What is 69 Days?

Remember reading about Oaklee’s date of discharge – the happiest day of my life? Or do you remember reading the post “Homegoings” from the very next day? Those heavy hitters seem so long ago, but that’s what 69 days feels like. Just short of 10 weeks, it’s almost 1/5 of a year, 1/20 of my husband’s and my marriage, an entire summer… My greatest mental battle in those 69 days was knowing we would never get those 69 days back…

Born on June 29, discharged on September 5, on November 13, Oaklee had finally lived half of her life out of the hospital. 69 days in. 69 days out.

Remember reading about Oaklee’s date of discharge – the happiest day of my life? Or do you remember reading the post “Homegoings” from the very next day? Those heavy hitters seem so long ago, but that’s what 69 days feels like. Just short of 10 weeks, it’s almost 1/5 of a year, 1/20 of my husband’s and my marriage, an entire summer.

My greatest mental battle in those 69 days was knowing we would never get those 69 days back. We were often absent for Oaklee’s first 10 weeks present on earth – I worried about the firsts we’d miss out on. She slept in a plexiglass box instead of the spaces we’d dreamed up for her in our home. We shared her with complete strangers, entrusting them with her complete care. We had to ask permission to hold her instead of snuggling her through nap times and letting the laundry wait.

I can say a thousand times that I wish someone had warned me what life could be like in the event that my baby would be premature and spend 69 days in the NICU, but I don’t know it’s something you can comprehend until you’re the parent of a preemie and doing time in the NICU. And so now my heart breaks for the people who find themselves there. Now, because now I know. Now, but too late for those who traversed that world before me.

In the stats:
Birth weight: 2lb, 12oz
Last known weight: 9lb 11oz (11.9.17)
Adjusted age: 7 weeks, 2 day
Actual age: 20 weeks, 4 days
Days in the hospital: 69
Days home: 69
Appointments since home: 13

NICU Awareness Day

If you’ve had a child in the NICU, you’ve seen something you can’t unsee. Even when my child was on the up and up, I sobbed listening to the grandma sing Jesus Loves Me to the three pound baby whom doctors had been swarming just hours before as he came out of surgery. Even when my child was coming home, I watched a mom and dad spend their last day with the daughter they’d never bring home. While our NICU stay was long, I truly believe you could have the peachiest, little NICU stay and still be changed by your experience. If your child has been in the NICU, your child has been a patient in an entire area of a hospital dedicated to saving the lives of the freshest of babes, often too fresh. The things you see, the vibes you feel, the stories you hear… you don’t get these anywhere else. 

For many people, the acronym “NICU” isn’t one they have to say more than a handful of times in their lives. It never becomes a concrete place. It’s never stored in their phones as a contact. It’s never the thing keeping them from truly being parents to their newborn baby.

There are some who never even know what “NICU” stands for.

Then there are those who’s friend or family member enters the NICU world with the birth of a child. They see it. They hear about it. They try to understand it.

And then there are the parents who, warned or not, have their babies whisked away for various reasons, and they live it.

Since Oaklee’s 69 day stay in the NICU (of which we were warned about given our pregnancy), I’ve gained and re-gained friends who can say, “Yes, I’ve been there too.” Almost immediately every time we take out a ruler – whose baby was smaller, whose baby was born earlier, whose NICU stay was longer – to know just on what level this comrade can relate. I’ll admit, given our situation, my husband and I struggle to consider a baby “premature” if they did not have to spend time in the NICU or if they were born after 34 weeks.

But the truth is, if you’ve had a child in the NICU, you’ve seen something you can’t unsee. Even when my child was on the up and up, I sobbed listening to the grandma sing Jesus Loves Me to the three pound baby whom doctors had been swarming just hours before as he came out of surgery. Even when my child was coming home, I watched a mom and dad spend their last day with the daughter they’d never bring home. While our NICU stay was long, I truly believe you could have the peachiest, little NICU stay and still be changed by your experience. If your child has been in the NICU, your child has been a patient in an entire area of a hospital dedicated to saving the lives of the freshest of babes, often too fresh. The things you see, the vibes you feel, the stories you hear… you don’t get these anywhere else.

NICU stays end on all sorts of levels of positivity and negativity, but each one changes the people involved.

I hope your experience with it is limited to our story or the stories of friends or family members who’ve already done their time. It’s NICU Awareness Day, but I pray you never have to be aware of what that world looks like.

Still, should you ever find yourself there, I wish I could remind you daily that God gives life out of muck and mire. It doesn’t always look like it did for us – the literal life of our daughter – but He’s there, and He has purpose.

Taggies for Preemies

Looking back on Oaklee’s short story so far, we’re so grateful little moments of joy we found in the stressful time of becoming parents of a preemie. If you know of someone who’s just welcomed a preemie into their family, allow me to welcome them to the club with a little moment of joy, the gift of an embroidered taggy for the new preemie. Oaklee loved her taggy, and on behalf of her, we’d like to pass the blessing on.

It’s May, and I’m over here dreaming up what the next installment of mandigrasmeyer.com might be when the 2018 recap of 2017 is over. I have a lot of ideas and dreams of what to do and where this could go, but one thing remains constant – I want this to be a space for uniting. I never want to build walls or tear people apart by the content here.

That being said, part one of the 2019 plan is to offer free taggies to new preemies. Maybe this will go nowhere. Maybe some day I’ll be asking for the help of other sewers. But this is where we start.

Looking back on Oaklee’s short story so far, we’re so grateful little moments of joy we found in the stressful time of becoming parents of a preemie. If you know of someone who’s just welcomed a preemie into their family, allow me to welcome them to the club with a little moment of joy, the gift of an embroidered taggy for the new preemie. Oaklee loved her taggy, and on behalf of her, we’d like to pass the blessing on.

While this will not be advertised until 2019, it will be available now to the friends and family of my faithful followers. Thank you for following. Thank you for caring. Thank you for thinking of the littlest ones in the world.

Order a Preemie a Taggy Today!

Sponsor Oaklee's March of Dimes team.

We Fundraised, We Marched, We Celebrated

Wow, what a journey it’s been these past few months as we worked toward the March for Babies. Back in January, we set out on a quest to raise $1000 for March of Dimes. Over the course of the next four months, we met our goal, raised it twice, and met it two more times, bringing in $2799 as a team. Do we have amazing people or what?

Wow, what a journey it’s been these past few months as we worked toward the March for Babies. Back in January, we set out on a quest to raise $1000 for March of Dimes. Over the course of the next four months, we met our goal, raised it twice, and met it two more times, bringing in $2799 as a team. Do we have amazing people or what?

My passion for this organization obviously stems from my previous experience with Oaklee, but here are some observations I made on the journey toward the March for Babies that continued to confirm this calling isn’t over:

1 – I will never not care about moms being healthy and babies being strong. It bothers me that babies die before they ever live their lives.
2 – If you spent an extended amount of time in the NICU with your kiddo, you support March of Dimes. As we got closer to the walk, I continued to learn of more and more girls from my high school who also had preemies and were also raising money for March of Dimes. Like me, they get it. We need this organization so others don’t have to go through what we went through.
3 – I raised money on behalf of Oaklee, but also on behalf of any unborn child I might have, because I am all too aware that I may need the assistance of March of Dimes again someday. I don’t want to be afraid of being pregnant or having another preemie, but the reality is that I have every right to be afraid, so until then, let’s continue helping moms be healthier and babies be stronger.

The fundraiser doesn’t end here – you can still make a donation if you feel called – but here is where I close this first chapter on my March for Babies. I’ll leave the link to sponsor Oaklee’s team in my posts until the 2018 event is officially over, but I’ll stop bugging you all otherwise. We came so close to $3000 this year, but if $2799 is where we stay, that’s $1799 more than we thought we could bring in. Thank you for making that happen!

March for Babies

Sponsor Oaklee's March of Dimes team.

And once more, thank you, thank you, thank you to the following donors (our village, our people, our blessing):
Grandpa and Grandma Grasmeyer
Grandpa and Grandma Merritt
Uncle Todd
Aunt Jenna and Uncle Josh
Aunt Sharon and Uncle George
Noel Montelongo
Lukas Muellerleile
Josh and Sarah Stuitje (and friends)
Eli and Betsy Cromwell
Mark and Heather Swierenga
Tyler and Tessa DeNooyer
Dan and Claire Larabel
Matt and Kim Dykstra
Lyndsay and Curt Syswerda
Bill and Emily Madsen
Alesha and Jeremy Schut
Pat and Roy DeBoer
Bill and Alie Hart
Sarah Potter
Karissa Hamm
Laura Sommerville
Jeff Kruithof
Nathan Diekevers
Lauren Edwards
Jason, Sue, Peyton and Taylor Snow
Ryan, Becky, Grant, Grace and Claire Grasmeyer
Jim and Short Holwerda
Brett Buckingham
Katy Engman

6.9 Days to the March for Babies

Again, Oaklee’s first 69 days of life were spent in the NICU. Multiply these next 6.9 days by 10. That’s 10 weeks. It’s a long time to need organizations such as March of Dimes. We wish no one needed them in the first place, but we’re grateful for their presence in Oaklee’s journey.

So again, we ask, could you help us reach further past our fundraising goal of $2250?

Friends, we’ve got 6.9 days to finish up our fundraising for the March for Babies.

I have to share that we’ve been blown away by the response to this fundraiser. I’ve said it before, we have a village. Our village carried us through much of our pregnancy and the first couple months of Oaklee’s life, but you know what? They’re not done. We asked people to contribute to an organization near and dear to our story, and they did, despite that organization meaning little to themselves personally.

Thank you to every person who donated. Every donation, big or small, got us far beyond our goal of $1000, past our goal of $1500 and even above our goal of $2250. We’re sitting around $2382 currently, goals met, the walk coming up soon, but we won’t stop asking until the walk is over.

Again, Oaklee’s first 69 days of life were spent in the NICU. Multiply these next 6.9 days by 10. That’s 10 weeks. It’s a long time to need organizations such as March of Dimes. We wish no one needed them in the first place, but we’re grateful for their presence in Oaklee’s journey.

So again, we ask, could you help us reach further past our fundraising goal of $2250?

Every donation helps expand programs and educate medical professionals to make sure moms and babies like me and Oaklee get the best possible care. Your donation is funding research to find solutions to the biggest health threats and supporting moms through every stage of the pregnancy journey, especially when things don’t go as planned.

Could you give even a dime for each day Oaklee was in the NICU ($6.90)? Thanks, in advance, for your contribution!

Sponsor/Join Oaklee's March of Dimes team.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to the following donors (our village, our people, our blessing):
Grandpa and Grandma Grasmeyer
Grandpa and Grandma Merritt
Uncle Todd
Aunt Jenna and Uncle Josh
Aunt Sharon and Uncle George
Noel Montelongo
Lukas Muellerleile
Josh and Sarah Stuitje (and friends)
Eli and Betsy Cromwell
Mark and Heather Swierenga
Tyler and Tessa DeNooyer
Dan and Claire Larabel
Matt and Kim Dykstra
Lyndsay and Curt Syswerda
Bill and Emily Madsen
Alesha and Jeremy Schut
Pat and Roy DeBoer
Bill and Alie Hart
Sarah Potter
Karissa Hamm
Laura Sommerville
Jeff Kruithof
Nathan Diekevers
Lauren Edwards
Jason, Sue, Peyton and Taylor Snow

P.S. Click here for a reminder of what March of Dimes does/did for us.

An Open Letter to the Mom Whose Preemie was Just Admitted to the NICU

To the mom with the baby in the NICU right now,

You don’t know me, but I’ve been praying for you. I, myself, just gave birth last June to a 27 weeker, a beautiful, now healthy baby girl.

Your NICU experience will be hard and frustrating. You’ll be overly emotional. You’ll be exhausted. You probably won’t take good care of yourself. You’re going to stare at a monitor, watching numbers rise and fall for hours, bored, yet unable to do anything else. People will say weird things to you. You’ll question if you’re doing it right – being there for your baby enough, pumping enough, prioritizing the right people/activities… You’ll get blazing mad at the same doctors and nurses you trust your baby’s very life with – especially when you get to the end and you just. want. to take. her home.

But this is what I told myself, and I thought I would share in case it helps you get through it as well…

In the traumatic, “we need to deliver your baby NOW” moment, I promised God I’d raise my baby to do anything He called her to if He saved her. I literally laid there, in tears, swarmed by doctors and nurses, praying, “She’s yours, God, save her.”

And He did save her.

Throughout our NICU experience (69 days), I realized I was afraid of what God might call her to do because of my promise. I wholeheartedly believe she will be a better disciple than I’ll ever be because God gave her life out of the muck and mire that was our pregnancy and her first months in this world.

You have a precious fighter on your hands. I’m so glad for the health he/she’s been blessed with this far. I will continue to pray that he/she continues to thrive beyond imaginable, because God has massive, huge plans for that teeny, tiny little one.

Please be encouraged.

I hope this is the hardest thing you ever have to go through. And I hope you have just a village of people rallying around you.

He is with you always. (Matthew 28:18-20)

So much love to you! Keep pumping, mama!

P.S. Just 6.9 weeks until the March for Babies (Ok, it’s 7, but it’s not too late to donate a dime for each day of Oaklee’s NICU stay – that’s just $6.90 – or maybe even a dollar per day?)! Click here for a reminder of what March of Dimes does/did for us.

Sponsor/Join Oaklee's March of Dimes team.

Donating Dimes

We’ve got 69 days to finish up our fundraising for the March for Babies. Who cares? We do. Could you give a dime for each day Oaklee was in the NICU ($6.90)?

Friends, we’ve got 69 days to finish up our fundraising for the March for Babies. Who cares? We do.

Oaklee’s first 69 days of life were spent in the NICU. When talking about raising money, 69 days doesn’t seem long enough. When talking about living in the NICU, it feels like an eternity. In these next 69 days, could you help us reach our fundraising goal of $1000?

Every donation helps us get a little bit closer to our goal and, ultimately, helps expand programs and educate medical professionals to make sure moms and babies like me and Oaklee get the best possible care. Your donation is funding research to find solutions to the biggest health threats and supporting moms through every stage of the pregnancy journey, especially when things don’t go as planned.

If you’re not feeling gung-ho like us Grasmeyers over here, could you give a dime for each day Oaklee was in the NICU ($6.90)? Thanks, in advance, for your contribution!

Sponsor/Join Oaklee's March of Dimes team.

P.S. Click here for a reminder of what March of Dimes does/did for us.

March With Me

If it’s in your heart to give, we pray you’ll consider donating towards Oaklee’s team in the March for Babies on May 5 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Pre-NICU experience, my knowledge of March of Dimes was this: In March, as a kid, you read a lot for this program that was once called “Book It” which has something to do with this thing called March of Dimes, but you get a free personal pizza from Pizza Hut at the end, which is really the motivating goal.

I never knew.

I never knew that 1 in 10 babies are born premature. I never knew that prematurity was the #1 cause of infant mortality. And I never knew that my child, my baby, would be born three months premature.

So what does March of Dimes do? Allow me to borrow their simplest definition: “March of Dimes leads the fight for the health of all moms and babies.” And then let’s add words from their materials to explain they, “focus on fighting birth defects, premature birth and infant death with innovations like newborn screenings and surfactant therapy; education for medical professionals and the public about best practices; and lifesaving research. [They] provide comfort and support to families in NICUs and advocated for those who need [them] most, moms and babies.”

So what did March of Dimes do for us? I’m literally in tears as I look back through Oaklee’s discharge summary and type this up – March of Dimes grantees helped develop surfactant therapy, which was introduced in 1990, and has since then reduced the rate of death by Respiratory Distress Syndrome (which Oaklee was diagnosed with upon birth) in half. They’re also working on new approaches to deliver inhaled nitric oxide (a treatment Oaklee also had) to where it is needed in the lungs to prevent Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia. This is the type of research we need people to do, and the frontrunner for why this little family of three wants to raise money for an organization that may have literally saved Oaklee’s life.

On a smaller scale, the March of Dimes NICU Family Support is also a great program. Being in the NICU is hell. I wouldn’t wish any amount of time there on my worst enemy, but I’m so very grateful for the good things the NICU Family Support program is doing because the little things make a huge difference. They gave us booklets of information that took words like “surfactant therapy” and “bronchopulmonary dysplasia” and put them into laymen’s terms that even the just-gave-birth-and-desperately-in-need-of-a-transfusion woman could understand. They offered educational classes with previous NICU parents and Lactation Consultants and other various experts. They gave us keepsake books, milestone markers and little gift bags. And, oh my gosh, the little rubber duckies we found at Oaklee’s isolette on the holidays she spent in the NICU… It truly is the little things, isn’t it?

Simply put, raising $1000 is not enough to repay March of Dimes for what they did for us, but we’ll start there, and someday we’ll find a way to continue giving, to continue improving the outlook for premature babies like Oaklee.

So if it’s in your heart to give, we pray you’ll consider donating towards Oaklee’s team in the March for Babies on May 5 in Grand Rapids, MI. And if you’re local, we’d love to have you walk on our team with us. So many of you have already proven your place in the village that will raise our child and it is such a blessing to have you on Team Oaklee.

Click Here to Donate or to Join Team Oaklee

My Christmas Letter

What a year it has been. 2017 saw some of my most joy-filled moments walking hand-in-hand with some of my most horrifying experiences of my life. In 2017, everything changed.

Friends and family,

What a year it has been. 2017 saw some of my most joy-filled moments walking hand-in-hand with some of my most horrifying experiences of my life.

In 2017, everything changed.

I became a parent, which is what my year was almost 100% about. My rollercoaster to parenthood seemed to have fewer peaks and deeper valleys than most. Any excitement I experienced was quickly muffled by the reality of our situation, but in the end, my husband and I brought home a beautiful baby girl, the joy of our life and the thing we’ve most prayed for this year.

Not only did we add to our family, but I switched jobs. I left two non-profits I care deeply about in order to reorient our lives around our new little family. I began working part time from home, and spending my days off being mommy.

In 2017, we learned how to keep big secrets, how scary pregnancy can be, how valuable our friends and family are and how challenging parenthood is.

I have to take a moment to thank the people who rallied around us this year – the ones who prayed for us, the ones who brought us dinners, the ones who checked in on us, the ones who journeyed with us. I deeply believe you are the ones who carried us through. Many a people complimented us on our strength, but this was a year where we relied on others for our strength. So thank you for being strong.

This year was anything but easy, but as much as I’m glad it’s end is nearing, I’m also glad it happened. 2017 will forever be the year I became a mommy, and being a mommy is my new favorite thing to be.

Journey with me, here, in 2018, as I revisit the events of 2017, remembering and reflecting on each stage of our pregnancy and our first few steps into parenthood with a preemie.

Merry Christmas and happy New Year!

Meet Mandi

I’ve been staring at my screen for probably 10 minutes trying to decide how to introduce myself. Here are the things that are the very core of me right now and some things that have, at some point, rang true about me.

I’m going to be honest, I went back to Why Things Are Like That in hopes I had written some sort of introduction there that I could reuse because I’ve been staring at my screen for probably 10 minutes trying to decide how to introduce myself.

Here’s the thing, though, 2017 was kind of a wash. So here I sit, at the end of an entire year that I was not allowed to be myself, and I don’t even know how to introduce myself. Here are the things that are the very core of me right now:

  1. I live in Michigan.
  2. I’m a Christian.
  3. I got married in September of 2014.
  4. I had a baby in June of 2017.

But you probably want to know more than that? Here are some things that have, at some point, rang true about me:

  1. I studied Communications at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
  2. I like to be on time, organized and productive.
  3. I like to be active – biking, hiking, walking, cross country skiing.
  4. If I could be anything, it would be a writer. I love words, and grammar, and other nerdy things like syntax.
  5. I work part time from home for a non-profit, doing communications, marketing and IT.
  6. In my spare time, what I want to be doing is traveling, having new experiences and seeing new places.
  7. In my spare time, what I’m probably doing is trying to get my baby to giggle or reading.
  8. I have a dog.
  9. I was a cheerleader and a cheer coach and miss doing both dearly.
  10. I love the Olympic Games. Love them.

I’m sure you’ll learn more along the way in this next writing project – and maybe I will too as I learn how to be myself again!

Thanks for stopping by. Stay tuned. The beginning of the next project is near!