her husband. He should be here.” The next few days were a roller coaster. Doctors thought they’d stopped Stephanie’s labor and prepared to send her home, then contractions started again. Stephanie struggled to come to terms with the fact that this was the reality for her and her son.


At one point in the chaos of exams and visiting doctors, her hospital room cleared out. One nurse sat at the computer in the corner, quietly entering information into the computer. Stephanie curled up on her side in the bed, deeply uncomfortable. Chris sat next to her, holding her hand and praying calmly. Suddenly she felt the urge to go to the bathroom. She asked the nurse how she was supposed to do that with all the tubes and wires attached, the nurse asked a couple of pointed questions, and next thing she knew, a doctor was in the room robing up and exclaiming “we’re going to have a baby!”


As Stephanie delivered Liam in a few quick pushes, she kept her eyes closed, a reaction of being so afraid. But what happened next still amazes Stephanie. The mood in the room changed from fear to optimism, and even joy. Although it happened three months early, her delivery was everything she’d hoped for: unmedicated and even peaceful. She got to hear what every new mom anticipates: her son’s healthy cry. Then there were the joyous voices. “Oh my gosh! It’s a boy! Listen to him! He’s breathing on his own!”


The doctors and nurses were amazed because babies born at 28 weeks almost always require oxygen. Miraculously, her son didn’t. He was a warrior from the very beginning. At just 2 lbs, 14 oz, he was very small and needed immediate attention from the NICU staff so he was whisked away.  Still, everyone was unexpectedly happy.  To her surprise, they wheeled him in, tucked in his isolette, with a head of dark hair and a tiny button nose. Stephanie was able to reach over and touch him for the first time. It didn’t matter that he was a preemie. He was their son, and the new parents were absolutely overjoyed and in love.


It was clear their baby was a fighter from those first moments, and they also needed to give him a name for all the paperwork being filled out. Since “the list” was in her overnight bag that was left at her parents house, Stephanie’s mom took a picture of it and texted it to them. There were two clear favorites. After Chris reminded Stephanie that Liam meant, “strong-willed warrior”, he and Stephanie didn’t hesitate. Their Liam had already made it clear he was just that.


The next weeks in the NICU were a mixture of joy and struggle. Chris and Stephanie had been warned to expect setbacks, and each meeting with a specialist came with tremendous anxiety. Stephanie grieved the early end of her pregnancy. She’d just started feeling Liam kick, and she hadn’t taken maternity photos or gotten to “look” pregnant. Many of her other friends were also pregnant, and she couldn’t help but feel cheated out of a large part of that experience. And while Liam performed exceptionally well for a preemie, Stephanie still experienced an emotional roller-coaster while her Liam was in NICU.


There were days where she was elated, like her first pumping session, when she discovered she was already producing milk to nourish her son. And then there were the frustrating moments, when other families got to go home, and Liam was still there. In the close quarters of the NICU, it was impossible not to hear the conversations doctors had with other families. At times, Stephanie found herself feeling tremendously lucky. One mother was caring for her full-term infant, a twin with a fatal disease. That mother watched tiny Liam squirming in his isolette and commented that her own son would never move like that. In addition, when Liam could begin breastfeeding, he was a natural, but his feeding tube presented a frustrating obstacle. Still doctors weren’t willing to take it out until they were sure he could thrive without it.



To make matters more challenging, Stephanie and Chris were commuting back and forth to the hospital from their home an hour away, and they were simply exhausted and struggling to keep up.  The NICU does a very thorough job of evaluating babies, which meant that nearly every time they arrived at the hospital, they discovered they’d missed another test and needed to get up to speed. Still, as they struggled with patience and frustration, Chris constantly reminded Stephanie – and himself – that each day brought them one day closer to the day they would bring him home, even though they didn’t know when that day would be.


One of the scariest moments for Stephanie was learning that Liam had a very small, level-one brain bleed. She hadn’t even known he was going to have an MRI. While brain bleeds are very common in preterm infants, and even though doctors assured her that this one would be quickly re-absorbed, she and Chris had to wait weeks for another MRI to confirm that Liam would not have lingering effects.


The eleven weeks Liam spent in the NICU were difficult for Stephanie and Chris, but when they reflect on Liam’s journey, those weeks are a special time. The staff in the NICU became their friends, and it was clear they saw something special in Liam. The nurses nicknamed him “Rockstar” and had new stories about the NICU records he was breaking each day when Stephanie arrived. They made Stephanie and Chris feel safe expressing their fears, and then provided perspective and reassurance.


Stephanie and Chris discovered they were growing emotionally in ways they never expected. Doctors frequently commented on how calm and level-headed Stephanie was, and she didn’t know she could respond to high-stress situations without feeling flustered. In time, she came to appreciate that for the first weeks of Liam’s life, her only responsibilities were rocking him and loving on him. His time in the NICU taught her to savor the moment at hand without stressing about the future.


Stephanie and Chris heard from friends and family all over the country who were praying for them and placing them on church prayer lists. The new parents took so much comfort from the prayers, and know now without a doubt that prayer changes things. Through this journey, they’ve grown in faith, and they’ve grown together as a team.


One day Liam pulled out his feeding tube and proved to all that he was strong enough to eat enough volume by mouth. The strong-willed warrior was able to go home just three days later. Stephanie and Chris were elated, but they didn’t stop worrying. Like all preemies, Liam kept a dizzying schedule of follow-up appointments, and at each appointment, Stephanie waited for the shoe to drop. Miraculously, it didn’t. Today, Liam has is not only progressing, he has caught up on all his milestones. He’s a happy, smart, bubbly little boy who is  thriving.


Like  many new moms, Stephanie often worries about Liam’s development, especially given his dramatic start. But doctors have told Stephanie that he’s so strong and determined that she needs to stop worrying about whether he’ll meet milestones and start worrying that he’ll break an arm with his new mobility and confidence.


Stephanie no longer wonders how she’ll adapt to the big and unexpected changes that come with a new baby.  Motherhood has, in fact, changed her. Stephanie and Chris have learned they can rely on their family and community. They’ve learned the can rely on each other. They’ve learned – earlier than most parents – how little control they have when it comes to parenting. And they’ve learned to be present in the moment and soak up each and every second they have with their son.


While they wouldn’t have chosen for Liam to make his appearance when he did, this is Liam’s story. And he is just as strong as his name.








Writer Info: Monette family story written by Laura Simon.




Rebecca Lynne Photography is located in Connecticut. Specializing in lifestyle family and wedding photography, capturing authentic moments filled with love and emotion. Rebecca has been a photographer for Capturing Hopes since early 2017. When she is not photographing clients, she can typically be found soaking up time with her husband and their two children.

Day Eighteen: Gracie Nelms

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Who knew that there was something even smaller than a preemie. No one ever talks about a micro preemie in everyday conversation. Until you have one. Then for months, that will be the only topic that you can think of.



September 19, 2011, is a memory that Tonya can only see in a blur of pain and tears. A mix of agony, anticipation, and excitement. She was twenty-five weeks pregnant with a child that she had tried for years to conceive. This child was an unexpected miracle that had already overcome so much just to be. At this point, she was still just a “she” because in Tonya’s mind there was no need to rush the name picking and other details. There was still approximately fifteen more weeks to shop, pick names, choose decor, and prepare for the arrival of this baby. There was no hospital bag packed and waiting at the door. She didn’t have a birth plan in mind. There had not even been a baby shower. In Tonya’s mind, there was still plenty of time for all that.



On that September morning, when she woke up with sharp shooting pain, Tonya knew that all that time she thought she had, may not come. As she made her way to the Army hospital in Hawaii, hundreds of scenarios on how the day and upcoming months could go, played out in her head. And then she prayed. Once in labor and delivery, it was discovered that Tonya was already dilated to five centimeters. The nurses and doctors did everything that they could. They tried every possible option to hold off delivering her, “Even just a few days can make the difference between life and death” they would say.  DEATH?? That wasn’t part of the plan, and luckily it wasn’t part of God’s plan either. At 5:08 pm, after a very rough twelve hours, Gracie Jean made her grand entrance. Not crying and kicking and pink like most babies, but just as beautiful. The details of what the next ten minutes held for both Gracie and Tonya are tough. Intubation and CPR of a baby that weighs under two pounds is not for the faint of heart. Gracie weighed in at one pound eleven ounces and was twelve and a half inches long. She was smaller than most of the pineapples that the state she was in was so famous for.




The first time Tonya really got to see Gracie, she was intubated and attached to so many wires. Tonya was wheeled into the NICU and there shown the tiniest baby. The doctors were filling her head with little medical details, but mostly they just wanted her to know that her child may not make it the next 24 hours. But Gracie was feisty, and she was not going down without a fight. The first day came and went, and the second and the third… and she was beating the odds. She was fighting the battle. She was winning. Despite all the things that they had been told could be wrong with her if she survived, they had faith that she would overcome those things. Tonya knew that she was her biggest ally and that crying or being sad would only bring Gracie down and she promised that no matter what, she would not cry in that NICU.




On day six, Gracie had her first major setback. She had a hole in her intestine. She immediately went in for surgery, She had to be reintubated and put to sleep. Tonya sat and waited and prayed. Gracie pulled through like a champ. Over the next few months, there were ups and downs. The NICU was a roller coaster of emotion. They spent Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas there. During this time Gracie overcame a multitude of issues ranging from bacterial meningitis, blood transfusion, eye problems, an abscess on her liver, kidney issues, an inability to wean off of the smallest amount of O2, and a scare with RSV. She was poked and tested on daily. She still has the scars to prove it. So does Tonya. Only her scars are not the physical kind. Hers, as a mother are much deeper rooted. These scars show when she thinks of having another baby, or when she hears of another mom delivering too early. They manifest in a fear that shoots through her entire body when Gracie coughs or the feeling of dread at having to take her back to a doctor or hospital. The wounds left on Tonya are the ones of a mother that never wants to have to see her baby suffer like she did for those months in the NICU.



After 100 days of ups and downs and emotionally draining events, Gracie was sent home. She was on oxygen for a few more months before she weaned off of that also. Gracie is now a six-year-old. She sees no more specialists and is ahead of her age in development. She was 2015 Tiny Miss Texas and shows no signs of the fact that the first 100 days of her life revolved around the word “micro-preemie”












Writer Info: Nelms family story written by mom, Tonya Nelms.











Photographer Amanda Bailey resides in Fresno, California and has specialized in Portrait & Wedding Photography since 2008. Amanda strives to make personal connections with her clients to create organic and joyful moments for her clients to cherish for years to come.


To learn more about Amanda and her work, visit, On Facebook at, or on Instagram, username: AmandaBphoto.


Day Seventeen: Mason Kohl

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Mason’s story started in a unique way when Kally and Ben found out they were pregnant on their 3rd wedding anniversary. With a seemingly normal pregnancy, everything was going as expected until the end of her 19th week. Kally started feeling pressure and felt that something was wrong. After speaking with her OB, they were advised to come in right away. The exam led to the bad news that she was dilated and her waters were pressing. Kally was placed on an inverted gurney and rushed to a surgical hospital, about an hour away, where she was evaluated and it was determined that since the baby was not in distress they would attempt an emergency cerclage to try and save the pregnancy.  Because she was dilated to 6 cm already, they were not sure how long it would hold, so Kally and Ben had to hope for the best.



Unfortunately a few short weeks later (the last day of her 22nd week of pregnancy) they were once again shaken with bad news. After waking with more pressure, she was rushed again to the surgical hospital and confirmed to be in labor. Over the next 4 days, they were in a whirlwind of medicine to help both mom and baby, worry and lots of monitoring. There was lots of learning about what having a micro preemie could entail and some incredibly decision making. On the evening of week 23 day 3, Kally started having contractions again and was in labor until the following morning at 7 am when she delivered Mason James Kohl. He weighed in at just 1lb 4oz and was 12 in. long.  He was intubated and, after the isolette made a brief visit to Kally’s bedside, Mason was rushed to the NICU to be stabilized.  Luckily, their families had a chance to see the little guy, ever so briefly, as he was on his way up. A few hours later Kally and Ben were able to go to the NICU and meet their new son. Meeting him in the blue glow of the bilirubin lights amongst beeping and wires is not the first view parents are prepared for.  Mason looked so tiny, fragile and red.  His tiny eyes still sealed, and struggling to breathe. Kally and Ben whispered hellos and we love you before they had to head back down to recovery.  



Over the next few days, Kally and her husband sat in his room for hours talking to him just praying for his strength. Their primary nurses were incredible and taught them how to give him hand hugs and change the tiniest diapers. Just before a trial extubation, Kally was given the chance to hold him for about 10 min on day two, she’ll never forget how his whole body fit in one hand as he was placed on her chest. In the middle of the night Mason’s extubation trial ended in dramatic fashion when Mason was found foaming at his mouth and he needed an emergency re-intubation. Unfortunately he suffered an esophageal tear when he was intubated so he was NPO for just shy of two weeks while it healed.  Kally, Ben and often their family sat by Mason while he had daily x-rays checking his tube and line placements to offer him comfort. He required more head and chest ultrasounds and more heel sticks and blood pulls than imaginable. Kally and Ben were fortunate to be able to have parents come help with to keep things up and running at home with their small farm so that they could stay at the Ronald McDonald house when things were critical or when Mason was having touchy procedures.




When Mason was strong enough Kally was able to start doing kangaroo care being able to bond with her tiny baby made lots of the stressors fade for the time. One of her best memories is the first time Ben was able to do K-care with him. Mason was diagnosed with two brain bleeds on his cerebellar and chronic lung disease. He contracted a lung infection about three weeks in and developed pneumonia so he was on a long course of antibiotics to resolve it. He failed extubation the second time but they stayed positive and he got it the third time.  One of the hardest things for Kally in the first few weeks was leaving every day and not being able to take him with her. She started planned her schedule around not being on the elevator during the maternity ward release times. She relied on her family, friends and nursing team for support and stayed positive that soon enough they would be the family in the elevator taking their baby home.



Over his stay, he had 12 blood transfusions to try and help him make up what was being depleted through testing. However, after each of the first few transfusions, he had an electrolyte crisis where his potassium would spike to potentially deadly levels and the team would spend days doing everything possible to bring it down. The doctors had several thoughts as to why this was happening, but after brining in different specialists, each one of them was eliminated. They finally met with a nephrology team who diagnosed him with a very rare disorder called Pseudohypoaldosteronism or PHA.  PHA means his body wasn’t retaining sodium causing his potassium to spike. He also developed a very large inguinal hernia and a heart shaped hemangioma on his forehead. Mason fought through so very much every day and kept growing by grams and ounces.  Kally and Ben passed their time while Mason slept, by updating their supportive family and friends with pictures of how he was doing, reading about procedures and medications he was needing, and knitting projects for him and other NICU babies. During his 118 days stay they felt fortunate to be able to be there every single day.  Mason continued to progress needing less and less O2 support and he moved to CPAP then NIPPV. He made it through so much and then around week 32 there was another disappointment when he was diagnosed with ROP, this resulted in weekly exams which were painful and stressful for both baby and parents.



After a few weeks, he also had to be transferred to another hospital for his hernia repair. It was so hard for them to leave the nursing and care teams that they had come to trust and depend on. The next week was long, with a new care team and new neonatologists questioning his eating, suggesting potential g-tube needs or months longer stays. But Mason made it through surgery well and they were absolutely thrilled when they were headed back to their “home” NICU and were ecstatic to see their primary team again. For the next couple of weeks, they focused on feedings and breathing.  Though he failed numerous O2 tests and a car seat test, they were finally ready to bring him home.


Coming home was both exhilarating and terrifying for the Kohl family. Mason came home on oxygen needing tubes and equipment. The first few weeks home was a whirlwind of appointments, home nursing weight checks and sleepless nights. But fast-forward to today and Mason at 18 months is a bouncing, climbing, happy trouble maker who makes his family laugh every day.







Writer Info: Kohl family story written together by Tonya Helm and mom, Kally.




Gretchen Willis is a Family, Senior, and Wedding photographer serving Portage, Wisconsin and the surrounding area. She also enjoys working with foster and adoptive families as well as humbly serving the needs of families who suffer infant loss. Gretchen is a wife, mom of 6, and avid Scrabble player.


Day Sixteen: Braxton Spence

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On Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 Brianna woke up with horrible back pain. She had an immediate feeling that something was not right. She was advised to come in for a check-up. She was terrified and worried. The previous year she had lost a baby at 20 weeks due to preterm labor. She was now only 23 weeks with this pregnancy. After she arrived at the hospital and was checked, she was told that she was 1cm dilated and she would need to be admitted. They immediately started her on medications and put her on strict hospital bed rest. This did slow contractions but did not make them go away completely. A NICU doctor came in to talk to Brianna about where her baby was a developmental level. The doctor explained that he only had a 10 percent chance at life if he were to be born at 23 weeks. He listed the long list of things that could go wrong if he did make survive. Brianna was sitting in the delivery room staring at the isolette they were planning on putting him in and just praying to God. She knew losing another child would be more than she could handle.  She prepared herself to lay in that hospital bed the rest of the pregnancy but her little boy had other plans. On Sunday, February 22nd Brianna was in a lot of pain and requested to be checked. She was now 10 cm dilated and her baby was breech. Suddenly there was a whirlwind of papers for her to sign and scrubs for her husband to wear as they prepared her for a c-section.



Braxton entered the world weighing 1lb and 5oz. He didn’t make any noises and he was taken straight to the NICU. Her husband was able to take some pictures of Braxton for her to see later. She didn’t get to really look at him and visit until the following day. His skin had a bright red color to it and was very transparent and sticky. His eyes were still sealed closed. Brianna would sit by his isolette to sing to him and read his books. The monitors were scary and took some time for her to get used to them. Every day was a battle and it was almost 2 months before he finally was able to be held. Because he was still fighting for his life Brianna was living at the hospital in his room while her husband stayed at home and went to work. She started scrapbooking thanks to one of the nurses. They would take pictures and the NICU provided everything for a scrapbook! She also continued to read Braxton books and sing him songs next to his isolette.



In May they checked Braxton’s eyes for ROP. ROP has 5 stages and unfortunately, Braxton had stage 5 in both of his eyes. Without treatment, he would be blind. Brianna and her husband were told that he would have to be transferred to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis because there weren’t any eye doctors in their area that could do the procedure. May 22nd Braxton was transferred and a week later the procedure was performed. Changing hospitals was extremely hard for the Spence family because the hospital was an hour away from their home. They were unable to move back to their old hospital because Braxton could not get off of his ventilator. Every time they would try to take him down to a CPAP machine he would fail. He ended up getting a scope down his throat to check to see what was going on and they found out that because of all the times Braxton had pulled out his tube it had damaged his throat. His lungs didn’t need the support but the ventilator was keeping his throat open so he could breathe.



Over the next few weeks Braxton would start wearing clothes and move to an open crib and in June, he finally freed himself of his ventilator. In August Braxton was finally able to go home. He came home weighing 11 pounds! He was almost 6 months old. As he has grown, a number of doctors he is required to see has gotten smaller. Other than a speech delay and a few doctors and therapists that Braxton sees, he is a normal thriving healthy 2-year-old boy! He will be 3 in February! His development is great and he is almost completely caught up for his age.









Writer Info: Spence family story written by Tonya Nelms.



Photographer, Nikki Finner, resides in Noblesville, Indiana and specializes family lifestyle, birth and fresh 48 photography. Nikki also works with Capturing Hopes Photography to photograph NICU babies on a monthly basis at St. Vincent Women’s in Indianapolis. Find her business website at or visit her Facebook page at

Day Fifteen: Paisley Graham

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Paisley’s story is all about courage. It’s the courage of two birth parents making a tremendous sacrifice to give their child the best life possible. It’s the courage of two adoptive parents, not hesitating for a moment in their decision to adopt a tiny baby with very complex medical needs. It’s the courage of a little girl, overcoming obstacles and meeting milestones, in spite of her unexpectedly early birth.


Paisley’s birth mother was taking excellent care of herself during her pregnancy. She had already made the decision that adoption would be the best way to provide her unborn child with the best possible chance in life, and she was conscientious about following her doctor’s advice. It was completely unexpected when her water ruptured early, and Paisley was born at 24 weeks. She didn’t even have an adoptive family chosen, so she bravely stepped into a role she didn’t anticipate: caring for a critically ill preemie.


She carefully made medical decisions and documented Paisley’s first weeks of life, until she made the decision to contact Matthew and Susan Graham. Already parents to two young children, the Grahams were open to adopting a child with special needs, but they hadn’t anticipated a child with long-term medical disabilities. However, when Paisley’s birth mom started describing her tiny baby, fighting for life in the NICU, the Grahams just knew. This baby was their daughter.


They drove nine hours from their home to meet Paisley at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. She weighed only five pounds, and when Susan picked her up and asked if she and Matthew could be her parents, Paisley snuggled into her arms and went to sleep. Susan and Matthew took that as a yes, and 72 hours later, they stood in front of a judge and promised to love her forever. Then they started the difficult journey of getting their tiny baby to a hospital near their home. They had to leave their daughter almost immediately, in order to travel home to arrange a life flight from Arkansas. Insurance denied the $30,000 price tag, but an organization called Grace on Wings arranged to transport Paisley to her new NICU.


Paisley’s flight was a delicate endeavor because she was so medically fragile. She was born with a hole in her heart and immediately placed on a vent. Possibly as a result of the vent, she developed a serious grade 3/4 brain bleed, which caused severe hydrocephalous. This type of brain bleed can be catastrophic, and Paisley required a shunt to drain the excess fluid from her head.


Once in Indianapolis, she faced multiple surgeries. Her new team of doctors found a second, much larger hole in her heart while they were investigating her pulmonary hypertension. A talented cardiologist performed surgery to close the hole; at only eight pounds, she was one of his smallest patients ever. Another team placed a new shunt to drain the fluid on her brain after the old shunt failed. After the brain surgery, they couldn’t take her off the vent because her lung kept collapsing. Medically, Paisley faced one obstacle after another.


During this time, Susan and Matthew split their days to be with her. Matthew dropped the big kids at school while Susan went straight to the hospital in the morning. After work, Matthew came home, participated in bedtime with the big kids, then went to the NICU to cuddle with Paisley until the early hours of the morning. Every day they got up and did it again. Eventually doctors weaned Paisley off the vent, and after 154 days in the NICU, she was finally free to snuggle with her parents and siblings at home.


Now 20 months, Paisley is defying the odds. She does have a form of cerebral palsy and she continues to get nutrition from a g-tube, but doctors expect she will walk and go to school. Susan was especially concerned with the ramifications of Paisley’s brain bleed, since a category 4 often results in organ shut-down and devastating injury. But Paisley has started crawling on her hands and knees, licking food that interests her, and babbling to her family. She lights up and squeals “Da-da” when Matthew comes home from work every day, and she consistently tries to break out of the baby gates designed to keep her away from the big kid toys.


Perhaps her favorite motivation is the cat. Susan jokes that the cat is probably the most valuable therapy toy in the house. Paisley rolled for the first time to get to the cat, she army-crawled for the first time to get to the cat, and she pulled up for the first time…to get to the cat. For his part, the cat seems very fond of Paisley and likes to come over and rub her face. Paisley rewards him by petting him gently.


With two older children, Susan and Mathew have worked hard to maintain a life that’s as normal as possible. They’ve been careful never to say they can’t do something because of Paisley’s needs, and they certainly haven’t stayed holed up at home. Among other adventures, they took the kids to Disney, where the staff referred to Paisley’s wheelchair as her chariot. And Matthew carried Paisley, in a 50-pound backpack, up a sand dune in Michigan so the big kids could go sand sledding while Paisley played on a blanket and tried to lick the sand. Recently they took the family tent camping; Paisley’s favorite part of that trip was the gooey roasted marshmallows that she rubbed into her hair.


Paisley still has some skills that are delayed, but they are coming. While she doesn’t get her nutrition through her mouth, eventually her muscles will re-learn the process of eating and she’ll eat like any other kid. She’s on a different time table, but she’s still a very normal child. She loves books, and when she knows a word in the story, she’ll act it out. She adores the Backyardigans, which comes in handy because it keeps her calm and still while she’s being fed.


Through it all, Matthew and Susan say parenting a preemie helped them see the big picture. They don’t stress about little milestones because they know they’ll come eventually. They rock Paisley to sleep every night, and never allow her to cry. They want her to know that she can trust them to meet her needs.














Her older siblings have become her greatest advocates. They are vigilant about making sure their sister only has toys and foods that are safe for her, and she rewards them with her adoration. She just wishes the baby gates weren’t there to keep her away from their amazing toys.


Susan and Matthew can’t help but gush about what an amazing kid Paisley is. While the decision to adopt a medically-fragile child was scary, she and Mathew have discovered they are the lucky ones. Paisley’s future is bright, and the joy she brings to her family is more than worth the challenges they’ve faced.




Writer Info: Graham family story written by Laura Simon.




Tara Strohl is a natural light photographer specializing in authentic and genuine family portraiture. She makes her home in Indianapolis with her husband, three young children, and labradoodle, Howard. This is her first time partnering with Capturing Hopes and she has been truly inspired by the NICU stories of a few of her friends and the family she photographed for this project. Tara is smitten with the sea, lives for the outdoors, and loves to spend her days in the sunshine. Find her work at and on Instagram @tarastrohlphotography.