- Associated Press - Sunday, April 6, 2014

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - Amy Nyberg remembers how long she had to wait to hold her babies: 52 days.

For nearly two months, she felt like a bystander, watching nurses care for Lucas and Jacob, who were born several months early.

“That was heartbreaking for me,” she told The Grand Rapids Press ( http://bit.ly/1i034Dh ). When she finally got to hold her sons, “that was the first day I felt like a mother.”

Memories of that experience drive Nyberg as she helps other parents as the March of Dimes family support specialist in Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. The program received the March of Dimes’ 2014 NICU Family Support Project of the Year Award.

The job represents a big career change from Nyberg’s life pre-baby, in which she worked in sales for an outboard marine company.

In 1999, she and her husband, Ralph, who live in Ada, were expecting triplets. Their first baby, Adam, was born at just 19 weeks, too early to survive.

“I was able to hold off delivering the other two for five more weeks,” she said.

On Aug. 24, 1999, she gave birth to Lucas and Jacob, weighing 1 pound, 5 ounces, and 1 pound, 7 ounces, respectively. They stayed in the NICU at Spectrum Health’s Helen DeVos children’s hospital for 120 days.

As the boys grew stronger and healthier, Nyberg began volunteering at the NICU and serving on the family advisory council. In the meantime, she gave birth to Liam, who was born two and a half years after his brothers, weighing 7 pounds, 14 ounces.

When she learned funding was available through March of Dimes for a family support specialist in 2006, she was eager to take the job.

“I just wanted to help other families,” she said. “I thought it would be nice to be able to bring my experiences to the table and tell other parents, even though their situation is different, I’ve been through the NICU journey.”

Joan Rikli, director of neonatal intensive care services at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, embraced that approach. Although she was advised to hire a nurse or social worker, she believed strongly that a former NICU parent should lead the program.

“What a parent can bring to it is that personal experience and knowing the emotional highs and lows that go along with having a child in the NICU,” she said.

While Nyberg’s focus is largely on supporting the families, she also provides valuable insights to staff, Rikli said.

Nyberg led an initiative to reduce the wait endured by parents after their newborn baby is whisked off to the NICU for care. She brought in parents to share their experiences with the staff.

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