REPOST: What I Would Say to New Preemie Parents

Today is Parents of Preemies Day and I wanted to repost something that I wrote LAST year. Every bit of it is still true. :)

Love you lots and lots, Jessica


Family photo

It’s after 10:00 at night while I write this, so I apologize for being tardy to the party. I heard about this event only a few days ago… and honestly… I immediately felt a little bit uneasy about it.

We are supposed to celebrate being a preemie parent? Like, we should be wearing a shirt and waving our hands in the air and hollering about what amazing, rock-star parents we all are?


Am I ridiculously proud of Jolie?

You bet. Ridiculously.

Am I proud of Garrett and I for being awesome at this “preemie parenting” thing?

Uhhhh… I don’t think we are always awesome at “regular” parenting.

Do I struggle with guilt feelings that my body let Jolie down? That I let Jolie down?

Maybe. (Yes.)

Would I EVER say that about (or to) another preemie parent?

No way!

Because God is sovereign–He’s in control–right?

Luckily, I quickly became convicted about these feelings. SO I am going to try really hard to set my own pride issues aside and keep my own emotional junk from “poo poo-ing” what is actually a really great, fantastic idea that I would love to be a bigger part of in 2014.

The intentions, the spirit of the “Parents of Preemies Day” is “recognizing the courage and commitment of parents of premature babies.”

The Day was started in 2012 by the Graham’s Foundation. From the “P of P Day” website:

“Parents of Preemies Day is a national day of awareness on Sunday, March 10th, 2013 recognizing the courage and commitment it takes to stay strong and resilient when premature birth turns a family’s world upside down.

Each year, 13 million babies are born prematurely across the globe to parents who never expected their birth stories would be so challenging. Though medical breakthroughs continue to improve outcomes for preemies, experts are only now beginning to understand the intense psychological effects that premature birth has on moms and dads.

This year, our goal is to bring Parents of Preemies Day to a global audience. In addition to local events in communities around the US, we are also hosting a Twitter chat so that moms and dads, NICUs, and prematurity professionals can join together to celebrate the strength and resilience demonstrated by parents of preemies at all stages of the journey.

With your help, we will be able to accomplish this year’s ambitious goal, bring the initiative to a wider domestic audience, and make the second annual Parents of Preemies Day a huge success.”

Source: (

And the brutiful truth is, having a premature baby is HARD. Really hard. It shakes everything up. Upside down and backwards. And in the months (years?) ahead you find yourself often deferring to medical teams–nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, surgeons, feeding therapists, physical therapists, developmental therapists, speech therapists, social workers, home health care nurses, county nurses, early intervention therapists… and on and on…

So, in the spirit of “DANG IT, this preemie parenting thing is HARD”… to any new preemie parent, I say this:

LIFE is hard. Life in these moments is REALLY hard. You didn’t choose this, but YOU are doing absolutely amazing. And it is okay to feel like you don’t have it all together–this is new and ugly and beautiful and tough. But you are doing amazing.

It’s okay if you fall apart. It’s actually probably a very appropriate reaction to this crazy show.

It’s okay if you think your teeny, tiny, baby looks like I wrinkly old man–like Benjamin Button even–but please remember that you also think she is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen.

It’s okay if you don’t feel an immediate bond with your baby. And it’s definitely okay if you “google” your feelings to see if they are normal. This is a really messed up situation you’ve just found yourself in.

Cry. Pray. Mediate.


And don’t feel guilty about laughing.

Make some new “NICU parent” friends. And get their full names and an email address (or SOMETHING) before  their baby passes the car seat test and is discharged before you get to the hospital the next morning. After all, you would have arrived earlier and not missed their departure… but you stayed up too late staring at the ceiling and listening to Jesus songs that made you weep. Or maybe you were watching a Duck Dynasty marathon on TV.

Go outside every day. Even if only for three minutes. If you find yourself running back to the door because your anxiety is leaving you breathless… that’s okay, too.

You will receive beautiful, encouraging, heartfelt notes and phone calls and texts that mean THE WORLD to you. But between doctors’ rounds, alarms, kangaroo care, alarms, desperate prayers, alarms, diaper changes, alarms, milk-trucking, alarms… and terrible, no-good, very bad days… you might not have the energy or emotional strength to get all your “thank yous” sent back. It’s okay.

And during those first few weeks, while you are still in total shock, your early baby bird will be completely unpredictable. Roller-coastering up and roller-coastering down. Ugh. Those moments are SO hard.

Your baby might be in a hospital an hour and a half away from your home. Maybe she is four hours away from your home. Unless your doctor or nurse is telling you to stay nearby… go home every now and then. You might have older babies that desperately miss their momma. You might have a dang cat expressing his fears of abandonment by going poo poo on your living room carpet even though his litter box is getting cleaned twice a day by your husband, your mother-in-law, or your grandmother-in-law. Maybe, just maybe, your cat is a moody punk.

Hey–don’t drink too many milkshakes from the cafeteria. Eventually you are going to go home and want to wear jeans that do not have a stretchy maternity panel in them. OR, if you want… drink a milkshake every single day just because it makes you happy.

If your baby cannot nurse… pump, pump, pump. Or don’t. It’s an extremely personal choice. And don’t you fall into the mommy guilt pit about this, better yet… don’t you let anyone push you in. You need encouragers right now. Stay close to the encouragers.

And let people help you. Love is an action and those neighbors of yours must love you a whole lot.

Say “hello” and “good morning” to the faces you pass in the hospital hallways. PLEASE DON’T say “Hi” to EVERY face you pass or you’ll look like a crazy person. DO say “hello” to a few people each day. They are going through something hard too… and a smile might cheer you both up.

Hold your baby as much as possible… for hours upon hours upon hours at a time if her nurse thinks it’s okay. Or don’t. That’s okay, too. Alarming babies with wires and tubes are scary. But I’m sure your baby loves to be held by you… except for when she hates it. When she hates it, she will become agitated and express her displeasure with more alarms.

Take pictures. Your baby is beautiful. I promise.

Talk about bowl movements. Your baby’s, not yours. Unless talking about your bowl movements is your thing. Talking about baby poop is your rite of passage into parenthood.

Find a nurse or two or five that you love. Find nurses whose care includes being a good teacher, but who you would want to talk to if you were out in the real world, too. It is very possible that you will be spending weeks and months together as your baby grows. These nurses are doing God’s work every day–they are keeping that baby of yours alive. True story.

Same goes for respiratory therapists.

Talk to the housekeeping staff. They are really great people who probably know your baby’s name. And one day, a woman will look at you at tell you that she prays for your baby–and she will absolutely mean it.

Keep talking with God. And keep thinking about all of those people who are also praying for your girl. Even if it was just you, God would hear that single prayer. BUT I’m pretty certain there are hundreds (thousands?) of people including your child in their thoughts, their conversations with God. This must make Him smile. You love that baby, but Jesus does most. And He knows His plans for her. Psalm 139:13-16 andJeremiah 29:11.

Tell your parents–your baby’s grandparents–that today isn’t a good day for visitors. Maybe you just need a day to cry and be still. They will understand.

Momma, tell your husband, or your boyfriend, or your baby daddy… that YOU are going to hold your baby first. That you are going to kangaroo care first. That you are going to change her diaper first. That you will be giving her the first bottle. He will understand. And if he doesn’t… oh well. That baby was inside you, not nearly as long as you had hoped and the two of you have some catching up to do.

But don’t hog all of the good stuff. Let your husband hold this beautiful girl too. He loves her in a way that makes you so proud, so in awe, so in love with both of them. And he is an absolutely fantastic dad. And husband.

After morning rounds, when the doctor asks you if you have any questions… ask questions. Or don’t. And if you think of a question just 17 seconds after the doctor leaves the room… don’t feel like an idiot for not thinking of it sooner. Ask your nurse. She is probably crazy smart, but if she doesn’t know the answer she will find somebody who does.

Be honest if you want different care for your baby. If your “gut” or your intuition or your nudge is telling you that something just isn’t right… speak up. Your baby needs you as an advocate. More than that, she needs you as her Momma.

Never forget that your baby is very strong. Super tiny-human strength.

Oh, and back to that “making friends” business I mentioned earlier… I suggest making friends with at least one parent who has been in the NICU longer than you and one parent whose baby was born after yours. It’s an encouragement conga line that way. You’ll also have a friend that you can talk with about “that crazy nurse” who has really awesome nursing care, but you completely believe is a *bit* crazy.

And when your baby is getting ready to be discharged, you might be really happy-sad about this. Happy your peanut is doing SO amazing, but sad to be leaving this bizarre world that became your home for 102 days. You made a lot of friends and your baby had some really awesome firsts here. Children’s Hospitals. NICUs. Miracles happen in these places. Angels are standing on the rooftops I’m sure.

When your baby is buckled in the car seat, locked in for the trip home… you will probably feel like you have stolen goods in the back. Try not to drive too fast. A cop will not pull you over for having your baby in the car, but he WILL pull you over for speeding.

And it’s okay to be absolutely scared when you walk in the front door of your house with your girl for the very first time. It’s okay to be scared of the monitors and the oxygen and the medicine that those “professionals” decided it was okay to send home with a couple of first-time amateur parents. You will figure it out.

And remember…

LIFE is hard. Life in these moments is REALLY hard. You didn’t choose this, but YOU are doing absolutely amazing. And it is okay to feel like you don’t have it all together–this is new and ugly and beautiful and tough. But you are doing amazing.

For 2014

This was the very first thing, the first scripture, that I read this year. I plan on hanging it all over the house.

“Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.” (Romans 12:1a The Message)

And here is a more traditional translation…

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1 ESV)

This is what I want to keep moving towards. I’ve made a habit of stuffing my calendar days full of To Do’s so that I can draw two dark lines through each item as I move past it. But for 2014, I want more and more of my To Do’s to be about God’s work, not about my busyness. I want my days to have white spaces and empty afternoons to welcome surprise visitors. I want to not hesitate to accept a spontaneous invitation for lunch or coffee from a friend who needs someone to nod as they pour their heart out. Mostly, more and more and more, I want what I do and what I say and how I react… to reflect the Grace I receive daily. I want to extend warmth and kindness and compassion and encouragement like it’s my job.

Because I absolutely believe that it is.


Pray for Us

Friends, send an extra prayer up for the Henrichs family please.

The house closings are tomorrow. We feel mostly ready.

Jolie is very sick, Garrett is not well and I am two weeks into a persistent cough. Sunday night I did not fall asleep until 3:00am, Monday was 2:00am and last night was 1:45am. You’ll notice some progress there, but I’m barely keeping my sleep-deprived balance on this tight rope.

We are staying with MIL and FIL and I am earnestly praying that they are able to avoid our cooties.

The cat’s are FREAKING out. Toby’s hair seems to be coming out in clumps and Smudge has a perma-scowl on his face. Either the cats need Xanax or I do.

We’ve had a series of hiccups during our entire house buying and selling process this summer. We began this journey in May and while that seems somewhat “quick”… we are worn out and worn down.

We have had some other unexpected family news in the last 24 hours that has left our moods very somber. I was sitting at the kitchen table last night, talking with MIL and FIL and inside my head I kept hearing “Of course.”

Of course things would be hard.

Of course “life” would all happen at once.

Of course we would hit obstacle after stressful obstacle.

Of course I would be clenching my jaw and Garrett would be getting overwhelmed and annoyed.

Of course we would want to burying our heads in the sand while throwing ourselves pity parties.

I am going to say something that will resonate with some of you and possible confuse others. Garrett and I are moving to Bloomington for a variety of reasons, but one of the big reasons is so that we can be closer to our church family. There is a lot I could say about my spiritual journey, our family’s spiritual journey, but what I know for certain is that when Garrett and I decided that we needed to be closer to our church, we wanted to be closer… the enemy decided he was going to make this difficult for us. He decided he was going to make sure he distracted and discouraged us. He tried to fill us with doubts.

God has done miraculous things, beautiful things, undeserving, unimaginable things for me, for Garrett, for Jolie… and we are “all in”. He is growing us and making our marriage stronger.

So, say a prayer for us. We are feeling beat up. We tend to default to “there are so many people with harder problems, bigger challenges, etc.”… but I have a wise friend who always says… “If it matters to you, it matters to God.”

Love you muchly.

I am off to scrub bathrooms at the old house.


The Henrichs Family is moving three weeks from this Friday.


This whole house selling and buying process has eaten up our summer. Gobbled it away.

There’s a big long story about this house moving journey, but I will try to shorten it up.

Lucky for you, my short versions are never very short.

It is important to know that Garrett really likes to look at houses online–even when we are not looking to move. We have house plan books around our house. Both of our computers are filled with bookmarks to websites with beautiful house plans.

When we watch House Hunters International… that’s when the real trouble begins.

Garrett has suggested on more than one occasion that we sell all of our belongings, become truckers, throw our baby cakes and two ornery cats in a semi truck and just drive for 6 months. He figures that if we are truck drivers for six months out of the year (with very few bills) we could just live the other six months in Fiji.


It just sounds like a made up place, doesn’t it? I looked it up on a map to prove to myself Fiji is real.

I told Garrett that I didn’t think being a trucker was my Calling.

But last September, we started getting the itch to move. With a new baby at home, our current house started to feel cramped. We started coveting homes with larger bedrooms, finished basements and designated toy areas. (Amen?) Our starter home was starting to feel cramped.

And then Garrett found a house in the country that seemed per-fect.

The house is secluded and in the middle of the country. Quiet. Peaceful. Beautiful. You can hang your clothes out on the line to dry. You can hang your underthings out to dry and nobody would ever know. It is in the best location… right in the middle of where we farm, between Garrett’s parents and my Dad… and also closer to Bloomington-Normal.

I’ve often said it feels like we still live in Bloomington, but sleep in Forrest… and there is a good 45-60 minute commute between here and there.

Getting in the middle seemed like a perfect idea.

We decided to go look at this house.

But as I was getting ready to drive to the house, sweet baby girl decided to throw the most ROYAL of fits. She was not interested. I was frazzled and exhausted. Jolie was about 6 months old, 3 months old if you adjust for that darn prematurity stint at the beginning of her life… but BOY was she rowdy that day. Sobbing and blubbering and mad.

Rocking wasn’t working. Bottles weren’t working.

I sent Garrett on to look at the house without me.

Why on Earth was I even entertaining the idea of moving with a baby? I couldn’t even get a shower in every day.

So, I closed the door on moving before Garrett even got back home to tell me about the house.

  • The house was more than we wanted to spend.
  • We hadn’t talked to our bank yet.
  • And we had a new baby.

Without discussion, I decided that moving wasn’t going to happen. It felt like bad timing. I was clenching my jaw just thinking. And I was sick to my stomach. These are feelings to pay attention to.

We hunkered down for the winter, but come the end of February I think I said something to Garrett like, “I don’t want to spend another winter in this house!” I had the winter blues, but I had the house blues too.

We wanted closer to Bloomington and we wanted more room. The country home that Garrett had looked at in the Fall was still for sale, but the price had dropped. We decided to go look at it… him for a second time and me for a first time… and I really fell in love.

I am actually not usually emotionally attached to places and things, but I fell hard for this property. It wasn’t even so much the house, but rather everything else that came with it.

There was so much space for Jolie (and other kids?) to run around. They could run around stark naked if they wanted to. There were outbuildings for Garrett to do his man projects. A quiet road for morning runs and bike rides. Lots and lots and lots of trees. I got swept away with visions of get togethers with family and friends.

We came home and immediately lovelied our house up. I took pictures of every room and we listed our house for sale.

Six long, exhausting, neat-freak weeks later… we accepted an offer on our house!

We celebrated by marching back over to the country home with our realtor. We were ready to make an offer that day. One more final looky-loo and we were jumping all in.

But then, we found some problems with the house. Unexpected, devastating problems.

There were conversations with the sellers, promises to get things fixed up right, but the short story is… we had to walk away from the house that we *really* thought was our next home. Some things are negotiable, but I wasn’t willing to take a risk. Risk of ongoing problems, risk not being able to resell the house if things went wrong, risk of a house making us (Jolie) sick.

We had prayed and prayed and felt like we were supposed to move. We KNEW we were supposed to get closer to Bloomington and we thought this house was the answer. But it wasn’t meant to be.

After a few days of mourning and praying and possibly a large margarita for this momma… I had to remember that no house would be permanent. No house is our forever home.

We looked at other houses in the country–most needed a lot of work. We looked at other homes in small towns. Many, many, many homes.

In the end, Garrett suggested we seriously consider moving back to Bloomington. We actually lived in Bloomington the first year that we were married. We decided that instead of looking for a “long-term” home, maybe we just look for a “for now” home. Somewhere that would be easier to sell if our lives change in the next few years.

We finally found a place that feels good. It doesn’t feel perfect, but I’m not sure anything is going to feel perfect when all of our plans were turned upside down in a fairly short amount of time! But it feels really, really good.

Our offer was accepted, inspections are completed and the few fixes we have requested are getting addressed. If all goes well, we will be moving three weeks from tomorrow.

We will be five minutes from church, and not driving an hour to and from our Small Group on Wednesday nights… or an hour to and from Jolie’s doctors appointments, my meetings and appointments… or Target. The subdivision we are moving to has walking trails and a private lake, we will be closer to many of our friends,  there just feels like a whole lot of good will come out of this move. :)

Garrett will have to drive back and forth to the farms (which I am not crazy about), but he has reassured me a thousand times that he is completely okay with the drive. But we promised each other that if this doesn’t work out, if life changes… we are willing to move again.

(I say this now through clenched teeth… half of our house is packed already.)

But this feels like a new season and we are really excited. :)

I’m seriously cautions about using exclamation points right now–but I promise we are excited!

We will close on both houses exactly four years and 1 day from when we purchased our current home. As I swing back and forth from being terribly excited and just plain terrified… I’m reminded that we can’t lose. A house is just a house.

We absolutely love our current home, and our current neighbors are absolutely irreplaceable…. but I know in my soul it is time to move on and give something new a try!

So, pray for us… send us your good thoughts and we will keep you updated.

Love is


Boy the Bible is full of good stuff. :) The other night during Small Group, we started talking about 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7. You’ve heard this, I know you have.  Probably at many weddings, maybe at your own.  Here are … Continue reading