Janet Herzberg Callahan is a loved and respected name on the lips of many Pagan mothers and fathers in the community here in Michigan. And like many of those who are chosen by the Divine to do Their work, she is a modest and dedicated soul on a mission. And her mission is to help Pagan parents with children in NICU navigate through those times when they could use Faith and support most.
She was graceful enough to do an interview with your local examiner. Author, crusader, and Mother, she is a force to be admired. So pull up a glider and enjoy the love and light from this special lady's Path.
"So, tell us, how long have you been in the Pagan community?"
"I've been in the Pagan community probably 16 or 17 years now, and in the Detroit area for almost 14."
"Please tell us about this wonderful thing you do and who you do it for?"
"I set up a facebook group to support Pagan families with an infant in the NICU - which is usually, but not always, because of a premature birth. With the help of others (often families in that group), I send care packages to those families upon their request."
"What first brought your attention to this need?"
"I actually have two former preemies, which is what brought this idea to mind. My now 5 year old son was born 13 weeks early, weighing 1 lb 7 oz, and we spent 291 days in the NICU (9.5 months). My now 2 year old daughter was born 12 weeks early, weighing 1 lb 15 oz, and spent 164 days in the NICU (5.5 months), followed by 3 months in 3 different critical care units in 2 hospitals."
"How did you get started?"
"Well...mostly, I just started. I started a facebook page. I started posting info on various Pagan parenting groups, and some friends forwarded that on to others they knew. I wrote about spending holidays in the NICU (we've now spent basically every holiday - mainstream, secular, Christian, and Pagan in the hospital at least once). And I wrote about care packages we'd received and packages others around us received. Families chimed in with things that would have been useful to them.
We met a lot of people in similar circumstances - many of them had help from their churches to weather the stresses of a long hospital stay. And we met pretty much every chaplain on service at our "home" hospital - none of them are Pagan, and only once were we ever directly asked about our faith.
But it was also made abundantly clear that most of the staff caring for our children were, as you might suspect, Christian, and that left us feeling nervous about anything faith-wise that we might do. I ended up writing a short ebook about things parents can do to bring some comfort to their families in the process of setting up the support group."
"What is the name of the ebook, can you share the link?"
""Pagan Parenting in the NICU" - it's available on most ereader platforms/stores (Kindle, Nook, Sony, and several more, and from Smashwords.com in many different formats)"
"How often do you get a request?"
"In the last year I think we got 3 or 4 requests. Which, since we're mostly depending on word of mouth and search engines to find us, is probably not too bad. Longer term I'd like to improve on that, but keeping up with life at home right now is challenging enough that I don't have a lot of time to work on getting the word out."
"What is involved in getting the package to the parents?"
"Right now, I put together things that I keep on hand here, and others who are contributing either mail things to me, or directly to the family. Monetary donations I collect by paypal and then purchase whatever else we need. And then it all goes in a box in the mail."
"What are the responses?"
"Generally, families are pretty pleased at any sort of help - it's a crazy time for them, and having others to talk to who have been there, and a sign that someone else cares is helpful."
"What would you most like to see happen with this project in the future?"
"Long term, I'd like to see us grow, and be more well known. I think at some point we either need to find someone to take us under their wing to get non-profit status, or we need to do it ourselves, but the costs of that compared to what we spend on packages right now is ridiculous, so it can probably wait. I'd eventually like to have a stash of donated items on hand for a few care packages so that it's not such a scramble to put one together."
"What are your biggest challenges?"
"I think the biggest challenge right now is finding others motivated to help with getting the word out and drumming up donations."
"What was it like the first time you did this?"
"Honestly, the first time was exciting, and panic inducing. I was so excited that someone had found the page and asked for a package...and so panicked that I'd miss something important or not get any help at all in getting the package put together."
"How could someone help you if they wanted to get involved?"
"Our facebook is Pagan Parents of Preemies, twitter is @PaganPreemies, and email is PaganPreemies@gmail.com - I always post new requests to the facebook group, and there is a link there to sign up for email updates through our newsletter, and a link to the blog. When I post a request, people can either contact me with items they want to donate, or to discuss donating cash to pay for items in the package.
"What is your hope for the families who need this service?"
"My hope is always that they get their little ones home as soon as possible and that they know that there are others who've been through similar things. And we hope that the things we send them give a bit of a break.
For example, we have an open request right now, from a family who lives an hour and a half from the hospital where their baby is. Gas cards would be a huge help for them, because driving back and forth adds up quick (we only live 5 miles from the hospital we spend the most time at, and over a month, a daily trip there still adds up)."
"Do you ever get sponsors for such incidental expenses?"
"We haven't gotten sponsors yet - it's mostly been other families who have been there and done that. It's something I'd like to put more time into long term, or have a volunteer investigate."
"What else would you like us to know?"
"I think it's important to know that 1 in 8 children are born prematurely (before 37 weeks gestation), and while my experience is sort of at the extreme of the NICU experience, every family that spends time in a NICU, no matter how long or short their stay, finds it a stressful experience - it changes your whole outlook. Many children do fine in the long run, but even after they go home it can be stressful."
"Are there any clergy who do home visitation for the families after they are discharged?"
"No, but that might be a nice idea - either at home, or before. Honestly...I'm not sure how we'd even approach that in the big picture sense, because we do care packages anywhere in the US.
In addition to all these services, the group even offers Healing & Energy Requests for the children and families. Full Moon requests can be submitted on the Facebook page.
Right now, the need has never been more dire for assistance for our children. Every moment, there is a family somewhere facing their own challenges of sitting a healing vigil with their child. Janet cannot do it all alone. We are all a community, and have to carry this bowl of water equally on all sides so that it becomes a healing well.
For those Pagan Parents who have additional needs for children with Special Needs, or who are Differently Abled, you may wish to visit PPSN ~ Pagans Parenting Special Needs on Facebook. The group serves as a
"place for Pagan moms/dads, grandparents, guardians, teachers and/or aides to come together and share the day to day of parenting children with special needs."
Please share these resources within your communities and beyond. Let the healing arms of our communities carry these families as we hold them in our hearts. If you can help, do. If you cannot, please share the opportunity. Every little bit for the little ones helps.