With Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week coming up (May 1-7), we thought it would be helpful to connect with a mom whose mission is to support new moms during some very trying times. Jodi Klaristenfeld from FLRRISH is a preemie mom who understands what it means to be a NICU parent and has created an invaluable resource for parents dealing with the ins and outs of a NICU experience.
Here’s our interview with her!
1. What is your background, and how have you parlayed your professional experience into becoming an expert speaker, coach and guide for NICU parents?
I am a non-practicing attorney who runs a family run wholesale medical product distribution business. In this capacity, I am constantly dealing with people from all over the country and with different backgrounds and different mannerisms. I have always been a people person and I believe it is my life’s work to continually work on myself. As such, I have found it natural to speak to other parents, just as I would vendors, when dealing with sensitive issues such as having a baby born and traumatically being sent to the NICU instead of being put into a parent's arms. I also feel that as a NICU mom, I bring a distinct point of view and an empathy as a parent who has been in the thick of it that others who have not been in a similar situation cannot provide. It is one thing to sympathize, but it is quite different to empathize with other NICU parents.
2. How has your personal experience with the premature birth of your daughter changed your outlook on birth and planned activities around birth?
Nothing can prepare you for the moment your child is born, let alone when your child is born and whisked away so that you miss many of those “first” moments with your child. As for me, I am not sure prior to my daughter’s birth that I ever had a picture of what childbirth would exactly look like, but I do know that what happened never occurred to me at all. I feel awful, even years later, missing out on those moments (the crying tears of joy, the baby being placed on my chest, kissing my spouse, the pictures, footprints and handprints and all the other typical activities associated with childbirth), and in some way, it might always be a trigger for me. That is not to say I am not celebratory, grateful and thankful for all the miracles we have experienced as a result of my daughter’s birth. But rather it has enabled me to rethink, enjoy and appreciate all the little things along the way that I might not have paid much attention to otherwise.
3. What does a typical day look like for you?
Is there such a thing as a typical day for a toddler mom? LOL. Right now, aside from getting my daughter ready to go to school and organizing a household, I am simultaneously running my family business and launching FLRRiSH, my side hustle, a platform to educate, empower, support and help preemie and NICU parents, into the world. It is kind of like my second baby in a way. At this moment, Jenna’s schedule is pretty well set, but with ages and stages, I know change is coming. To help with that, I am trying to get ahead of the curve in preparing for the next step.
4. What are your top 5 favorite products or resources for NICU parents that make a difference?
Everyone has their own “favorites”, but I really like the following:
(1) for nursing or pumping moms, an industrial strength breast pump and nipple pads. In the hospital they provided the Medela industrial pump and when it came to pumping at home, I wanted something just as effective in getting out all the “liquid gold” that I could for her.
(2) a NICU journal. It was suggested to me, and I have now created one of my own called “NICU Notes”, that I journal while my daughter was in the NICU. Each day I wrote down her vital stats, all my feelings, questions and concerns (and my spouse’s feelings as well) to help me manage my emotions and not forget when I next saw a Dr or nurse, and all of her wins and celebrations as well as her challenges. One day, I plan on giving it to her so she can see how she progressed each of those 77 days.
(3) The Dairy Fairy Rose 2.0 Hands Free Nursing and Pumping Bra. It is super soft, made of non-irritating fabric, and very supportive while pumping, nursing or even multitasking. It is so cozy and comfy, that I chose to wear mine all day and sometimes during the night too! The clips are detachable and it is easy to use and the straps can convert to criss-cross if that is your preference. Lastly, it also washes really well.
(4) Dr. Brown’s Natural Flow, Preemie Flow Silicone Nipple with Vented Bottle. This is for both baby and mommy as it makes it easier on your child to take in feeds and it decreases the chances of gas, big burps and spit-ups. (5) NICU Milestone Cards/Stickers. The growth and development trajectory for preemie babies is totally different from full term babies. Reading and seeing milestones that your child may or may not reach only adds to the guilt you are already feeling. Celebrating these other smaller and incremental milestones allows parents to focus on the task at hand in more manageable ways.
5. There are a lot of expectations around pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. What advice would you give to any expecting mom?
I would tell any mom to cut themselves a little slack. Society tells us that the minute we give birth, the maternal bond and instinct is supposed to go on like a lite switch. However, that is not the case for over 20% of moms and dads. It takes time to bond with your baby and there is nothing wrong if you don't instantly feel connected to your child. It takes time. You just gave birth and your body just went through an intense experience. We all need to be a little kinder and gentler with ourselves and our expectations of parenthood. I would also like to share that each person’s experience is different. What works for your friend might not work for you, and that is ok. Trust yourself and your gut for knowing what is right for you.
6. I cannot imagine the joy of bringing Jenna home, after 77 days in the NICU. What was the highlight of that day?
It was the most amazing day, yet the most terrifying day at the same time. I actually didn’t believe that Jenna was coming home until we put her into the car seat. Walking out of the hospital with Jenna in hand was the best feeling ever!!! I must have cried a million tears. I was crying when the doctors and nurses came down to the pediatric floor to tell us Jenna’s plan for the day was to finally go home. We graduated from the NICU the night before and slept together as a family on the peds floor below. Once we got home it hit me that there were no more doctors, nurses and monitoring machines, and that we were the ones who were going to do it all. That thought scared me to no end. My husband assured me, just as I now assure other moms, that the hospital would not have let us come home had Jenna not been ready and had they not thought we could manage it all. I remember picking out her pajamas, giving her a bath and thinking all is right in the world. I was so and will be forever thankful and grateful for the team at our hospital and my OB for saving our lives.
7. The NICU journey sounds like a pretty lonely and solitary place. If you were to wave a magic wand, what do you wish every NICU parent received automatically?
Yes, being in the NICU can be terribly lonely and isolating. Even more so when none of your friends or family has been in a similar situation. On top of healing from childbirth, your mind is constantly racing in fight-or-flight mode about what happened, why it happened, how it happened, etc. I wish every NICU parent could receive a few things: (1) a stack of cards with positive affirmations from some famous people who have given birth to preemie babies. We tend to hold celebrities or famous people in high regard. Even if we don’t actually know that person first hand, reading and hearing they got through to the other side of the journey and had some positive advice would go a long way; and (2) the FLRRiSH Audio Course. These are little audio stories that are 3-5 minutes long that I envision people listening to while holding their child on their chest during skin-to-skin. Similar to that deck of cards, these stories provide hope, support, and positivity. Perhaps most importantly, these stories heard from a NICU mom serve to remind all NICU parents that they are not alone.
8. If you had magical powers (think fairy dust), what would your power be?
If I had magical powers, I would like to sit on the tired shoulders of each of these parents and whisper in their ear the following: they and their child are much stronger than they know. Despite their child getting a rough start, I truly believe that overcoming these challenges will only serve their child well later on in life when other challenges present themselves. They will be able to call upon their adversity during this particularly tough period to carry them through the rest of their lives.
In 2021, there were about 384,000 preterm births in the United States, roughly 10% of live births. Odds are that if you didn’t have a preemie, you know someone who has. We highly recommend FLRRiSH as a resource and happy to share that Jodi has offered a 10% discount on her services with code FLRRiSH10