RVA Parents of Preemies (RVAPOP) is a Richmond-based group that provides community, advice, support, and friendship to the parents and family members of infants born prematurely.
RVAPOPs mission is to lessen the isolation of the NICU experience by uniting new preemie parents with experienced NICU families for local support as well as providing a safe space to celebrate successes and share concerns.
The RVA Parents of Preemies support group meets every fourth Wednesday of the month at 6:30pm. Franklin Goose-Carytown, 3401 West Cary Street, Richmond, VA 23221.
The Birth Story of RVAPOP:
When Leslie Forrest went into premature labor at 31 weeks gestation, she spent ten days in the antepartum unit while doctors prepared her daughter, Lucia, for an early arrival and also tried their best to keep her inside for as long as possible. During the quiet lulls not spent with her husband—who was also sharing time at home with their other three children 11, 5, and 2—Leslie worried, cried, and tried to find information or support online. She had so many questions and wondered what it would be like to give birth to a preterm baby, and what Lucia would look like when she was born. She knew that the Neonatal Intensive Care team would care for her daughter at birth and she wondered what to expect.
Leslie scoured the internet but eventually turned to Facebook and a local mothering group in hopes of finding someone to talk to. She posted a thread to share that she would be giving birth to a premature baby soon and asking for advice, but no one responded. Leslie was left feeling even more alone and scared.
The next day someone replied that they knew of a woman who had recently given birth at 32 weeks, and she offered to connect the two moms. “It was a relief to express worry to someone who truly understood. While friends and family were well meaning, they couldn’t empathize the way that another preemie mama could,” says Leslie. “Marissa really understood what I was going through. While everyone around me was saying ‘Oh the baby is going to be fine, everything is going to be OK,’ Marissa was able to be there for me and say, ‘This is NOT OK, and I’ve been through this. This is really hard.’”
As it turned out, Marissa had given birth at Henrico Doctor’s Hospital too, and so she was able to offer specific encouragement and reassurance. “She shared what I could expect from our NICU stay and even told me who her favorite nurses were.” When Leslie’s fears about giving birth surfaced, “Marissa’s listening ear and friendship were a godsend.”
Leslie and Marissa quickly realized how important and helpful this kind of one-on-one support could be for both new and experienced mamas of preemies. “It’s healing to be able to give back to another family if you’ve been there before and know the struggles of the NICU,” says Marissa.
The need for emotional support doesn’t often end after discharge from the NICU. For many families, leaving the NICU is only the beginning of their journey as babies born prematurely are at higher risk for a host of health challenges and special needs as they grow and develop throughout their first year and beyond.
Newly postpartum and home with her new daughter after a 30 day NICU stay, Leslie discussed with Marissa Richmond’s need for a community group to serve mother’s and families of babies born prematurely.
They organized a monthly meet-up for themselves and a few other NICU moms who they had recently met, Luci and Kasey, also founding board members. When the Christmas Season came they put together gift bags for mothers who were caring for their babies in the NICU over the Holiday. “We knew they would appreciate a little pick-me up,” says Leslie, “Something to say, ‘Hey, we know you’re in there, and we’re thinking of you.’”
They also started a Facebook group for local moms to connect, ask questions, and celebrate the big and little milestones. “Having a place to post questions as we navigate the medical challenges that our babies face, or just to encourage each other in the small victories, it’s been invaluable to bridging that gap of feeling isolated,” says Leslie. “We finally have community!”
With a lending library of books available as a community resource and a March for Babies Team that has already raised over $1,000 for the cause, these mamas are filling a previously unmet need in the mothering community and championing the cause of prematurity.