Two years after the most painful experience of their lives, Justina and Dan Oldehoff are striving to make sure other parents of babies fighting for their lives in neonatal intensive care know they …
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Two years after the most painful experience of their lives, Justina and Dan Oldehoff are striving to make sure other parents of babies fighting for their lives in neonatal intensive care know they aren’t alone.
In 2019, Justina delivered the couple’s firstborn child, Carter, at just 24 weeks into the pregnancy. After three days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Littleton Adventist Hospital, Carter, who weighed just a pound and eight ounces, passed away.
Now parents to another son, the Oldehoffs founded Carter’s Cause, a foundation providing resources and support to parents grieving from infant loss, enduring the NICU journey, and the family and friends who support them.
Nearly two years to the day after losing Carter, the Oldehoffs stood in front of Littleton Adventist Hospital beside dozens of care packages to distribute to every family who will endure a stay in the hospital’s NICU in 2021.
“The experience is unexplainable,” Justina said. “I wish nobody ever had to go through it. You can feel so, so alone. We want the other families in there to know there are others who understand.”
In each purple bag, NICU families will find a variety of items to ease the heartache:
A “bonding heart,” a small fleece heart that parents can wear on themselves and leave with their babies overnight so their little ones can still smell mom and dad.
A journal, because “every day is huge,” Justina said.
A book to read out loud, so babies can hear the soothing tones of mom and dad’s voices.
Affirmation cards with reminders for parents to take care of their own physical and emotional needs.
Milestone cards to celebrate the many small miracles along the way: weight gains, first bottle feedings, the first time being held by mom and dad.
The care packages could prove godsends to families living in fear and pain, said Pam Costanza, the manager of the hospital’s women’s and children’s department.
“It’s such a frightening time,” Costanza said. “Families are spending their days staring at these teeny tiny babies, praying they make it. Gifts from those who have gone through it will mean so much.”
The Oldehoffs have been through it — twice. Months after losing Carter, Justina became pregnant again. But the same medical malady resulted in her delivering Carter’s little brother Aaron at just 29 weeks, and again the little family found themselves back in the NICU. Aaron pulled through, and today he is a handsome, goofy 10-month-old.
But returning to the NICU was brutal, Dan said.
“All those beeps and hoses again,” Dan said. “It was hard to find joy, knowing we might lose another. But we owed it to Carter and Aaron not to lose hope. Taking Aaron home was the best day of my life.”
Dan and Justina said both NICU experiences taught them how many friends they have. After losing Carter, many friends and family dropped off food, stayed to talk when they felt like it, and gave them space when they needed.
“We didn’t know what we needed,” Justina said. “The support meant so much. If someone in your life is going through this, reach out. Saying nothing is worse than saying anything. Be kind.”
To support Carter’s Cause, visit CartersCause.org.
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