One month has passed since I introduced my JDP Warrior Portraits program and my 💜 is just exploding hearing about these amazing little fighters and seeing their beautiful faces. The babies, their parents, and all of the doctors and nurses are incredibly inspiring. Yes, the stories are super scary, but the strength of these little ones is what really stands out and needs to be highlighted and celebrated.
Way back in April 2018, Cassidy’s mom contacted me about getting maternity and newborn photos done. She wasn’t due until December, and didn’t know the gender of the baby yet, but she was super excited to get everything set up. We emailed back and forth for a few weeks discussing different fun ideas. In July they found out they were having a girl so we started planning for some Disney princess themed photos. Mom already had some props ready, including a mermaid outfit. 🧜🏻♀️
In September I got an email that they had a turn of events and mom had to have surgery. Mom and baby were ok but she was put on bedrest. So we assumed we wouldn’t be able to do a maternity session but still had grand plans for the newborn session. Cassidy decided to make her debut at just 30 weeks. She was in the NICU for quite some time so we just played it by ear, week by week, waiting for the day she could come home and we could play princess dress up! That day finally came in early January and Cassidy did amazing! And it was so great to finally get to meet mom after so many months of emailing back and forth and worrying about her and Cassidy.
My baby Cassidy has been such a little warrior princess! At 23 weeks gestational age she decided she was ready to meet her dad and myself. I had quickly dilated to 5cm and was rushed into emergency surgery for a rescue cerclage that was deemed the last hope to save my baby. Against all odds, the surgery worked and I went home to strict bed rest. But few weeks later, at 26 weeks, my water broke. My husband rushed me back to the hospital, and this time I was there to stay until the baby arrived. There were continuous tests and monitoring, physical and dietary restrictions, and medication. I was determined to strictly follow my doctor’s orders, to do my part in keeping my baby alive. As the weeks went by, the list of loved ones praying for baby Cassidy grew and grew.
At 30 weeks, Cassidy simply could not wait any longer. I went into active labor very quickly and the hospital Neonatal ICU (NICU) team rushed to prepare for Cassidy's arrival. She was born into the world surrounded by the love and prayers of her family and friends. I had 60 seconds to take a quick look at my beautiful baby girl before the NICU nurses and doctors whisked her away. My husband was able to follow them and watch with awe as our daughter’s first hours in this world unfolded.
Cassidy fought for her life in the NICU where, for the next two months, she endured a plethora of tests, wires and alarms, CPAP, IV and feeding tubes. My tiny baby was now only 3 pounds; she looked so fragile in her big isolette. We longed to hold her and comfort her. My husband and I were immensely excited when the day came that we could place our sterilized hands into her isolette to gently and briefly touch her for the first time.
I remained by her bedside every day, watching her little body move up and down with each breath. Everything was harder for my baby. Being out of the womb at this age she prematurely had to learn to breathe air, move against gravity, and process lights and sounds. Her sensory and motor development progressed with occupational therapy, and her eating/digesting/breathing skills improved with speech therapy. Many days the doctors had updates that were hard for us to hear. We learned to digest each bit of news slowly, leaning on prayers and loved ones. The Hand to Hold NICU support group also gave us encouragement during those long, long days.
After a lot of hard work, 4 days before her Christmas due date, Cassidy was finally stable enough to come home. She was eating without the feeding tube, breathing without assistance, had her IV removed, passed the car seat test, and was gaining weight! We could hardly wait to show her the nursery that we had lovingly prepared.
Cassidy is now four months old, but until she is two years old we live life according to her adjusted age, as if she was born on her due date. Life at home is still quite challenging. We need to hold her upright for most of the day and night because she has developed intense reflux due to having a feeding tube in for such a long time. Someone must watch her 24/7 because her reflux occasionally causes her to stop breathing and she needs to be helped to continue. Thankfully, these episodes occur much less frequently now. In addition to her pediatrician, she sees a preemie specialist doctor who will watch her development for two years and recommend services for any therapy she may need. Cassidy has a stage 2 brain hemorrhage, so her mobility development needs to be closely monitored. An occupational therapist regularly comes to our home for sessions with her.
Our latest trial is Cassidy's colic, so we begrudgingly find ourselves grateful to be dealing with a “full term baby” issue. On nights when the non-stop crying seems unbearable, we remind ourselves how far we’ve come. It was not long ago that we were praying for our little girl to simply survive. And each morning, all it takes is one Cassidy cuddle and a sparkly smile to reset our day. God has big plans for this little miracle!
How has this affected your family?
Other than a new understanding of the amount of sleep deprivation one can physically survive... It has strengthened our faith as God showed His grace and love for Cassidy over and over throughout our journey.
What advice would you like to give to families experiencing the same or similar circumstances?
Pray pray pray, God can do anything. Mom - take care of yourself. Your little one will need you even more than most after coming home from the NICU.
What advice would you like to give readers who know a family with a warrior/warrior princess baby? (What can they do to help? )
When you have a preemie at home you most likely can't receive visitors for some time. Offering to deliver meals is a huge step - mom and dad are probably living off of whatever they can grab and eat while still holding baby.
Is there anyone you would like to thank?
Several people of the NICU team caring for Cassidy truly made the difference in our experience and helped to get Cassidy healthy and home ASAP. Her primary doctor, primary nurses, occupational therapist, speech therapist, lactation consultant and Hand to Hold support group.
Hand to Hold - helps families before, during, and after NICU stays and infant loss by providing powerful resources for the whole family, and most importantly, one-on-one mentoring from someone who has been there.
March of Dimes - fights for the health of all moms and babies. We're advocating for policies to protect them. We're working to radically improve the health care they receive. We're pioneering research to find solutions. We're empowering families with the knowledge and tools to have healthier pregnancies. By uniting communities, we're building a brighter future for us all.
Mom’s favorite quotes -
"He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted." Job 5:9
"Though she be but little, she is fierce." Shakespeare
"Sometimes the smallest things take up the most space in your heart." Winnie the Pooh
“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” - Pablo Picasso
If you know a family that has a child under one year old with a life-altering illness, birth defect, or injury, lives within 30 miles of downtown Austin, TX, and would treasure professional portraits of their precious baby and family, please nominate them by filling out this form.