MAKING A DIFFERENCE
By Darlene Donloe
Jessica N. Wade had a good reason for launching Mighty Little Giants, a nonprofit that provides support, education and hope for mothers and fathers experiencing pre-term deliveries resulting in long-term stays in a hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NCIU). It is because she knows all too well what parents are going through. She, too, had a preterm birth, and the circumstances surrounding it upended her and her husband Marlon’s life.
Her first son, Marlon Jr., now 6, was born at 27 weeks and six days. Prior to his birth, Wade was on bed rest for 58 days and later stayed at the Ronald McDonald House located across from the hospital so she could be near her son who was undergoing treatment.
When her son was released from the hospital after a 143-day stay, Wade, 34, made a promise to God that she would do everything in her power to help families that experience similar situations.
“As soon as we made it through, even when I was on bed rest, I promised I would never forget and that I would do what I can to give families peace,” said Wade, a Sunday school teacher, who also has a 4-year-old son named Ka’ron. “The scripture Joshua 1-14:15 has been on my heart since that moment. Our mission is to bridge that gap. I believe I’m sent here to give parents peace and rest. I feel like helping them is a part of my healing.”
Wade, an enrollment and outreach specialist at Options for Youth Charter School, admits it takes time to fully heal. Her own pregnancy story includes being told she had “empty sacks,” undergoing an emergency dilation and curettage, being told there were two heartbeats, miscarrying one of the babies, going to urgent care seven times and receiving “no resources,” being told even though she was in enormous pain that she was OK and to “put your feet up, this is normal.”
“After my water broke, they said I have two options, I could stay there or go home and try again,” Wade said. “We decided as long as the remaining baby had a heartbeat, we were going for it.”
After she gave birth, things quickly went from bad to worse when her baby suffered a collapsed lung after Wade said, “The nurses overfed him. He was incubated and received more than 20 blood transfusions.”
During that same time, her husband lost his job, they lost their car, their house and had to move out of their home one week after the baby was born.
“It was a stressful time in our lives,” Wade said. “I went through postpartum depression. It was hard for people to see it because I smile all the time. We had moved to Palmdale, which wasn’t close to either of our families, so we didn’t have a lot of support around us.
“After that experience, I said I would help other couples so that they wouldn’t have to go without the resources they need to make it through hard times.”
Mighty Little Giants isn’t the first time Wade has reached out to help others. For the last 10 years, the community activist has worked tirelessly advocating for underserved women, children and families. But she wanted to do more.
The mission of Mighty Little Giants, which provides neonatal intensive care unit support services by request at Antelope Valley Hospital, Children’s Hospital, and local agencies, is to bridge the gap for families who have babies in the NICU by embracing its core values including integrity, compassion and encouragement.
“That means advocating and being heard and making sure that what is spoken is taken seriously,” said Wade, a certified lactation education specialist and registered doula, which is a woman, typically without formal obstetric training, who is employed to provide guidance and support to pregnant women during labor.
“Maybe the family doesn’t like a nurse,” Wade said. “Maybe they want to breastfeed and the nurse isn’t allowing them to do so. Maybe no one is paying attention to the father. Whatever a family needs to feel comfortable and confident about the process is why we are here.”
Mighty Little Giants offers several support programs, geared towards the importance of mental health, emergency financial support, art therapy and fellowship.
Pre-COVID-19, the art therapy classes were hosted in the hospital.
“Art as therapy for two hours gives you a moment of peace,” said Wade, who has a degree in early childhood administration. “There can be layers of hurt you need to work through. It gives you a break from your stress and possibly your hurt.”
Financial support is provided on a case-by-case basis.
“For instance,” Wade said. “A mom had a baby and they were homeless. We didn’t have the money up front, but we did a fundraiser and raised enough money for her to get a place.”
In addition to the NICU support services, Mighty Little Giants provides monthly peer-to-peer mentoring, and life after the NICU skills.
Wade said once parents bring their preemie baby home, it becomes “a process.”
“The home will never be the same,” she said. “The parents have to create a new normal for what it looks like for them. They have to know it’s OK to say ‘no’ to family who want to come over every day. It’s important to do some things that help them feel normal. Maybe implement date night, so they can remember what they had prior to the situation. They have to remember that the love is always strong.”
Wade said the Life after the NICU support program is “crucial.”
Topics of discussion include postpartum depression, anxiety, fear of socializing, protecting your peace, parenting skills, marriage and staying connected, the importance of taking a break, and creating your new normal.
Mighty Little Giants provides a list of support services to families and also offers craft and conversation sessions where families are encouraged to be themselves.
“During those sessions, we paint, we laugh, and they can vent,” Wade said. “Fellowship is really important. It’s a time to be free. During that time we support, educate, advocate, and, especially, eat.”
When it first launched in August 2019, Mighty Little Giants was focused just on the Antelope Valley. The need grew exponentially, forcing Wade to expand.
“It kind of expanded on its own,” she said. “That’s when I knew I was doing something right. Since last year we’ve helped 86 families. There was a real need out there.”
Wade said she uses grants to “provide almost anything a family needs.”
“We provide transportation, a TAP card, a Visa gift card, food, and even money. We want to do whatever we can do to ease their hurt and give them peace in the midst of their storm,” Wade said. “We understand that when a family takes a preemie home, they have to adjust to a new normal.”
There is also a division of Mighty Little Giants called Mighty Little Angels, created for the families of babies who don’t survive the NICU.
“We provide our families with support, advocacy as well as connecting them with any resources that can assist them during that difficult time,” Wade said.
Wade is currently working with Project Sweet Peas, to provide NICU survival kits for families that include warm socks, noise cancellation headphones, Chapstick, NICU journals, adult coloring books, hand sanitizer, masks and a case to hold a cell phone and I.D.
Project Sweet Peas is a nonprofit organization coordinated by volunteers, who provide support to families of premature or sick infants and to those who have been affected by pregnancy and infant loss.
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.