JF&CS News Spring 2018

When Aimee Stashak-Moore was pregnant with her second child, everything had been moving along as planned. But when she found herself unexpectedly giving birth three and a half weeks before her due date, everything was turned upside down. "We were immediately scooped into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and we were frightened. There were lots of feelings and emotions. Harlan was born prematurely. He was fine, but just not breathing on his own that well," Aimee explains.

A good friend who was a psychologist and had worked with JF&CS put Aimee in touch with Oliver, Ian, and Serenity Wolk Fragile Beginnings, a JF&CS program committed to improving the lives of parents of premature infants and othe rinfants who have had a stay in the NICU. "Right away, Fragile Beginnings sent in a clinician, Karin Lindfors, to talk with me on the first day and listen to my fears and worries about having a premature baby," says Aimee. "She was beyond lovely. We spoke about things like ‘baby wearing,' in which wraps are used to promote skin to skin contact and bonding between the mother and the baby. She brought in four different wraps for me to try. I still have the wrap we used – I can't give it away."

Harlan was in the NICU for nearly four weeks. Aimee went to the NICU to see Harlan every day, sometimes twice a day. "I also had an 18-month-old, Lucian, at home and I was trying to maintain a sense of stability and normalcy for him, as well," Aimee adds. "Karin came to our home a few times after we returned from the hospital. She helped me sort through my emotions and was very supportive throughout. It was exactly what I needed at that time. I have a wonderful husband, family, and friends, but she provided a sympathetic ear and someone to talk to about what it's like to have a prematurely born baby. I will never forget the kindness she showed me during probably my most vulnerable time in life."

Today, Harlan and Lucian are happy, healthy little boys, ages 7 and 8, respectively. They go to Epstein Hillel Academy in Marblehead. A couple of years ago, Aimee and her husband were at school watching Harlan perform with his classmates at his kindergarten graduation when suddenly she realized that on that same exact date four years ago, they had brought Harlan home from the NICU. "It was a very emotional day, reflecting on our struggles with him and our fears that had been completely put at ease through Fragile Beginnings," says Aimee. "It was the day we brought him home and we've been so lucky to see him grow into this wonderful little human being."

Through Epstein Hillel Academy, Aimee and her family learned about Family Table North Shore. They became active in the program, volunteering to pack and deliver groceries to those less fortunate. "The boys have a blast at Family Table packing the bags. They get a sense of independence and accomplishment when they go down the list, check things off, and pack the bags. They take their jobs very seriously," Aimee notes. "Once, when we were out delivering bags of groceries, Lucian came back to the car teary-eyed. I asked him what was wrong and he said, ‘Thank you, Mom, for allowing me to do good things for people who are not as lucky as we are.' I never felt prouder of anything in my life.

"I want to teach my children how important it is to pass onto others what people have passed onto us," explains Aimee. "We've been so lucky to have been shown such love and compassion through Fragile Beginnings, that [volunteering at Family Table] is our way of being able to give back.

"We live in Lynn and the boys go to school in Marblehead. There's a lot of privilege in our area and I think it's very important for my children to know that that's not everybody's life. Taking just three hours out of your month to deliver food to people who can't afford it isn't that much. We can always find that time.

"I hope people have the opportunity to learn about these programs," adds Aimee, "because you don't necessarily think you would need them but you never know what situation life is going to throw at you and just knowing that you have that support system available to you is invaluable. It's something I'll never forget."