Most parents fear any stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The Richardson’s managed it – twice. The pair feels compelled to connect with families that meant so much during a special time for their girls Aliza, 3, and Sylvie, 2. The Tolono family said “breaking out” of the NICU is everything they hoped, but going back and reconnecting is extra special too.
“So many times I wanted to reach out to other moms and dads in the NICU, but it’s hard to know when it’s OK to ask how things are going,” Cristina said. “You’re always on edge because the babies are so fragile. You want to console them but wonder if you have the right things to say.”
Adam and Cristina volunteer in the NICU today and attend the annual reunion to stay connected to past and present families.
“No one has to feel like they are going through it alone,” said Adam. “Families need support from us but nurses and other NICU staff do too. We do what we can to offer support and reassurance that they are doing an amazing job.”
The annual Carle NICU Reunion, supported by the Carle Health Center for Philanthropy, offers moms like Cristina a chance to celebrate successes and recall those challenging times too.
Aliza was born at 26 weeks and five days weighing 2 pounds 7 ounces.
“I thought I was going in for a check on some spotting and within 20 minutes, I had an emergency Cesarean section,” she said.
She came really fast then spent 91 days in NICU before going home with the help of oxygen for three months and a feeding tube for two months.
“Doctors instilled confidence in us,” Cristina said. “With our first pregnancy, delivery and child, we worried if we could do this at home, but everyone reassured us we could do it and if we needed anything, we just had to call – all any time of day.”
A short six months later the Richardsons learned they were expecting their second child.
“We were a little shocked. Our second pregnancy was closely monitored, and I was placed on bedrest because of how we delivered first,” Cristina said.
Sylvie arrived at 29 weeks and five days, but with early intervention and monitoring, she had a much shorter stay, 2 days in the NICU followed by 39 days in the stepdown unit.
Doctors assumed she’d delivery early so Cristina received steroid injections to help Sylvie’s lungs develop.
Both girls are growing strong and on track for their developmental milestones.
“Life in the NICU is an emotional roller coaster. It’s filled with worries and ‘what-ifs.’ Every staff member always helped us understand or find answers,” Cristina said.
Adam appreciated that staff welcomed questions.
“Ask as many questions as you can. Have a notebook with your detailed questions. Don't be afraid to ask ‘stupid’ questions,” he said.
Today the family ask questions at the annual NICU reunion to get updates from other families.
“NICU graduates share a bond and experience. It’s great to see other parents and how the kids are growing when we don’t connect daily,” Cristina said.