It’s Christmas night. My oldest two girls are asleep in their beds, and I have just finished cleaning up from another Christmas Day. However, our Christmas looked a lot different this year.

It looked like a small room with a tiny tree sitting on the coffee table instead of our seven-foot-tall white fir next to our fireplace at home. It looked like a PB&J picnic on tables near the hospital parking garage instead of the homemade Christmas brunch with cinnamon rolls, eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy at my mom’s house. It looked like a NICU room sitting around a preemie baby girl’s incubator instead of sitting around a table full of extended family.

This Christmas looked very simple, yet complex, all in one. And we wouldn’t change a thing.

Getting the Calls

We got the call a week before Thanksgiving that a prospective birth mother had chosen our family to love and care for her sweet baby girl, who was due to arrive in February. This baby would be born a thousand miles away from our home, so we began planning for when we would travel to meet our newest daughter.

A week later, on Thanksgiving morning, as my stovetop simmered with dishes for the day, I got another call. This time, we couldn’t fall back on our well-thought-out plans — because baby girl had been born 12 weeks early.

This news both excited and scared us. It both rocked our world and blessed it. How would we get down there fast enough? Would this baby girl be okay being born at 28 weeks? What would we do with our older girls while we were gone? Where would we stay? How would we be able to afford a couple months or more away from home? Our minds were racing with these questions and so many more.

Our third baby girl was born on Thanksgiving Day, and now, it’s Christmas Day. What a wild and crazy few weeks it has been, but this holiday season will be one we will never forget.

As we prepared to travel to our new baby girl, we got everything settled for our older girls before rushing to the airport. We made plans for a couple weeks for them, wrote out schedules, packed lots of bags for everyone and booked two plane tickets for my husband and me to make our way to meet our tiny baby girl.

Heading Into the Unknown

We would be travelling to a city where we had never been and didn’t know anyone. I immediately began looking at prices for hotels and Airbnbs. Not knowing the layout of the city or what parts of town to avoid, we were overwhelmed at the options and prices of where we could potentially stay for quite some time.

We eventually booked one night at the closest hotel to the hospital. We called and got the “hospital rate” for the hotel room, which still wasn’t cheap, but was an improvement from their normal rate. Then, I used the power of social media to boost some publicity.

I had already announced that our baby girl was born. So, now that everyone knew what we would be doing, I asked if any of my friends had connections with people in that city. The comments flooded our request, and we were connected with several people who offered us different options for lodging while being near the NICU.

Some people who we had never met before but knew of our situation from mutual friends offered us a room in their homes. Another woman offered to book us a room at her rate because she was a travel agent.

Once we arrived at the hospital, we discovered that a series of rooms were available to families whose children would have extended stays. They were all booked when we arrived. So, we found the director and had our names put on their waiting list.

Managing New and Unexpected Costs

Another worry: the expenses of an extended stay a thousand miles from home. We would be buying food, preemie clothes, and plane tickets; renting a car; spending time away from work; and so much more that we didn’t expect.

Our original plan included a two-week ICPC stay. Our friends had a house a couple of hours away, and we had arranged to stay with them until the courts said we could leave the state. With that plan flipped upside down, we were staring at many unknowns.

We also had planned on completing our adoption fundraising in the few months we had to prepare for baby girl’s due date. How would we finish fundraising for adoption expenses and pay for everything else?

Our final fundraisers included a specially designed t-shirt, a raffle and a night at one of our hometown’s local restaurants, where they would donate a percentage of their profits to our adoption. We decided to continue these fundraisers even from a thousand miles away. Friends and family pitched in to complete any loose ends back at home, and we could promote and advertise for these fundraisers online. Our friends were also so generous with donations of money and gift cards to offset our costs while we stayed in a strange place for so long.

Family Matters

The big girls stayed home as my husband and I made our way to the hospital to meet their baby sister. My heart was torn, not knowing how long it would be before I would get to hold them again. Parents, siblings and friends offered to care for and spoil them while we were away.

After being here for a couple days, the doctors and nurses encouraged us to go home and see the girls for a few days to balance everyone’s needs. So, my husband went home after a few days at the hospital. He coordinated with our family and friends to help with the girls while he was there and able to go to work.

I stayed with our baby girl in the NICU for another 10 days before booking a flight back home for three nights to share the love.

At this point, school was ending for Christmas break, and we would be able to stay in the hospital suites. We packed up our big girls, and we all traveled to spend Christmas away from home — but for the first time together as a family of five.

So far, we have been here as a family for a week. My mom and dad came and stayed for a few nights and then went back home. We have Facetimed family and friends to share our experiences. We brought the girls’ Christmas stockings and Christmas presents to be opened today. The hospital gifted us a tiny tree for our room to feel more festive. We researched restaurants that would be open on Christmas Day, so we wouldn’t go hungry!

It was unconventional, but our family of five spent Christmas together in a NICU room at the hospital.

The details we so frantically worried over just a few weeks ago seemed so insignificant when our hearts were full of love and joy and family. Even though we weren’t able to have a Christmas that was familiar to us all, this Christmas will shape our hearts for every future Christmas.

Would I recommend a NICU hospital adoption during the holiday season? A few weeks ago, I would have emphatically said, “No!” However, after seeing the generosity of people near and far, stranger and friend; experiencing the grace and provision of a faithful God; and understanding the joy of being together on Christmas, no matter where that is, I can say that I’ll take our tiny Christmas tree in 2019 because it gave me a new perspective — and a new member of the family.

Jill is a 34-year-old wife and mom. She has been married to her husband, Brannon, for 10 years and has three daughters; her newest addition was added to her family through adoption. Jill and her husband were in the adoption process for over 900 days before being matched with a birth mother. When they received the call that their baby girl was born, she was 1,000 miles away and three months early. Now she is thriving and home with her Mom, Dad, and two very excited and loving big sisters. Jill lives in a small community in Kentucky. She has her bachelor’s degree in psychology and Spanish and obtained her master’s degree in Christian Ministries. Jill’s passions are her faith, her family, writing, playing sports and eating good food.