Yesterday was the 6 year anniversary of the day that Stella busted out of the NICU! In honor of this special day, each year our family hosts dinner at the Ronald McDonald House located in the Children’s Hospital that cared for Stella. Check out my Instagram highlights to see all of our photos from the last 6 years.
During our 87 day NICU stay, we were so thankful for the Ronald McDonald House. We were able to stay in one of the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) rooms for the first 3 weeks of Stella’s life, literally just a hallway away from her NICU room. Even after we moved back home, the RMH was a place to go to escape the dark windowless NICU room and they provided a meal for anyone with family in the hospital each night. It was a huge blessing to be able to get a free home cooked meal every night.
Every year we do this, I am amazed at how fast the memories come back and with so much strength. I can clearly remember the day that Stella was released from the NICU. The doctor came into our room on rounds and said, “So what do you think? Do you want to take her home today?!” I can still feel the face splitting smile I gave her in response. I remember calling my Mom to tell her the good news, we both cried. This day that we had been dreaming about was FINALLY here!
The nurses went through the “Going Home Checklist” with us and we checked off each step throughout the day. We got all our prescriptions and equipment lessons (she went home on a feeding tube). We packed up all the gear we had accumulated over the past 3 months and Stella passed her car seat test. We said goodbye to all our nurses and doctors. Then we slowly and excitedly wheeled her stroller out to the car.
As we buckled her in, we kept saying, “I can’t believe this is really happening!” Mike drove the speed limit or under the whole way home and I sat in the backseat next to our daughter. That night we introduced Stella to our dog Jozee and ate pizza on the floor as we watched her sleep in her Boppy. It was undoubtedly one of the best days of my life.
Last night our family made tacos and when we started serving the meal, I was set-up as the welcomer. I watched as each parent and family member came up to get their dinner and the look in their eyes. All of them looked exhausted and stressed, some eyes sparkled with hope from their child’s good day, other eyes were shadowed with worry and heartbreak due to a complication no saw coming. Each one of them brought back a memory from those long 87 days. I watched a small family get their food and sit down at a table to rehash the day, the status of their child, something the doctors told them, some new story they read online; and I was reminded of all the nights that our family would come to see Stella after work. We would bring them to the RMH to get dinner and give them an update. Some days were happy, uplifting updates and some days were filled soul crushing news.
When we had finished serving the meal and started to clean up, one of the Mothers came over and asked about Stella’s story. I happily shared our story of success and then asked about her child. She began to explain that their son was born with a heart defect that had spiraled into many other things. That he is now 11 years old, he isn’t able to speak, is just learning to crawl and that as much as he wants to eat orally, his body is just not able to process the action of it. My heart broke and my mind searched for anything I could say that would bring her comfort and hope. But it ended up that she was the one that brought inspiration and hope to me. She shared that while it’s so hard, and not what they envisioned his life would be, that he is a loving and special boy that he had taught her to be generous and to focus on what’s really important in life. Then she gave me advice about how to prepare and handle Nora’s upcoming surgeries in the years to come. As we finished talking, she got up and gave me a hug, we both teared up, said thank you and i awkwardly went back to cleaning.
As I was driving home with my Mom last night, we were telling each other about all the people we had met and the stories that we overheard. We talked about how thankful we were to have the outcome we did and then reminisced on all the stress and drama of those days. I am so thankful to be passed that point in my life, but it has made me who I am today and for that I will always be grateful. It has also given me a huge heart for other Mom’s with health affected kiddos and it’s was in that spirit that Mike and I decided to celebrate Stella’s homecoming by serving at RMH each year. We wanted our story to be one of hope on the days when you just need SOME good news.
This weekend I hope you all get a chance to be with family, to get outside (if you are from the Twin Cities, it’s FINALLY going to be nice out!) and to take a moment to look at back your own big life changing moments. Recognize how far you have come since that day and celebrate all that you’ve endured. You are STRONG, but you are even stronger through Jesus Christ – so take a moment to say a honest, grateful prayer as well; and have a great holiday weekend!