Six weeks before their due date, soon-to-be parents Erica and Michael Bishop, of Arlington, Mass., had plans. They were looking forward to their last childfree getaway at a beach house in Rhode Island, and Erica had planned to start a new job for a few weeks prior to her maternity leave. Erica, 34, had no apparent risk factors, and her pregnancy had been uneventful.
But their son, Gavin, had other ideas. He showed up on July 14, 2019 — more than five weeks premature.
Gavin is one of nearly 4,000 babies born each year at Massachusetts General Hospital. About 700 of these newborns are preemies like Gavin who receive care in the Patty Ribakoff Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and Special Care Nursery at MassGeneral Hospital for Children.
“I don’t even have words. I was just so grateful for all of them. They helped me stay positive and they were so empathetic.”
Grateful for the care they received, in honor of Gavin’s first birthday, the Bishops asked friends and family members to support the NICU/Special Care Nursery.
While today Gavin is full of energy, a great sleeper, a “chatterbox” and in the top percentiles for height and weight, his first days came with a lot of worry for his parents. Born at 5 pounds, 3 ounces, Gavin immediately went to the Special Care Nursery where he stayed for two weeks. He was so young and small and could not stay awake long enough to feed, Erica says. She recalls obsessing over every gram and kept detailed records (which she still has) of every feeding on her phone.
From early morning to evening, Erica sat with Gavin. Michael, who continued to work to save his time for when Gavin came home, had to drag her away, she says. “When you have to leave your baby behind, it’s so awful, you feel like you did something wrong.”
A Caring Cocoon
The nurses made it bearable. “Even when we went home, I knew Gavin was in the best place,” Erica says. “I don’t even have words. I was just so grateful for all of them. They helped me stay positive and they were so empathetic. When I sobbed, they were there. I felt like I was best friends with them.”
Both Erica and Michael work in the music industry, and one of her fondest memories is when a music therapist played guitar for Gavin. She also befriended another mom, and they sat together. “I didn’t care what was going on in the world. I was in this space. And that was calming.”
Helping Other Preemies
Giving back was a given for Erica. Someday she hopes to return as a volunteer who comforts preemies. With the pandemic, raising money was what she could do now. It was a matter of figuring out how.
Erica found that it was easier than she thought. She became a part of the BeCause community, Mass General’s online fundraising program. She posted on social media and shared the link with family, friends and colleagues, who were all so supportive, she says. “All these people came out of the woodwork to tell me that they or their child had been a preemie.” She is proud that they exceeded their $1,000 goal.
Thankful and Joyful
Fourteen months later, Gavin’s preemie days are just a memory. At 32 inches, Gavin is more than half my height, Erica remarks.
“I’m so grateful for Mass General,” she says. “My son is the best thing I’ve ever done, the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and my husband would say the same thing.”
To join the Bishops in supporting the Special Care Nursery/NICU, please visit Erica’s fundraising page.