The Butterfly Brigade – Supporting Moms on Hospital Bed Rest

Aren’t there times in your life that you’d love to have someone to lean on who truly “gets” what you’re going through? It may be a time of crisis like an acute medical situation. It may be an ongoing issue such as a child with special needs or challenges at school. Or it may be a life situation like being part of a blended family. I have found myself in all of these situations and am fortunate to have an exceptional support system. But even the strongest support network can’t always empathize.

They may be able to sympathize and provide you with tons of support and encouragement, but they haven’t walked in your shoes. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to connect with others in your same or similar situation?

I shared our family’s story of welcoming our son into the world at just 25 weeks and our subsequent NICU stay. The NICU journey is one of these situations that is difficult for people to truly understand unless they’ve experienced it themselves.

In our case, it was my health that brought us to the NICU with our 1 pound 5 ounce miracle boy. I had preeclampsia and HELLP Syndrome, both of which can have devastating consequences for a mother and her baby. There is a lot of emphasis placed on research for premature babies, thanks to the March of Dimes. But what about research into the health concerns of women that result in premature babies?

butterfly brigade moms hospital bedrest

May is National Preeclampsia Awareness Month.

The Preeclampsia Foundation is one organization devoted to maternal health. Another is right here in our own back yard, The Shelly Bridgewater Dreams Foundation (SBDF). The SBDF was formed by the Warner family from the Quad Cities, in partnership with the University of Iowa Foundation. The Warner’s daughter, Shelly Bridgewater, lost her life in 2005 to preeclampsia and HELLP Syndrome when she was just 25 years old.

The mission of the Shelly Bridgewater Dreams Foundation is to improve the health and safety of mothers and babies by promoting public awareness, educating medical professionals, funding research efforts, and supporting families affected by pregnancy-related disease.

butterfly brigade moms hospital bedrest

The Butterfly Brigade

Since our NICU stay, I have become passionate about supporting other NICU moms and families. In 2015, I had the opportunity to co-found a mom-to-mom outreach organization to expectant moms in the hospital. We are supported by the Shelly Bridgewater Dreams foundation and called The Butterfly Brigade. Each of our volunteers has experienced hospital bed rest, pregnancy complications, a NICU stay, or some combination of those things. We visit moms on the Mother-Baby Care Unit at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Typically we have a volunteer there once a week to talk with the moms on bed rest and reach out to them as that longed-for and much-needed “someone who gets it.” We visit with the moms, answer questions, provide them with online, hospital, and community resources, give them activities to pass the time, and connect them with a wider network of NICU parents. As an outreach arm of the SBDF, The Butterfly Brigade also gives each mom a cooler with a few things to help make their hospital stay a little more comfortable – lip gloss, fuzzy socks, a notepad and pen, crossword puzzles, snacks, etc.

butterfly brigade moms hospital bedrest

As a Butterfly Brigade volunteer, I feel fortunate to be that person who “gets it” for other moms. I am able to share our NICU story, but more than that, I can let these moms know that I understand. I understand their fear. I understand their confusion. I understand their anger. I understand their grieving. I understand their frustration. I understand their loneliness. I understand their anticipation. I understand that all of these feelings get mixed up and overwhelming.

I understand all of this because I’ve walked in their shoes.

Is there something in your life that was a difficult situation but has uniquely equipped you to have an understanding for others? I encourage you to think about ways you can reach out to others walking the path you’ve walked to show that you “get it.” If that experience was a pregnancy complication or NICU stay, consider coming to the SBDF 5K in July. You can support a great cause and learn more about the SBDF and the Butterfly Brigade!



Sara C
Sara is a NW Iowa native who moved across the state to become a Hawkeye! After her time at the U of I, she left for optometry school and residency before coming home to Iowa to start her “adult” life in Coralville. She was in clinical practice for 5 years before trying her hand at the research side of eye care, working on clinical trials in the pharma/biotech industry. Sara is a wife, mom to a 5-year-old boy, and step-mom to four teenagers! Because her son was born at 25 weeks and had a lengthy NICU stay, Sara is passionate about all things related to prematurity, especially parent support in the NICU. She loves connecting with fellow NICU moms, both online and in person. Sara also enjoys spending time with friends and extended family, reading, scrapbooking, organizing, knitting, travel, keeping up with tech trends, finding new wines to enjoy, honing her photography skills, and serving on the Family Advisory Council for UI Children’s Hospital. She’s a consultant for Jamberry Nails, too, which lets her dabble in her creative side.


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