Apparently Emma Grace Tucker wanted to write her own story, and that’s exactly what she’s done.

One day in April 2019, we received a call from our daughter Kristen and husband Adrian while on their vacation. We were shocked to hear that Emma Grace had decided to make her surprise entrance into the world.

They were 1,796 miles from home, and Emma was arriving 10 weeks early.

Emma was born weighing 3 pounds, 4 ounces, the size of a small cabbage. She was the tiniest human I had ever seen. She remained in the NICU at Banner Desert Medical Center until she was stable for a medical flight home.

Her lungs and heart needed strengthened, and while she had growing to do, she seemed to exceed expectations. Kristen was blessed to stay nearby in the Ronald McDonald House. At first Emma couldn’t tolerate being held much so Kristen stood beside her incubator and gently talked to her while Emma squeezed her finger through the incubator porthole.

Emma became tolerant of stimulation and the remaining days were spent cuddling her to promote bonding through skin-to-skin contact. Each day held new questions. What long-term effects will there be? Will it impact her physical health? Her mental and development abilities?

Emma’s wires and cords were constantly a tangled web, seeming to symbolize the web of worry that consumed these months. As the days went by, she met one milestone after another. Cords and tubes slowly disappeared.

Grace on Wings

After 32 days came news we had prayed to hear: Emma and Kristen would take a medical flight to Indiana where she would be admitted to a neonatal intensive-care facility in Indianapolis, St. Vincent Women’s.

Mommy was homesick and exhausted. You could hear the happiness and relief in her voice. The next day, Emma was packed into what appeared as a small space shuttle with ear muffs.

Grace on Wings was responsible for safely navigating the four-hour flight from Phoenix to Indianapolis International Airport to an awaiting ambulance.

At the NICU in Indianapolis, Emma’s biggest hurdle was learning to eat from a bottle while saving energy for consistent growth. Forty-seven days after her birth, she met the criteria for discharge to home.

Finally going home

Through many obstacles, she demonstrated what it means to be a fighter. It has been obvious that she possessed an inner strength that comes only from God Who has always watched over our Miracle.

We pray that as she continues to grow, the fire and strength in her soul and will continue to grow stronger.

Settling in at home was exhausting as it is for new parents, but they were finally together. Her feedings were every three hours, even through the night, to make sure she ate enough to not lose weight.

Most feedings were a struggle, often requiring multiple attempts. Slowly, Emma grew. Things seemed to move forward and lifestyle changes became the new normal. Visitor restrictions, gowns, hand washing and sanitizer didn’t stop at home.

Because she was born so early, Emma’s lungs were underdeveloped, placing her at a higher risk for severe respiratory infections. She was very small and her immune system was not fully developed, leaving her immunocompromised.

We did everything possible, especially over the winter, to be cautious and keep her healthy, even missing out on big, family holidays.

Eyes that radiate joy and hope

It has been beautiful to watch how Emma constantly changes. First came the smiles, then the coos. Each new motor skill felt like a blessing from God. He worked on His Masterpiece before our eyes. Soon, her personality started flourishing. Her big, blue eyes seemed to get brighter and bigger. Even as I look at her now, her eyes radiate joy and hope.

At three months old, Emma began seeing a physical and occupational therapist twice weekly to promote gross and fine motor development. Developmental delays are common in preemies, and it was important to ensure that she didn’t fall far behind in developmental milestones such as rolling over and sitting up.

They worked to help her catch up with babies her age. Also, doctors discovered Emma had developed torticollis from lying flat in the NICU.

Torticollis is muscle tightness on one side of Emma’s neck which made it harder to turn her head to the right. This caused her to favor lying on one side, resulting in a flattened portion of the skull. Scans revealed a flattened spot on the left side of her head, indicating the need for a cranial remolding helmet.

She was fitted for her pink helmet, then required to wear it 23-hours a day to ensure that they didn’t miss periods of growth. One hour off was allotted for her bath and to sanitize and clean the helmet.

Emma was a trooper and looked adorable – and her baby doll had a matching helmet. After 2 ½ months, her final scan indicated that the helmet had corrected the asymmetry, leaving her head beautifully symmetric.

Though we are blessed to have our happy, healthy girl, there are a few things they continue working through.

At birth, both feet turned in considerably, due to her womb position. Over the last year they have improved considerably with therapy. She now pulls herself up and is getting ready to walk. However, her right foot continues to turn inward resulting in some balance problems. It is possible that she will need braces or surgery to correct this.

Good reports

There are so many positive reports. They said her eyes are perfect. Her size is on target. As far as her brain and social skills, she is very advanced. She is tiny but up to 18 pounds and is 31-inches long. Her legs and arms are getting chunkier and we love to squeeze her!

Emma has six teeth with more coming in. She loves to show them off, usually as she scrunches her nose in a smile. She has adapted well to eating most foods. Her favorites are chicken nuggets, Cutie oranges, cheese sticks, bananas and orange chicken.

She occasionally has an Oreo snuck to her by Grampy, but we aren’t telling. She drinks whole milk and has no problem chugging it down. She loves Cheerios and yogurt bites.

Emma is growing and becoming more independent daily. She has just enough hair for two tiny ponytails. I see a beautiful strawberry blond in our future.

This little girl loves life and always seems to smile. She loves to play outside on her slide and swing. She especially loves her doggie, a Goldendoodle named Granger who puts up with her shenanigans. She loves to take walks in her big, red wagon with Mommy and Woof-Woof.

Bath time is a favorite, especially the splashing part. Her favorite cuddle blanket has a kitty on it. She loves reading books which she constantly brings to Mommy and Daddy. Emma and Mommy do activities together. They have made a piggy bird feeder out of a milk jug, edible slime and finger painted in the bathtub.

Kristen works nights as a pediatric cardiovascular ICU nurse at Riley and Adrian runs his own business from home.

Each evening when Mommy leaves for work, she tells Emma that she will “see her in one sleep.” Emma is starting to respond to that comment with a pout and shake her head no, but she’s learning that when she wakes up, Mommy will be home again.

Mommy and Daddy are very involved and intentional in working with Emma to promote continued development. They show her so much love and are planting strong roots to help her succeed.

Something new each day

From rolling over, to saying Dada and so much more, Emma seems to learn something new daily. If you ask her if she is going to be a good girl, she always shakes her head no and smiles. To be fair, almost everything is no.

She finally learned to nod her head yes, but she will only do it if I ask if she loves Mama. Dada, Mama, nana (banana) and baba (bottle) are comprehendable. Emma still struggles to sleep through the night, but we attribute it to her being nosy and wanting to know what’s going on. Some of Emma’s nicknames are Peanut, Sugar Bug, Tootie, and Lil’ Bean. To all of us, though, she is the same little girl who has blessed our world and given us hope.

So far, nothing in her life has been routine. Recently, we celebrated her first birthday. Family gathered in their homes as we celebrated her big day on Zoom. I watched her destroy her cake and was reminded how life can be fragile, yet there is always hope.

I am so blessed by this little girl. I chuckled to myself as she dove in to get her first sugar rush. Her big blue eyes were full of excitement.

Someday I plan to celebrate with a real party. She will be dressed as Princess Belle as she giggles and enjoys her day. With COVID-19 precautions, she may be quarantined for quite a while yet.

Recently as I watched her playing, hope for her future filled my heart with joy. I see this little fighter growing up into a beautiful, independent woman.

I know she loves me and I love her. I know by those eyes, that smile and the way her little hands beckon me to hold her. I want to teach and help her flourish as much as I can. However, sometimes she is teaching me life lessons, especially those about hope, strength and determination.

This week we planted our Emma tree. Just like Emma, its roots are starting to take hold. Both will grow together, providing that they are nurtured and loved. That, I plan to do.

When I think again about what hope means, I know that hope is the only thing bigger than fear. The hope she has brought to this Grammy is indescribable and the hope she brings to others is inspiring. I believe that God made Emma Grace so that we can all see hope in our lives.

Hope. It’s a small word with a giant meaning. My hope? Emma Grace.

Lifelong New Castle resident Kim Werking has been married to Mike over 30 years. They are parents of Kristen, Cody and Cole. Emma is their first grandchild. Kim enjoys family time and works at Draper, Inc. She hopes to inspire you with this story of hope, make you smile and realize that having hope, even a little, can make a big difference in our lives.