September 4, 2023

Nurturing Resilience: The FLRRiSH Journey – Empowering Preemie Parents for Personal Growth and Transformation with Jodi Klaristenfeld

Life’s most profound journeys are often born from unexpected beginnings. They are a fusion of challenges, inspiration, and unwavering determination that carve paths toward growth and transformation. The story of is a testament to this truth—a narrative woven from the threads of a mother’s love, a professional athlete’s tenacity, and a deep-seated passion to empower parents facing the tumultuous journey of raising premature babies. Keep reading to learn how Jodi Klaristenfeld took her personal story and created a movement. 

Jodi Klaristenfeld

Can you share your journey of starting and what inspired you to create a platform for personal growth and transformation?

I knew pretty early on after Jenna came home from the NICU that I wanted to do something in the preemie baby and family space–I just wasn’t sure what yet. I’ve also learned that big life decisions shouldn’t be made so soon after a major event (such as marriage or having a baby) so I sat with the idea and let it marinate.

It wasn’t until I watched Jenna on a daily basis and how she flourished with the help of her therapists that I realized how fortunate I was to be able  to curate her team, and that I wanted to somehow  transfer this same feeling of gratitude and empowerment to other preemie parents. I wanted them to feel supported and educated so they could put their children in the best possible situation for success. 

I also knew that there were a lot of parents like my husband and me. By and large, preemie parents are thrown into the thick of an incredibly stressful and overwhelming situation without anywhere or anyone to turn to for advice, assistance and support.

After discovering what I wanted FLRRiSH to be, I brainstormed many iterations of my desires with a mentor and business coach who helped me synthesize those thoughts and ideas into FLRRiSH.  The way I see it, FLRRiSH is a platform that can grow and expand (flourish) as my daughter continues to flourish and as I begin to reach more and more people throughout the country and world.

What are some of the key challenges people often face when their child is in the NICU?

There are plenty of challenges parents face when their child is whisked away to the NICU moments after birth fighting for their life. One of the first things I remember thinking  was, what did I do or not do to cause this? Similar to most parents in this situation, my head was filled with “noises”, both real and emotional.  The sounds of machines, the hustle and bustle of doctors, nurses and other specialists tending to your child can’t help but leave parents feeling overwhelmed, anxious, confused, and downright scared. I felt like I was dropped into the world of being a medical parent without having gone to medical school but on a much steeper learning curve. While processing this new influx of information and acronyms most have never heard before, I never felt so alone and emotionally drained. Other challenges include (1) bonding difficulties and feelings of disconnection to their child given the NICU environment, physical separation as parents are forced to leave their child in the hospital while they go home to an empty house: (2) lack of social support and isolation as it is difficult to find a “tribe” of parents who have traveled a similar road; (3) uncertainty as it relates to when their child might come home and what possible medical complications they might encounter while in the NICU and/or the years beyond; and (5) financial strain of having to take more time off from work or having to choose when to take time off from work (either when baby is in the NICU or when baby comes home) and mounting medical bills that are potentially to come due to the number of specialists their child might need to see post NICU.  There are many, many more, but I think these are the ones that are most common.

Growing up you played professional tennis, how did playing tennis prepare  you to be a NICU mom?

Being a professional athlete of any kind requires many hours of practice, speed, agility, physical fitness, handy footwork, mental toughness, and endurance.  What many people don’t realize is that many of these same physical and mental skills translate off the court and ballfield into other aspects of life just as well. Tennis taught me to rely upon perseverance and determination when handling setbacks and challenges on the court. It also taught me about endurance and resilience. Tennis, like being a preemie parent, necessitates strength, resolve, stamina, physical and mental fitness over long periods of time. Additionally, being a NICU parent requires tenacity and self-reliance and willingness to overcome each and every 120 MPH serve that comes your way. I also learned how to be mentally tough in the face of high pressure situations.  While in tennis I had to overcome hecklers in the crowd or other unfavorable conditions, in the NICU I similarly needed to stay optimistic, positive and hopeful even when the progress seemed really slow and/or uncertain. Children feed off that energy and your positive emotions help them grow and thrive. Lastly, tennis equipped me with the tools to practice mindfulness and enabled me to learn how to be present in the moment. Being able to concentrate and channel energy into the present allows professional athletes to perform at their best on the court. When children are born, we are told to focus on milestones, and that somehow these benchmarks are a measure of a child’s success in relation to other children the same age. It is easy to get caught up in looking toward the future and wondering when your child is going to conquer these tasks. For NICU parents, focusing on the present and small incremental goals helps parents feel less overwhelmed and more grounded in their journey. Being completely present with my daughter and making the journey about her not only helped manage my stress and anxiety, but it also gave me a greater sense of clarity and calmness.

Hindsight is 20-20, when looking back on your experience in the NICU and your first few days of motherhood what advice would you offer? 

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. ·   It is hard to feel helpless and to surrender all control to the doctors and nurses. Try focusing on the warm and nurturing care your child is receiving on a 24/7 basis.  The doctors and nurses all want for you exactly what you want, to have your baby go home being strong, healthy and happy. It might take a little longer than the average bear, but trust the techniques the hospital has in place. I would love to tell  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.

How does support individuals in building resilience and coping with life’s challenges? Are there specific resources or programs available to help individuals navigate difficult times?

Every parent has a vision of how their birth story will be. Every version has a happy ending where you take your baby home from the hospital right away. But when your baby is born early, your mind is racing. Your little one is whisked to the NICU, and you’re left wondering what’s next. Where do you go? What do you do? Let’s not forget as a mom, you are healing from childbirth too.

Since every child is unique and every journey is different, the support I provide is individualized and custom curated for every family.

One-on-one coaching sessions focus on identifying immediate needs. We talk about how to get help for your child *and* for you – finding the right specialists for therapies or parental support – right in your own community. I teach parents how to develop a resilient mindset to help prepare them for challenges ahead.

I create a personalized list of the practitioners parents may need, like physical or occupational therapists, sensory therapists, mental health and wellness guides. I’ll point you to caregivers who are close to your home. And most importantly, they’re actually taking clients and have availability to see you.

Sometimes your greatest resource is just talking to people who understand what you’re facing. Preemie and NICU parents are on a shared road and it can be hard to “find your tribe.” That’s why I facilitate group coaching and community building sessions. We share our experiences, celebrate wins, work through challenges – and offer a listening ear when things are hard.

For those in the thick of their journey, I  created the Preemie Parent Journey Library filled with stories of positivity to listen to during or after the NICU.

All told, the goal of FLRRiSH is to reach every family navigating their own path to bring their little ones home and help them thrive. I partner with hospitals and insurance companies to educate and support parents from the moment they learn their baby will arrive early. I want every mom and dad to have the tools and support I wish I had when my daughter was born.

Wherever you are on this parenting path, I’ve been there too.  Book a consultation and we can support each other.

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