Thursday, July 21, 2011

Shop for a Cause

Wednesday, July 13, 2011



During our stay at the NICU with Ella we received so many loving emails, phone calls, notes and CaringBridge messages.  We started our CaringBridge to help keep all of our friends and family up to date on the daily and sometimes hourly changes that were happening to our little girl in the NICU.  It is a wonderful organization that helped us tell Ella's story while having others give us hope through their messages. 

Now even two years later, I go back to her CaringBridge site and re-read our experience and our story.  Not to mention the many encouraging words, notes of prayers and well wishes.  It still can bring tears to my eyes remembering where we were and how far we have come with Ella's Halo.  Ella's CaringBridge site is sort of like our baby book.  It is where we documented everything in our baby girl's short life and is such a special reminder of our time together as a family.

CaringBridge offers a free website service to help people connect with others during a health situation. It was started back in 1997 by a woman whose friend had a premature baby in the NICU and after 9 days in the hospital passed away.

CaringBridge has helped so many of our friends share their own personal stories about a loved one, about other preemies in the NICU, or about facing their own battles of cancer or other health issues.  I find myself coming back to CaringBridge to check in on so many people, even sometimes people I don't know, just to read their inspiring stories of strength and bravery. 

We are so honored to have a link to CaringBridge on our website under our Ella's Friends!  But we are so thankful that CaringBridge has Ella's Halo as one of their Nonprofit Alliances.  What a beautiful partnership between two organizations wanting to help others and that were both started in memory of two sweet preemie girls.

Thank you CaringBridge for letting us tell our stories and for giving us a place to encourage others along their journeys too.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Random Thoughts

It has been awhile since I have sat down and posted my thoughts on here.  Here are a few things that have been on my mind lately.
  • We spent the 4th of July up at the lake this past weekend.  It was nice to have a few extra days to relax. The weather was perfect!  I even got out to the cemetery and took a beautiful picture with a pink sunset in the background.  Every holiday always brings a little sadness and reminds us that someone is missing.  But I am sure my baby girl was celebrating and enjoying the fireworks too.
  • It was nice to have a little vacation, however, when I get back my mind races with new ideas for Ella's Halo.  We are meeting with a couple of people from Amplatz Children's Hospital to share an idea I have brewing.  Looking forward to get their feedback and their ideas about how we can get this idea moving. 
  • We love working with other organizations and meeting other people who have started  small nonprofits too.  Especially ones that help children!  We have been tossing around an idea to put together a joint event with another nonprofit called Sweet Dreams for Kids who donates pajamas to sick kids in the hospital.  How perfect would blankets and pjs go together for kids who are in the hospital. 
  • Faith's Lodge, another nonprofit that is near and dear to our hearts, was hit by a bad storm this past weekend.  They are in need of volunteers and donations to help in the clean up.  Check out their facebook page to learn more about ways you can help.
  • Ryan and I had a quote featured in the Children's Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota Annual Report.  Check it out here to see our quote on their website.  We are so honored that they choose our quote about why we love Children's and why we help donate to the NICU.
  • On June 16th and June 20th, Ella's Halo donated another 200 welcome bags to Children's Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota at both the St. Paul and Minneapolis locations.  It brings our total of bags donated since January 2011 to 500!  How awesome is that! 

  • As always, we are looking for people who would like to partner up with ideas, discuss donation options, if you would like to be our next Feature Family, or if you want to donate your talents such as graphic design work, writing or other advertising skills and also MOMs clubs.  We would love to come to talk to MOMs clubs, boy/girl scouts, or other organizations looking for ways to help the community.  We have some fun projects coming up and are looking for volunteers and people who will help us spread the word about Ella's Halo.  Please email me if you are interested in helping out in any way at  We would love to hear from you.
  • Lastly, I am so looking forward to our next board meeting this month.  I love getting together with our board and sharing ideas about how we can continue to help others.  Plus we need to start working on our next event and work on some of our goals!  I can't wait to see them, we kind of miss them since we really haven't gotten together since BOWLING! 
Wow, I guess I need to get better about posting what we are thinking and what we have been up to on here.  It is getting to be a long list!  The first half of the year was awesome and I am so excited about what the second half of 2011 will bring!

Friday, July 1, 2011

July Feature Family

 At the beginning of each month Ella's Halo will have a NICU family tell their story about life in the NICU with their baby. Our hope is that by featuring different families others will have a better understanding of the difficult, roller-coaster ride many face when their baby is in the NICU. Ella's Halo created the Feature Family series, if you are interested in sharing your story, please email us at to share your NICU story and to be a future Feature Family.

July's Feature Family had two children in the hospital at two different times.  As preemie parents, our paths have crossed with this family and we enjoy seeing them each time it does.  Julie is on the STEPs group at Children's Hospital in St. Paul and works hard to make the NICU a little better for parents and babies!

Alexander and Isabella Bixby
Written by Julie Bixby
Former NICU Mommy

In 2006, I was pregnant with my first child and had an easy, non-eventful pregnancy. I had read every single pregnancy book out there and received the daily emails from multiple sites explaining what was going on at that particular time in my pregnancy. I had done so much research and felt as prepared as possible. I had plans to deliver at a hospital in Woodbury where my OB/GYN delivered. I had everything perfectly planned out. That was, until my water broke unexpectedly at 33 weeks.

At the time, I wasn’t sure what had happened and decided to call my OB/GYN to see if the feeling I had was normal. They weren’t sure but told me I needed to be seen just to check to see if my water had broken. My OB/GYN called back and told me that they had realized I was earlier than 34 weeks and therefore the hospital I had planned to deliver at wouldn’t see me. They suggested a few different hospitals and told me to call my insurance company to determine which I could go to. Still, I didn’t even think about a NICU--none of my books really even covered least not at the 33 week chapters. We hadn’t even taken our parenting classes.

We randomly chose United Hospital as it was closest to our house. It was a decision that would forever affect our lives. I do believe that everything happens for a reason and that fate actually sent us to United so that we would be next to Children’s Hospital.

We checked in to L&D at the hospital and they confirmed that my water broke but I wasn’t having any other signs of labor. So, they put me on IV medication and the doctor came in to tell me that they were just waiting for a room to open up in the area dedicated to the bed rest mothers. The goal was to keep the baby inside as long as possible, which meant I could be at the hospital on bed rest for 7 more weeks.

Later in the day, while waiting for the room to open up, a nurse came in and asked if I was feeling the contractions. I wasn’t—thankfully! I think my brain/body were in such a whirlwind/haze that I still don’t think anything registered. Everything was definitely out of my control.

Less than a day later, on December 1, 2006, our son Alexander was born. He was a very healthy 5 pound 33 weeker. I don’t remember much from those first few days. I’ve tried to go back mentally but I just can’t. My perfectly planned pregnancy and delivery was anything but and I think I was in a form of shock. It was my first and I didn’t know any different other than what all the books had told me.

What I do remember is that I was able to see my son quickly and then he was taken down to the NICU. My husband accompanied him and the doctors.

Alexander Bixby

It was a few long hours before I was allowed down to meet my little guy. I still remember going into the room and only being able to put my hands in the holes on the isolette. We had to wait a few days before we could hold him whenever we wanted.

In total, he spent 21 days in the NICU and was released just a few days before Christmas. Bringing him home for XMAS was the best gift!

Having a baby in the NICU is not how you envision your birthing experience. Leaving the hospital without your baby is not in your plan. But it was our reality.

Having a baby in the NICU is anything from normal and there really aren’t any books that can prepare you for it. What can prepare you is knowing there are other families out there that have been in your shoes. I still remember receiving an email from a neighbor of mine who I hadn’t even met who had a NICU baby just 6 months prior. Her words meant so much to me… knowing there was someone else out there that understood my situation. She is now a very dear friend of mine and I still have that email she sent me.

No one is better off or worse off in the NICU… each child is different. Some babies are healthy, some are not. Some are big, some are very tiny. But the common thread is that there are families that are all equally as worried, scared and fearing the unknown. I spent as much time as possible in my son’s room trying to bond the best I could with my little boy who was closed in an isolette and not at home where he should have been.

I did feel helpless at times, but I tried to make the best of our situation and surroundings. Children’s NICU in St Paul has amazing private rooms where every detail is thought of to help families and their babies. There wasn’t much I could give my son right away but what I could give was a soothing, quiet environment much like the womb. I would nap on the couch in our NICU room and would lower his isolette almost to eye level with me so I felt like we could nap together even though he was in his isolette and I was on the couch. As ironic as it may seem, in this chaotic time, this room became my time alone with my son.

It definitely was an emotional time....many times coming back from lunch or a quick restroom break and it was all I could do to keep myself from sprinting back to the room where I would come in, close the curtain and door and sit on the couch next to my son and cry. It wouldn’t last comfort seemed to take control again.

Some of the most basic things that one would take for granted actually helped me more than I would have ever expected. Something as simple as a rocking chair in my room allowed me to hold and rock my baby that I wasn’t able to bring home to rock. Kangaroo care became a routine of our days and something my husband and I looked forward to in “our chair.”

When we decided to get pregnant again, we took precautions to help our baby stay in utero as long as possible. However, even after 16 weeks of Progesterone shots (I became a pro at receiving these painful shots), our daughter arrived early, just like her brother, at 33 weeks.

Again… I felt that same haze/bewilderment that I had with my first born. Even as a NICU veteran, it was just as scary and foreign the second time around. Just as each child is different, each NICU stay is different as well. And this time, it was complicated by a needy 2 year old boy at home who was longing for his mom and dad. We only spent 12 days in the NICU with our daughter Isabella.

Isabella Bixby

2 NICU babies and 2+ years later, we have 2 healthy and happy children. Not exactly how we had planned for them to enter the world but that is how their story began. Today, we put Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of MN/St Paul NICU at the very top of our list for our charitable giving. Nothing makes us happier or prouder than to make even a small difference on the unit where both of our babies spent their first few weeks of life.

We will always have a special place in our hearts for Children’s St. Paul was the address/home for both of our kids for the first few weeks of their lives. Would I change our experience? Of course! I would have loved to have had my 2 children home with me when I was discharged from the hospital. But, given that wasn’t an option or our reality, we couldn’t imagine being anyplace else.