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A Found Family Christmas Vacation
Episode 7719th December 2023 • Family Twist • Corey and Kendall Stulce
00:00:00 00:33:06

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In this special episode, recorded in the bustling city of New York, I, Corey, am joined by a remarkable group of NICU nurses from Arkansas, including Stephanie, Kendall’s sister, and our guests Liz, BJ and Allison. This episode is not just a conversation; it's a journey into the lives of those who nurture life at its most vulnerable stage. If you're looking for inspiration, real-life heroism, and a touch of human kindness this episode is a must-listen.

A Found Family Christmas Vacation

Episode Highlights:

  1. The Intensity and Reward of NICU Nursing: Our guests share their experiences caring for premature babies as little as 12 ounces, discussing the challenges and triumphs of their profession.
  2. NICU Reunions: The concept of NICU reunions is explored, highlighting the joy of seeing former patients thriving.
  3. Personal Connections: The nurses discuss the deep, lifelong bonds they form with families, offering comfort and support beyond medical care.
  4. Overcoming Personal Challenges: Guests share their personal stories, including being NICU mothers themselves, adding a unique perspective to their roles as NICU nurses.
  5. The Importance of Chosen Family: The conversation delves into the concept of chosen family, emphasizing the strength and support found in non-blood relationships.
  6. Empowerment and Independence: The discussion touches on the empowerment gained through professional and personal challenges, especially in nursing.
  7. The Value of Experiencing New Cultures: The group reflects on the importance of stepping out of one’s comfort zone to experience new cultures and places.

As we close this episode, it's clear that the conversation was more than just about nursing. It was about life, resilience, and the power of human connection. Whether you're a nurse, a parent, or someone looking for a dose of inspiration, this episode of Family Twist is a reminder of the incredible strength and compassion inherent in all of us.

And if you enjoyed this episode, don't forget to rate, follow, and review Family Twist. Your support helps us bring more stories like this to you.

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I apologize that Kendall's not here, y'all, that it's just me. But I will let our other guests introduce themselves so you know whose voice is whose.

I'm Liz. I'm BJ. I'm Allison. Welcome ladies. So these four are nurses. From Arkansas. What kind of nurses? NICU nurses, which I can't even fathomthe kind of work that you do. It's difficult.

est babies. Delivered at the [:

It's very rewarding to see these babies and their families go through the whole NICU experience and these babies thrive. And a lot of times we're able to follow them, you know, through social media. Or a NICU reunion, and yeah, it's just a really rewarding job, and then you get to meet other great nurses and they become your second family.

Real quick, what are NICU reunions? So that's where our little NICU babies that are born, their families will bring them back after they're discharged and then come back. We have what's called a NICU reunion at the hospital. And it's usually yearly, we get to see them, and we have all kinds of activities for them, and visit with the family.

eks, so that means they went [:

So, you're talking 18 weeks early, almost halfway through the pregnancy. We are delivering babies at that gestation and trying to save them and help them to thrive. we Also take care of babies who are full term and are sick. We get big babies, we get little babies. And in my experience, the smallest baby I've ever taken care of is 12 ounces.

What about you, Liz? I would say I probably had one a little bit bigger than that. So, maybe 14. Not even a pound? Not even a pound. Oh my goodness. this is Allison. I think mine was about 12 ounces. Was the smallest I've ever taken care of. How do you even hold a 12 ounce baby? You don't hold them.

s. we keep the isolette real [:

To keep all the warmth and everything inside as much as we can. How does a baby that small get nutrition? through IVs. That makes sense. And then after a few days, we'll feed them tiny, I mean, tiny, not even a teaspoon, like maybe even a fifth of a teaspoon. So a teaspoon is five mils or five cc's.

And so we might even give them one meal every six hours just to start out. Yeah. And so the IV that we use is very interesting because we actually put it in their belly button, like we put where your belly button would go. So because those babies are so fragile, you can't just thread a IV catheter in.

What doctors are [:

Absolutely. Okay, that's fascinating. Wow. What drew you all to this type of nursing? I think it takes a special nurse to be an NICU nurse. we get such fulfillment out of what we do for these babies and for their families, because a lot of times, these moms, they've never experienced this, and so we are your comfort.

And you're not just taking care of the baby, you're taking care of the family. And it's extremely rewarding. You develop relationships with these people that a lot of times last a lifetime. Like, I was just in Idaho and precious, precious family. And made a connection with them. And, and I was only there for 22 weeks.


I can tell you from my personal experience, 25 years ago, I had twins that were 25 weeks. And I was just a kid, I was 19 years old, newly married. And we had these two, tiny, 1 pound, 13 ounce babies.

what I remember and what made me want to become a NICU nurse was that they treated me like I was a mom. They didn't treat me like I was a stupid kid that didn't know what I was doing. I wanted my kids. And even though we were young, we still wanted to be parents. the whole process I've been able to really connect with families in a way that not everybody gets to because I've had premature babies.

that. And so I feel like my [:

You know, it's, it's a long term situation. Sometimes a year. Sometimes, yeah, even a year or more. Trying to help those, those babies. So for me just being a mom, and I was an NICU mom way before I was a NICU nurse. And you were also born early too. I was also born early, yeah. You were preemie also, yeah.

a little triage room in the [:

And I came out. And I don't know how they saved me. I mean that was in the 70's. I don't know how they I don't know how I got nutrition. I don't know how I got any of the things that that we are able to provide for our babies now. But but yeah, so it's just been different circumstances, but I mean, I kind of owe it.

to the NICU nurses and doctors that took care of me. Well, I know that when Kendall and I found out what Stephanie did for a living, we were just like, wow. it takes a special person to be able to do what y'all do. Much respect, much love. I know it can't be easy because You go through the joys, but you also go through the tragedies.

There are days that you're like, why am I doing this? It's tough. It's really tough. It's all about the babies.

doing labor and delivery, I [:

part of this podcast is Kendall's journey, and anyone who's been listening knows that, Kendall found Stephanie on his mom's side, and they're like two peas in a pod, but I'm just curious, so how y'all met Stephanie and what your first impressions were?

It's kind of crazy how I met Stephanie. She actually worked at a clinic that I took my twin girls to when they were babies. And then we started working together at the same hospital several years down the road later. And I mean, I just remembered Stephanie whenever she was our favorite nurse in the clinic when we would take our twins there.

worked at together, I was so [:

And especially when we went through covid like we were in that hospital together and I felt like no one knew what we were going through besides each other because When I walked outside of the hospital doors, it was a different world. When I was in the hospital, I was with my nurses and my medical family.

ugh. And as soon as you walk [:

She's had to hold me up, and I've had to hold her up. So, I honestly don't even know how we met. I just know that she's just always been my friend. Allison, can you top that? I would like to touch a little bit about what she said about covid and kind of our trauma bond that we have together after, crying and being so upset at home and about our circumstances and trying to make sure everybody had water between our group of friends and toilet paper and just, you know, kind of the most mundane things.

e support people not only to [:

And so we were the support people, trying to keep it together for ourselves and our friends. And for those moms. one mom that I can think of has been such a a friend because we had to be that for them. And we had to be that support to keep them sane and to celebrate all the moments that the dads weren't even able to be there.

Alright, Allison, chime on in.

Okay, I'm gonna just ask for forgiveness first, okay? Oh, no. That's all you gotta do. That's what I do. I don't remember. I have no idea. I've just known you've worked there for so long. Yeah, and I remember I mean you were always super sweet like But we never like we weren't like super we were just co workers.

as gonna name If Olivia came [:

Yeah, I've loved working with you and you were always so sweet and helpful and just didn't make you feel intimidated. No, not at all, all of you guys are such strong nurses and I think that's why I'm drawn to you because in our unit, our unit's huge and the strong nurses are the ones who really depend on those days that are bad days and you guys were great friends.

And I think a lot of that has to do with our work ethic and our love and our passion for these babies. And that's obvious that we love our babies and we love our families.

y got sick overnight and she [:

Yeah, I'm doing what I need to do and and I sent him home right the day I left. Oh, that's awesome. Yeah. Yeah. So it was fabulous. I love it. So I found out about less than two weeks ago that I was going to be on this trip I put it out on Facebook to some of my family and friends that are nurses and just I knew it was going to be great.

te and who, one of the first [:

And Sandy, and Dawn, and I'm sure I'm forgetting a couple people, but you're all wonderful. And, yeah, I knew this was gonna be a really, really fun trip. Especially, you know, if these are friends of Stephanie's, then I knew they were gonna be instantly friends of mine. But like, like we just Hit the ground running.

wonderful friends in the bay [:

We haven't made as many friends in New England I just feel like I got three new fantastic friends from Arkansas for life and like, and Kendall and I are big on chosen family and y'all are family. Y'all are family. I mean we, I'm not kidding everybody, we have bonded like hardcore in like less than 36 hours.

This has been like, I just don't even know what to say. You're so easy to are so easy going. You're so sweet and just easy going. And easy to talk to. Oh my gosh, you just talk to everyone. I love people. No, you talk to everyone. Excuse me. Allison's gotten two marriage proposals on this trip. I just got one.

w, people in New York aren't [:

And we have! We have met in the 9 11 memorial. Everywhere we've gone today, we've just like Struck up conversations with people. Locals. Locals. You make them talk. I love it. She pulls it out of them. I'm gonna make you talk. You're gonna talk to me. I love that she does this questionnaire. They're just trying to drive us home.

ber drivers night. Yes. They [:

I mean, you just have this light about you that is just infectious. And I think that's, and you make people comfortable. Oh my gosh. So comfortable. You're easy to talk to too. Absolutely. And you care. And your, your deme the way come across is very, like, you really, really care about people. And that really shows no matter where you go.

the fact that you're willing [:

I mean, like, I can't say enough about just like, I'm just so impressed by how open you all are and how giving you all are. I mean, this is just, it's, this has been a gift. This is a gift.

You're welcome.

BJ and I had an adventure today. Yes we did. I'm gonna have to see you a couple times a year. Absolutely. Everyone needs a BJ in their life. Oh my goodness. Not that kind. Both kinds. Both kinds. Not the first time I've heard that. That's hilarious. Oh my god. So I do feel a little bit bad for Kendall because he wasn't able to come on this trip.

er the last five, six years? [:

There was an immediate sense of easiness and comfort with him. And it just continued to grow. Like, we take vacations together and we talk frequently. And he's just incredibly easy to love. And he has, like, one of the biggest blessings in my life is, is knowing that he's my brother. You know we're just, we're just tight.

know, we moved from the Bay [:

Right? Yeah. So, you know, we, we, we struggle, especially this time of year when it's like the snow is about to start falling. But I remind Kendall often. I'm like, look, you hit the jackpot with Stephanie. You two, two seconds into a phone conversation. It's like you've known each other since you were babies.

We're tight. I mean, we're just, we're tight like that. Yes. And something that I, I know that I've always longed for, because I'm the oldest, is a big sister. And I've sought that out, like, like professionally, like I just tend to bond with somebody who's a few years older than me at whatever job I'm at. But.

rful to have you, Stephanie. [:

build like a commune in California with like a lot of little houses where everybody and then one big like gathering place where I'll get together on like Sundays and cook together. Oh my god. That is like, that is my dream. Like our family lunch today. Yes, yes, exactly. That's the way it should be. That's my dream.

k we try even harder to make [:

Yes. And so When you talk about chosen family, I mean, that just rings true with me so much because, you know, I had to, in my personal life, had to lie to Matt to walk away, and I have no regrets, but, you know, I don't ever want someone else to feel that way. Right. You know, we've, we've all been through things in our lives, and, I mean, personally, I mean, I dealt with not wanting to be alive at one point in my life, and, It, it, it affected me in such a way that I never want someone else to feel that way.

And so I've tried to be a support person for anyone who is different or sad or,

en family is not about like, [:

It's, I got you. And when you're not saying something, I know something's wrong. Right. Yeah. Cause we can have a great time. We laugh, we have a wonderful time, but I mean, we've, like I said, we've all been through things that have made us need to reach out to other people. Absolutely. What they say, blood is thicker than water, but we all have blood running through our veins and who we find his family is family, you know, and I don't think those just because you might be quote unquote blood related doesn't necessarily make those bonds any stronger than the people we find.

I'm thinking about you. And [:

How's it going out there? I'm here if you need me. My friends did that for me. Yeah. My husband did that for me. Right. And I needed that. You know, you're in a different state by yourself. You want to know that. People that you care about are caring about you and thinking about you and want to know that you're okay.

I think sometimes as adults people just think that we've got it all figured out and we're all okay, and we're all just okay. I don't know about y'all, but I still like us like I stopped growing at like 16, and I'm still a kid in my brain and We want that validation and that, that thing. To know that we matter.

that we are both teenagers. [:

Yeah, absolutely not. It's those that are dear to our hearts, that we are go to's. You know, our ride or dies. Yeah. And, oh, I mean, this is a true gift to see the four of you and your friendship. And then how quickly we bonded, like within a matter of minutes. Yeah. Well, I know for me, I'm not married. And so I'm the only one not married, although I have fun on the side, but I'm not married.

se when I started traveling, [:

It was very hard. I mean, no one prepares you for that. Like, it was so lonely. this is horrible. Like, I left my job of 23 years and did this? Like, oh my gosh, what am I thinking? I'm all the way away from my family. My kids and, but it was the best thing I could have ever done, but, you know, just having my friends be there and check on me and it's been, I've learned that my closest people in my life are not blood related.

Right. Yeah. And I've. And super, super brave of y'all for going out and traveling and, and going to the unknown and the adventures that you've had. It's amazing. And I just want to say, as a nurse It is amazing. Once you get out there and you do it, Mm hmm. You're empowered. Oh, God. You feel as if it is.

son tremendously. It's been [:

You are a great nurse, and that's what I learned. I'm like, I'm a damn good nurse, and I can work anywhere. I can do it, and I loved it. Like, it was, it's still lonely. I still get lonely at times, but I'll never regret it whatsoever. It has been the best seven, eight months of my life. And you get to see amazing places, and you get to meet.

people. Yes. Like I've made friends in Idaho. Absolutely. That will be my friend forever. And think about this for a second, y'all. You know, I'm from Missouri. Y'all are from Arkansas. So practically the same. Yeah. Yeah. Think about all the people that we know that never leave their backyard. I know. Yes. Yeah.

t's heartbreaking. Because I [:

Me neither. We're here in New York City. Well, Cory has. At Christmas time. Incredible. And tearing it up. Yes! Thriving in New York City. We're not, we're not flowers on the wall here. No. We're just. We're riding the subway. Oh my goodness. And, and meeting people on every subway ride. It's like, we're just, we're, yeah, we're owning the city.

nd get out there and see the [:

See the world. I think people just take it for granted sometimes that they're going to just always be around. And I know for me, I felt like if I don't do this now while I'm younger and well, will I be able to, will I be able to later? And I think part of that comes from losing my mom at an early age and you know, thinking about, I mean, if she could die at 42, I could die at 42.

Like nothing is, is guaranteed. So it was kind of always a push for me to. Take care of my family first. And I did. I raised my kids. My husband and I did. Man, this has been the biggest gift for us as a family. Even though my family is not with me all the time. But me, personally and professionally. Like you said, it's like you can take on the world.

work, but I came home every [:

Absolutely. And encourage them to like, boom, I want to, I want to see this. I mean, my youngest was with me for two whole months this summer. Oh, wow. She lived with me, and we did everything. Everything together. That's amazing. We had the best time. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, but I want to teach my girls that you can do anything.

You don't need to rely on anyone. You can do it yourself. And that was the one thing my mom always told me because she was miserable in her marriage and died unhappy. That's a whole other story, but you know, I swore that I was not going to be that way. I was not. And I'm sitting here with these ladies and I have one son who's incredible.

e doing that. Yes. This next [:

Hell yes! Woo! And we need it. Yes, we do. We need it. Yes, we do. Yeah. We need kindness. love and we need acceptance. Yes. And our country is lacking that. Yes. Respect, respect for differences. We're okay. I'm okay that you're different from me. I'm okay that you may worship, you know, who you worship and feel how you feel and love who you love.

That has nothing to do with me. My job is to respect you and to treat you like a human being. I don't have to agree necessarily with everything that everybody does, but That's what makes it so wonderful, is that we're all different, and we don't have to be one certain way. And I feel like our generation growing up, it was, for girls anyway, it was the prize was to marry a guy.

d become a mom. And I'm not, [:

Yesterday, I was so just excited to have these conversations and hear how enlightened and how open these women are. That just, it gave me actually hope. for the future. You know, Kendall and I are like, Oh, it's gonna happen next year. And this is this trip is giving me hope. It's been so exciting and to be raising your children that way.

It's given me hope. So thank you for that. And we've got three more days of adventures. So stay tuned. There's more to come.