Greenley Family

Greenley family

2023 March of Dimes "Greenley Family Story"

“With all my time in the military, nothing could’ve prepared me for my time with Lois in the NICU.”

Emma Lee and Michael Greenley had been wanting another baby for eight years, but nothing—not Emma Lee’s four military deployments or already having a child with lifelong disabilities—could have gotten them ready them for what came next.

“Everything in the pregnancy was perfect until we got to that 23-week mark,” Emma Lee says. “I went to the doctor and they said that my cervix was open, and I needed to go to the hospital immediately.” Her doctors ordered an amniocentesis to determine if there were any signs of infection, which came back positive for a bacterium. “They were worried about my health and the baby’s health,” she adds. “They were worried about me going septic, having both of us lost.”

Emma Lee was unable to get a cervical cerclage (a treatment that involves temporarily sewing the cervix closed with stitches), and “was just taking it literally hour by hour and trying to stay pregnant as long as possible.” She thought that worst case scenario, she’d be in the hospital for four and a half months until the due date. But instead, she went into labor.

She was put under general anesthesia and when she woke up, there Lois was. “She was see-through—you could see through her skin,” Emma Lee says. “Her eyes were still fused shut. It was horrible. You can't even say it's nice. It was horrible. She was very tiny.” One pound, 7.8 ounces to be exact. She couldn’t be held by her parents until three weeks later.

“I feel like I missed out on the entire pregnancy—and it was really scary because I didn’t know if she was going to live,” Emma Lee says.

After Lois was born, she received surfactant therapy, a lung treatment to help preterm babies with breathing which was developed in 1990 from research funded by March of Dimes. “They also did this thing called the bundle,” Emma Lee says. “With really preterm babies, they'll put them in a bundle and not touch them for 72 hours, and it helps reduce the risk of brain bleeds. And it worked because she didn't have one. So I'm very thankful for that.”

Already having a child with lifelong disabilities, Emma Lee and Michael were prepared for the worst. After a complication-free pregnancy, their first son, Patrick, had a perinatal stroke and has cerebral palsy as a result. “He has a brace for walking and a lot of secondary conditions like ADHD and ODD, which is oppositional defiance disorder,” Emma Lee says. Patrick has been in physical therapy and occupational therapy since he was 18 months old.

“That was really hard, and connecting that to my daughter, the possibility of brain damage and stroke were very real to me because it had already happened to me when I didn't even expect it,” Emma Lee adds.

But Lois kept getting stronger, and throughout her five months in the NICU, March of Dimes NICU Family Support® was there for her and her family. “They always would drop stuff off at my room to help me,” Emma Lee says. “For example, since I chose to pump, they gave me a cooler bag to transport my milk back and forth in. They gave me gift cards for food when I was stranded there at the hospital.”

Emma Lee and Michael visited her every day in the NICU—an hour drive each way. Sometimes Emma Lee would go twice a day because she was pumping and wanted to make sure Lois had enough breast milk. Their other two kids, Patrick and Gus, weren't allowed in the hospital due to COVID-19.

When Lois was finally able to go home—without oxygen or a feeding tube—Emma Lee was scared and excited: “I didn't want her to fight all this time and then have me mess it up.” Today Lois is two and a half years old, and as far as her parents know, she has no lifelong complications. “She’s thriving, and I attribute a lot of that success to March of Dimes,” Emma Lee says. “She's my only girl, she's my last child. I love her so much. I want to give her everything, everything I possibly can.”

Each year in the U.S., 1 in 10 babies is born preterm, and many end up in the NICU—an outcome that no parent can prepare for. More research is needed to determine the causes and preventions of preterm birth… “And I know that's exactly what you guys do and that's why I've been a benefactor of March of Dimes,” Emma Lee adds. “I definitely want to help any way I can.”