Sarah Steinhardt vividly remembers the anxiety she experienced in 2015 following the birth of her first child. “I was two weeks postpartum and I went out to get diapers at the local Duane Reade. It was snowing. I was in pain, upset, and started crying in the store.”
At that moment, she says something just clicked. “I thought, if I have all the resources and support I could ever wish for, how are millions of women doing this who have no stable income, no stable housing, no familial support?”
In between feedings and naps, she had been reading about the Finnish Baby Boxes that every person receives when they give birth in Finland. Standing in that Duane Reade diaper aisle, she realized there was no reason why this resource could not be available to every single person giving birth in the United States.
Jumping Into Reporter Mode
During her journalism career, she worked at NBC News, ABC News and CNN before she transitioned into public affairs. She quickly put her skills to work and dove into research around this topic. What she learned made her even more motivated to bring her nonprofit idea to life.
“Studies have shown that even brief periods of poverty – in which a child’s basic needs are not met – can have lifelong negative consequences in nearly all facets of life. And pregnant women are covered for all care related to the pregnancy, delivery and any complications that may occur during pregnancy for up to 60 days postpartum. But for Medicaid to provide coverage for diapers, they must first be considered medically necessary.”
Finding a Co-Founder
The further along she got, the more Steinhardt realized she wanted a business partner. Her friend of 20 years, Juliet Fuisz, an Editorial Producer with PBS NewsHour who also worked at CNN, was Steinhardt’s first choice for a co-founder because of her news chops and passion for storytelling.
“My dad passed away the week I was supposed to return from maternity leave, so it was just a time when I needed to focus on family for so many different reasons,” Fuisz recalls. “Sarah had just had her second baby and we were texting constantly about the joys, but also the challenges of having a baby. When she told me her idea about Welcome Baby USA it was just the perfect moment to jump into this together,” she says.
How Welcome Baby USA Works
Welcome Baby USA doesn’t give packages directly to individuals. “We partner with hospitals and community health organizations who are treating low-income populations and the social workers either at hospitals or at the community health organizations, or community programs make the decisions about who to give the packages to,” Fuisz says. The packages come with enough supplies to last through the first four weeks of a baby’s life. “To date, Welcome Baby has delivered 5,000 packages to families. That’s over one million diapers.”
While they’re making a difference on a daily basis, they’re motivated to grow quickly. “There are no state or federal programs in the U.S. that provide subsidies for diapers, bottles, wipes, clothing, or the other items included in a Welcome Baby box,” Steinhardt says. “We pay $160 for the items in our packages. We source everything at the lowest possible cost and buy in bulk. A low-income family buying these exact same products at a local pharmacy would be paying upwards of $400 for the same thing,” Fuisz added.
While their goal is to give a Welcome Baby box to every person who gives birth in the U.S., they’re also on a mission to partner with more corporations in the hopes that more brands will donate their extra inventory, whether that be clothing, diapers, baby wash, or wipes.
As they continue to grow, they say they’re grateful for every penny they receive and love seeing people get involved. “We do packing events with companies and send all of the supplies. We’ve also done this with groups of friends where a group of people will get together and say, okay, we’re going to underwrite the cost of X number of boxes,” Steinhardt says. “We send out the boxes, stickers, and note cards that you write a special note on, and everyone can pack up the boxes together, and then identify a local organization that means something to your group, or we can help you find a local organization.”
Down in Tennessee, Nikki Burdine makes a living telling people’s stories as a news anchor on Good Morning Nashville, but the news anchor says the most important story she says she’ll ever tell is her daughter’s.
“Andi was born at 28 weeks and she weighed one pound four ounces. She was a micro-preemie. And we really don’t know why she came so early. We knew that she was very small at about 20 weeks, so they told us to pray to get to 28 weeks because that’s when a baby’s lungs are developed.”
Burdine and her husband, Justin, prayed every day heading into every weekly ultrasound hoping for good news. During one visit, the doctor said she needed to go to the hospital to be monitored and instructed her to go home and pack for a month. “We’re not going to take her until at least 30 weeks,” he told us.
“We went to Chick-fil-A, then home to pack a bag. I thought I’m going to get two weeks off to lay in a hospital bed and be waited on. Maybe this won’t be so bad.”
No Time To Think
About 45 minutes after they hooked up Burdine to several machines, everyone on the floor came rushing in. “They said, she’s in distress. We have to take her. And I said, what do you mean you have to take her? She’s not ready. She’s too small. And everyone said if they did not take her out at the moment, she wouldn’t make it.” Before she could process what was happening, Burdine was rushed off to an emergency C-section and Andi was born.
Before they could meet their daughter, doctors kept telling them that Andi was okay, but she was alarmingly small. Burdine had to wait four hours to see her daughter. It would be another thirteen days before she could hold her for the first time.
“We didn’t have the moment where the doctor laid her on my chest or where Justin got to hold her and pose for a picture. There was no waiting room packed full of people with flowers and balloons. Andi was sent directly to the NICU and put in a plastic box, hooked up to a breathing machine and tubes,” Burdine shared in her blog about Andi’s birth story.
Their small, but mighty daughter, spent 71 days in the NICU. Nikki worked her morning shift and went back to the hospital every day.
“She had a couple of bacterial infections. One that she had for almost two weeks. The doctors told us at one point that she wasn’t going to make it and that we had to go to the chapel and pray. But she pulled through. And I think she was barely four pounds.”
Four years later, Andi is a happy, healthy, and thriving little girl who loves gymnastics.
“She’s amazing now. We just had her four-year old checkup. She is still very small at 26 pounds, but she’s great developmentally and doing everything she should be.”
With NICU Awareness Month coming up in September, and Prematurity Awareness Month in November, Burdine says she’s happy these topics are getting more attention. Personally speaking, she says sharing her story, using her TV news platform, and posting on social media, enables her to teach others about micro-preemies and continue helping other parents and caregivers.
“Andi’s story really helps a lot of other preemies, because I remember when I was in the NICU. You go to Google and it’s a scary place for micro-preemie moms. You see babies who are beautiful and perfect in God’s gift, but they come home with some very serious complications and some of them don’t make it. Those are all worst-case scenarios. I never saw anything where there was a good outcome like what I have.”