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Challenge: NICU Parenting

A Letter to My 27 Weeker

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Each year on our boys' birthdays, we sit down as a family and talk about the day they were born - who was there, how Daddy was the first one in the world to know and then announce 'It's a boy!', how we methodically selected their names, how we felt and how the world is richer with them in it!

We look at photo albums and answer questions, beaming with emotion, reflection and gratitude for another year.


We have tempered these stories to be age appropriate, but they love it. We find ourselves doing this awkward dance as we tell about the 10lb, majestic birth of our eight year old, then the harrowing, but miraculous birth of our two-pounder. Like clockwork, my husband and I say our final goodnight to the boys, close their doors and silently embrace in both awe and wonder at how far we have come.

With Shaw (former 27 weeker) turning four this year, we have already answered many new questions.

"Why do I have to watch my head when Nash and I wrestle?"

"Because you have a shunt in your head, Shaw, and it will hurt if you bump it too hard."

"Why do I have all those wires in the photos?"

"Because when you were born, you were very sick and the wires provided food and medicine to help you grow stronger."

"What does Bee Mighty do?"

"Because of you, there is Bee Mighty. Bee Mighty is helping other babies born early."


Shaw's first Valentine's Day. He was seven days old and his nurse, Lisa Newsome, drew a heart on his hospital hat. He was 2lbs.


While we did not share this version of Shaw's story, this will be placed in his photo album and I hope that one day we will read it together.

Likely, this excercise was more for me as I walk through this time in our lives four years ago but I hope one day it will answer questions and provide insight to where Shaw came from and the lives he has touched along the way.

February 7, 2015

Happy Birthday, Avery Shaw Richter!

We created you and love you more life. Your birthday is the greatest day on this planet to celebrate. We feel so honored to be your Mom and Dad.

The day you were born was unique. It was an emergency and we thought we may lose you. We almost did… many times.

The fear was immense and indescribable.

Over and over again, I wonder How I can tell your birth story without it sounding terrifying, because it was…

You were supposed to arrive in May. We didn’t have a name, a nursery or a bag packed. I wasn’t even in my 3rd trimester.

We were not expecting you.

You; however, had other plans for us.

I arrived at the hospital in an ambulance in January and we learned we were not going home from the hospital without you - four months ahead of schedule.

That is when we began to pray.

Shaw, this is your birth story:

My dear son, you were born on at the crack of dawn (5:00am) on a Monday morning, at exactly 27 weeks of pregnancy (for reference, full term is 40 weeks). You spent the first 122 days of your life inside the sterile walls of a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and we spent the first 122 nights of your life painfully without you.

We did a lot of praying in that time. Mostly we prayed, even begged, that you would survive. Secondly, we prayed that you would not remember.

We prayed you would forget the tube down your throat that allowed the ventilator to breathe for you. We prayed you would forget the twenty-two spinal taps, brain surgeries and pain from the meningitis. We prayed you would forget every infection, blood transfusion and battle with sepsis. We prayed you wouldn’t remember the IV that was in your head, because your other veins were blown. We prayed you wouldn’t remember the cold, sterile gloves that hurt your undeveloped skin when you had MRSA. We continue to pray that you forget every poke and prod and alarm you experienced for those four months, while you grew inside a clear, plastic box.

And we prayed – oh how we prayed.

Your Dad and I prayed. Your grandparents prayed. Their churches and friends prayed. Our closest friends prayed and their families prayed. Our church prayed for you by your bedside and collectively. People around the world began to pray for you, people we have never met. People we will never know.

Miraculously, you began to grow and as you did, you became stronger. Your lungs were stronger and we began to hear your calls for us through a raspy plea, which made our hearts leap knowing you were fighting!

As we watched you grow (and with a little perspective four years later), we realize that there are a few things about your very intense birth story that we don’t want you to forget – a few things about yourself that we want you to know and to carry with you always.

Shaw Richter, you are determined!

To start, you refused to wait for your due date. While your little two-pound body may not have been ready, you were a force of nature, determined to be here. Shaw, as you taught us when you were born that you will overcome the odds against you. You will prevail. You are strong and unwavering (even at four!). Your gritty determination is a gift from God and your Dad and I are blessed to be a witness.

If there is a time in your life when you feel you are not ready for what is being asked of you, know that you can do more than most will in a lifetime. You may feel scared, overwhelmed or ill equipped. Please know that your instincts about timing have always been correct. You are determined and you will triumph.

Shaw Richter, you are a fighter!

I have had the privilege to witness you walk when they said you may not. I have seen you wince for hours in pain, only to find a place of peace within yourself. I have seen you drag yourself across the playroom (by only your arms) just be closer to your brother. I have watched your eyes ignite and the power of determination take over. Shaw, you have a gift and you do not give up.

If ever you feel weak or inadequate, please remember what you were able to accomplish entirely of your own will – from birth and for the years that followed - your own fortitude. You, my dear son, are a fighter.

Shaw Richter, you are magnificently different!

This is my favorite feature from your birth! You were little, but your life is vast. You are different. You have this crazy contraption in your head and a few battle wounds. It is unique – and it is BEAUTIFUL! And you have your story.

There may be people in life that will accentuate your differences or isolate you. There will be people who want you to conform. Please remember that you have these tattoos of life that scream YOU ARE EXTRODINARY and you never have to feel like you have to follow anyone. Everyone has their story – everyone (and if they don’t yet, they will). Stay kind and relish being remarkable.

Shaw Richter, you have a soul mate.

His name is Nash. Nash was also a baby when you were born and he waited for you. He waited for all of us for four months and he has encouraged and inspired you ever since. I refuse to think where our family would be without Nash. He is the refuge for all of us. Nash was the one that motivated you… to do anything. When you first tried to move (that army crawl), it was to get to Nash. When you took your first steps, it was to get to Nash. Four years ago you wanted his pacifier; today you want his legos. Nash is the carrot to your motivation. He encourages you, supports you and considers you ‘his best buddy’.

Later in life, you may feel alone. You may be sad or melancholy – even lost. Know this: your brother is similar to an appendage. He is there for you, encouraging, supporting and rooting for you. You will never be alone.

Shaw Richter, you are an inspiration.

How can I articulate this? There is a foundation BECAUSE OF YOU! Hundreds, one day thousands, of babies and families’ lives are changing because of the day you were born. Families have hope because of you, Shaw. People around the world share your story. Your birth continues to give encouragement to preemies you precede. While you were in the hospital, people cheered for you! They sent presents to the doctors and nurses. They sent over eighty meals to our home. They wrote you letters, sent photos and books and scripture. Most importantly, you leave a legacy that continues to inspire families through Bee Mighty.

Use your pain for a purpose. You suffered a great deal in the beginning of your life. Please remember that you carry a torch that can ignite and encourage others, as so many have done for you.

Shaw Richter, you are loved!

Four years later, families still send Christmas cards in you honor, making others aware of Bee Mighty. People (literally) climb mountains for you, race races, walk walks. The church has held communion at your bedside. Families donate presents for their children on their birthdays. Artists have designed murals in your name that hang on walls to encourage others.

If there is ever a time in your life that you do not feel loved, please know that you have been drenched in prayer and love from the moment you first threatened to arrive, to the day you first took your own breath. You were loved when you were sick. You were loved when you grew stronger. You are loved today and for a lifetime to come.

You are still writing your story, Shaw Richter and the three of us are your biggest fans. We can’t wait to see what you will do with your gift of life.


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