The tiny preemie’s eyes were wide open for just a moment after he made his very unexpected arrival more than three months before he was due.
Lincoln barely dodged being born at Denver International Airport, or even worse, on his mom’s next flight after she traveled through Denver. He weighed just 2 pounds 3 ounces, a little more than a small bag of sugar.
Even so, Lincoln locked eyes with his mom, Amy Jo Martin. Both were utterly shocked to be meeting so early. Yet, Amy Jo felt certain immediately that her little man was a strong, Zen sort of fellow. Never for a second did she consider that he might not make it. After all, he had infinite lessons to teach her. That’s a funny twist since Amy Jo, the author of the New York Times bestseller, “Renegades Write the Rules,” is a beloved teacher herself. She speaks to audiences around the world, hosts the popular “Why not now?” podcast, teaches female entrepreneurs how to grow their businesses and inspires friends and strangers alike through her social media channels that reach more than a million people.
Amy Jo is a social media pioneer who taught the likes of basketball phenom, Shaquille O’Neal, and Hollywood star, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, how to humanize themselves through social media.
Now, a tiny, fierce human, who for some inexplicable reason emerged from his mom’s warm, safe belly at 27 weeks gestation, was set to school his mom. Ha ha ha ha ha.
Amy Jo Martin
Lincoln’s little look within seconds of his surprise birth seemed to say, “Thanks for knowing I would arrive today and giving me a safe place to make a splash.”
You see, Amy Jo had to trust her gut to divert from her travel plans and ride in an ambulance for the first time in her life. She had to act fast to save her baby’s life.
And now, every day, as Lincoln grows and matures in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, he is anchoring Amy Jo and her musician husband, Richard Grewar.
“One of the gifts of Lincoln arriving early is that he has really shifted me more into being instead of doing. There’s a lot you can’t do. You’re just here to love him,” said Amy Jo, 39.
Lincoln’s clear message to his parents is this: “I am your present. I will make you present.”
Visions of an outdoor water birth in July
The story of how Lincoln arrived is dramatic and wild, but first you need to know how Amy Jo imagined he would be born.
She and her husband live in a log cabin in the Black Hills of South Dakota with their two Australian shepherds, Polly Pockets, a 4-month old puppy, and Ruby Sue, who’s 2. They live just down the way from Amy Jo’s parents and near a log cabin built in 1918, where her grandfather once lived.
For the birth, Amy Jo imagined being in a tub of water in the forest near their home. The couple had just finished their hypno-birthing classes a couple of days before Lincoln was born. They had found their midwife and doula. Amy Jo hadn’t yet fessed up to her somewhat conservative parents that she wanted an unconventional, natural birth in the great outdoors.
She laughs now about her visions for Lincoln’s arrival.
“I’d be in a bathtub in the forest. We were going to have tiki torches. I had this vision of the Lion King and the animals and Richard playing the guitar,” Amy Jo says.
Instead, it was April and spring was slow in coming. A blizzard blanketed South Dakota with 15 inches of snow just two days before Amy Jo was supposed to fly to Palm Springs to visit her friend and mentor, Suzy Batiz. Thankfully, Lincoln stayed put inside his mom’s belly for the blizzard. On the morning of her trip, Amy Jo wasn’t feeling great and dilly-dallied before heading to Rapid City airport to catch a flight to Denver. As Richard rubbed her feet, Amy Jo felt pressure in her belly.
“I felt like there was an elephant sitting on my bladder,” she said.
But Amy Jo pressed on. She’s used to pressing on, as she has for years, flying around the world to meet with clients or do speaking engagements.
“I thought this was just a false alarm,” she said.
Amy Jo figured the tightening in her belly was due to Braxton-Hicks contractions, so-called “practice” contractions that help moms get ready to give birth. But, why hadn’t her friends told her they’d be so painful?
When her flight arrived in Denver, she called her doctor back home, who urged her to drink some water and walk. When Amy Jo confided that she couldn’t walk easily, her doctor said she needed to get straight to a hospital.
“You can’t deliver a 27-week-baby in an airport,” the doctor said.
‘You’re going to have this baby’
Amy Jo sought help at an airport first aid station, where paramedics called an ambulance. Even then, she assumed she’d get checked out at a hospital, then be back to catch a later flight and carry on with her trip.
She was texting with Suzy and talking on the phone with Richard. Both offered to come to Denver, but Amy Jo didn’t think that was necessary. Then a paramedic gave a clear directive to Richard: “You should come.”
Those decisive three words stunned Amy Jo. For the first time, it hit her that she might actually be giving birth that day: 400 miles from home, far from a peaceful forest and in April, not July.
“At 27 weeks, you think this is impossible,” Amy Jo said.
She asked her paramedics where she was going. Could the hospital handle the birth of a tiny preemie?
“Yes,” they reassured her. “You’re going to University of Colorado,” they said.
“They have good specialists. They can handle this.”
Amy Jo didn’t recognize the name of the hospital, but as the ambulance pulled up to the ER, she spotted a very familiar logo for UCHealth.
“Oh my gosh,” she thought to herself. “I know I’m scared, but everything is going to be OK. It was a beautiful orchestra.”
Remarkably, just two months earlier, Amy Jo had been a featured speaker at a UCHealth women’s health and empowerment event in Colorado called evrē.
She was barely showing then, but shared the news of her pregnancy during her speech. She urged women to “find their why,” to put their health first and to step out of the rat race when life gets too crazy. At one point at the height of her career, Amy Jo was taking about 210 flights a year. Her social media business was thriving and she had employees around the world. But, she told the women that on the inside she was falling apart. She disconnected completely, spent time recharging, met and married Richard, a musician from Australia, and moved back home to South Dakota.
“I found another way. I learned to sleep again and meditate. There is a middle way,” Amy Jo told the women at evrē. “You can be a badass with pace.”
Now, as Amy Jo faced a possible emergency birth, she had to find a way to center herself amid chaos.
As paramedics carried her into the hospital, a greeter welcomed her and that was nice since no friend or family member was with her. Then, medical providers sped her up to the triage area for expectant moms. They checked and found she was already dilated to 9 out of 10.
“You’re going to have this baby within an hour or two. What we need to do is keep you calm. He’s coming,” doctors told her.
Both Amy Jo’s husband and her friend were racing to get to Denver.
But, in the hospital, she didn’t know a soul.
‘This is what we do’
A nurse named Laura Cole became her go-to supporter. Cole reassured Amy Jo that everything was going to be OK.
“This is what we do here,” she said.
To this day, Amy Jo tears up when she thinks of the comfort and empathy Cole provided.
“This is what we do,” Amy Jo repeated to herself. “We were in the best of best hands.”
Yes. She had made the right call to listen to her body, to call her doctor and to ask for help.
To make Amy Jo as comfortable as possible and to honor her wishes for her son’s birth, Cole asked Amy Jo about her birth plan. Well, the forest, the water birth and the tiki torches were definitely out the window. But, Amy Jo had wanted to have a natural birth.
OK, then. Cole would help her make that happen.
Richard encouraged his wife over the phone, while sitting in the Rapid City airport waiting for a delayed flight to Denver. Amy Jo worked on breathing exercises and remembered some affirmations she had on her phone. Cole stayed with her. When an anesthetist offered an epidural, Amy Jo declined.
“You’re almost there,” Cole told her.
Lincoln was coming fast. Cole held Amy Jo’s hand as she worked her way through each contraction.
Over Facetime, Richard saw his wife fiercely concentrating to cope with the pain. He wept, unable to help her from afar.
“I’m watching and crying and people were staying away from me,” Richard said.
But, as each contraction passed, she relaxed and he saw her connecting with the caregivers around her. It was classic Amy Jo.
“She was totally owning the room,” Richard said with a laugh.
She pushed once, twice, three times and out came their baby.
Relief washed over Richard.
His wife and baby had survived.
Amy Jo knew she wouldn’t get to hold her baby right away.
“They held him up. Our eyes were huge. We were looking at each other like, ‘hi,’” she recalled.
That was the closest she would get to her Lion King moment, seeing her little Simba in the air for a moment. Then, the team whisked Lincoln away to attach him to all the high-tech equipment that would keep him breathing, warm and alive.
‘All I saw was strength’
The Kennedy connection: How the Kennedy family has saved the lives of preemies
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, suffered the death of their newborn son, Patrick. He was born more than five weeks premature and like many preemies, his lungs were not fully developed. At that time, medical experts had few treatments for preemies. After Patrick’s death, the Kennedy family supported advancements in medical care for premature babies, including the development of synthetic surfactants, one of the treatments that has helped Lincoln survive and thrive. Amy Jo Martin said she’s incredibly grateful to the Kennedys for saving her son’s life. Read more about the Kennedys’ loss of their son Patrick.
Listen to Amy Jo Martin’s interview on Why not now? with Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy.
Doctors had warned Amy Jo that she might not get to hold Lincoln for a week or so. She started to make peace with the upheaval in her life. Both Richard and her friend, Suzy, arrived to support her.
Then, just 24 hours after Lincoln’s birth, Amy Jo got a surprise call from the NICU.
It was Val Dye, a veteran nurse.
“Come down and hold your boy,” Dye said.
Lincoln was doing remarkably well. For one night, he had to be intubated with a breathing tube. Then he graduated to a breathing assist device called a CPAP. Nurses had given him one dose of surfactant, a lubricant to help him breathe more easily since preemies’ lungs aren’t fully developed.
Amy Jo rushed down and placed her son on her bare chest.
It was love at first cuddle.
“He looked like someone from a different planet. But I just saw this strong human. All I saw was strength,” Amy Jo said.
Dye saw pure love.
“He melted right into her. He had his little hands on her chest. Richard held him the next day and that’s what it’s been like ever since,” Dye said. “They are my heroes.”
‘Grow Lincoln. Grow!’
Within a week, Lincoln got rid of the CPAP machine, which looks like a Marv the Martian helmet. He was free to get head kisses, and to inspire people around the world with his will to grow and thrive.
While sorting through details like finding a place to live, making sure the dogs were OK with Amy Jo’s folks at home and keeping her Renegade Bootcamp for women entrepreneurs going, Amy Jo and Richard decided to share Lincoln’s progress publicly. They knew they’d be letting strangers in on some raw moments. Typically preemies inch forward, then backslide. They can suffer frightening complications, like brain bleeds and forgetting to breathe.
But Lincoln is the center of Amy Jo and Richard’s universe now, so they christened a hashtag for updates about him: #BabyLincolnLogs. It was a fun play on Lincoln’s name and the popular retro toys. Plus, the family lives in a log cabin, like the president for whom their boy is named. And this Lincoln would be providing little logs to share his journey.
Amy Jo began by recounting her renegade’s birth. Then, day by day, she chronicled his progress, which has been remarkably steady. Amy Jo has an artist’s eye and a poet’s way with words, but she’s also a data junkie who loves spreadsheets. She teaches her protégés to blend intuition with logic. So, she coined another hashtag (complete with an emoji) to describe Lincoln’s progress: #upandtotheright. Yes, there are sometimes dips, but as with the stock market that grows over time, progress for preemies looks like a diagonal line (albeit with wobbles), angling up and to the right.
Along with significant milestones, Amy Jo has shared fun photos: Lincoln wearing baby blue booties and a matching hat that Amy Jo knitted for him. “Grow Lincoln. Grow!” In another Instagram post from May 5, Cinco de Mayo, Lincoln seems to pose perfectly with the arms of a Spanish dancer, satisfied with his big finish: “olé.” Amy Jo dubbed the day: “Linco de Mayo.”
He also seems to take after his dad, who is 6 feet four inches tall. Lincoln has long limbs. He loves stretching his arms, like an NBA player practicing his dunks. That’s fitting since Amy Jo started her career with the pros at the Phoenix Suns.
In updates, Lincoln sports onesies with positive messages like, “This is my fight shirt,” “I will save the animals,” and “My superheroes wear scrubs.”
One of Lincoln’s superheroes is his night nurse, Megan Jones. She has loved watching Amy Jo and Richard get to know their son.
“The resilience, fight, and unconditional love these three have shown each other is what propels them forward and what I believe, bonds them in a way many other families may never know,” Jones said. “Having a child in the NICU can be devastating but it can also inspire a lot of hope, beauty and forward motion and that is what I believe these three ‘renegades’ have found.”
For the most part, Lincoln has improved each day, but preemies often do well, then slide back a little before inching forward again.
“Through all of us learning how to love and support each other during vulnerable moments, we have become family, and that is something I am grateful to little Lincoln for every day,” Jones said.
He loves when his parents sing, “You are my Sunshine” to him. Family photos and cards decorate the wall near his crib. And Lincoln’s nurses, who have nicknames for him like Linker and Linc, have made cards for his walls with inky impressions of his feet. They started tiny and keep getting bigger, just like Lincoln.
He’s a fan of tummy time, when nurses prop a pillow underneath him and let him cozy up on his belly with his legs tucked under his bottom. A volunteer knitted a little light-green octopus with eight soft tentacles that dangle down from its center. Lincoln grabs ahold of one of the tentacles and snoozes peacefully. No doubt, it’s like the umbilical cord he gripped in utero.
‘Win far outweighs the loss’
Throughout the journey, Amy Jo and Richard have had sorrowful days as they’ve ridden the NICU roller coaster along with other preemie parents. They missed one third of Amy Jo’s pregnancy and had to be apart for one of the biggest events of their lives.
As Amy Jo wrote in one post,
“My son will be going home on oxygen.
I can’t hold or nurse my baby when I want.
No baby shower.
Birth plan is out the window.
My husband was not there at delivery.
3 months of pregnancy is missing.
A relocation overnight to a new city and NICU.
The list goes on and on.
Lincoln is alive. I’m alive.
The win far outweighs the loss.
A family unit and bond has been formed.
I’m not always positive. I’m human and I have down moments that I try to work through.
I’m more focused on the win and the forward momentum than the loss because it’s literally my strategy. And it’s in my DNA. I teach people to leverage adversity. Now is an opportunity for me to walk the talk. This isn’t about making lemonade out of lemons. It’s about using this situation as a springboard. Turn the adversity into an asset. Sometimes this process is messy.
Do I cry? Yep. Nearly daily.
Am I tired? Exhausted AF.
And I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I’m the luckiest Mother in the world.”
Amy Jo’s intimate updates have touched people around the world. One mom with a preemie in Asia sent a private message through Instagram, along with photos of her cradling her own preemie. She said she received very little support when her baby was born eight months ago. Tuning in to Lincoln’s journey now has helped her heal. Amy Jo commiserated with that mom privately.
“I think there’s a chance that Lincoln’s splash can have a lot of ripple effects,” Amy Jo said.
Added Richard: “The likes and shares don’t really matter. When you share something close to your heart and the real impact happens one to one, no one needs to know about it.”
And so, the messages of love, support and gratitude keep flowing in from friends and strangers alike.
“We call them our internet aunties and uncles,” Amy Jo said. “They’re on the journey with us.”
Lessons from Lincoln
As Amy Jo and Richard have navigated their new reality, she has centered herself with two key questions that her friend and mentor Suzy helped her craft: “What is this here to teach me?” And, “What would it look like if this were easy?”
Lincoln’s lessons come every day. He has taught her to appreciate how much a little progress each day adds up to big gains over time. He has taught her to put her phone down and be in the moment. Just snuggle. Just breathe with her baby. He has taught her to drop the ball sometimes. The couple produces the “Why not now?” podcast together. And for the first time since they started airing it two years ago, they skipped an episode as Lincoln turned 6 weeks old.
Said Amy Jo: “We needed a day off…One of my strategies in navigating this life curveball has been to conserve as much energy as possible. Sometimes that means intentionally dropping the ball. We might surprise ourselves and realize that some balls don’t need to be picked back up at all.”
She urges her followers to gain insights too: “What ball could you drop today? You can pick it back up tomorrow. Or, you may realize you never need to pick it back up again.”
A fellow NICU mom, Stephanie Hauser, has provided great wisdom to Amy Jo as well. Her son, Zev, is three months older than Lincoln and she has twin toddlers at home too.
Despite such challenges, Hauser always focuses on the positive.
When she gets updates from her NICU team, she starts with this simple gem: “Tell me what’s good.”
Amy Jo has learned lessons about marriage too.
“In a way, Lincoln has brought us even closer together. We are a team,” Amy Jo said.
But of course, dealing with fear, dislocation and exhaustion is hard.
Amid the stress, she and Richard have adopted a new 20-second rule, a chance to take back any unkind comments. No questions asked.
Finally, she has learned to snuff out any second-guessing about why Lincoln came early. Doctors don’t know. They never will, so she’s viewing his early arrival positively.
“He wanted to make a splash,” Amy Jo said. “He knows we like splashes.”
She and Richard love spending time on the water, from surfing to paddle boarding to swimming and riding in boats. They got engaged, in fact, while out on the water.
The road home
Now, they hope their journey will soon lead them home. Lincoln will get to leave the hospital as soon as he can eat enough to keep growing. Despite some little ups and downs, he’s breathing well now and depends only on low-flow oxygen tanks, which can go home with him. Generally preemies stay in the hospital until close to their due dates. Lincoln was supposed to arrive on July 10.
All along, his team has been impressed with his steady progress.
“His temperament hasn’t changed. He came out fighting. He wanted a real chance at this life,” said Juliana Striby, one of Lincoln’s nurses. “He’s had a smooth course, exactly what we’d hope for.”
While nurses are careful not to boost parents’ hopes prematurely, Lincoln is doing great with his mission to keep eating and growing. Amy Jo is eager to breastfeed her son once he’s big enough. She’s been pumping her milk around the clock. Richard has become known as the Australian “milk man” running breast milk from their apartment to the NICU, where Lincoln and the team eagerly await the precious deliveries, sometimes referred to as “liquid gold” since breast milk provides infants with such valuable antibodies and nutrients.
Amy Jo uses her social media posts to share the complexities of feeding newborns, among many other topics.
“Until this past week, 100% of his food has been through a feeding tube,” Amy Jo wrote in early June. “Babies born 3 months early are unable to suck, swallow and breathe at the same time.”
Lincoln recently has become strong enough to suckle some milk directly from his mom, a huge milestone that coincided with another very big day for him.
He now has reached 5 pounds, more than doubling his birth weight. To mark the occasion, Amy Jo shared then-and-now photos of Lincoln right after birth contrasted with the big boy he has become. In the first photo, he looks thin and fragile. Now, his cheeks are chubby and he puckers his lips like he’s ready to dole out kisses to the world.
As hard as the experience has been, Richard said the early arrival and first weeks of Lincoln’s life have been “a magical experience.”
Amy Jo echoed her husband’s joy.
“It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to us. From here on, we’ve been invited to live in a completely different dimension.”
Besides, there was a reason Lincoln arrived early. Said his nurse, Val Dye: “He was ready to be in this world. He had something to say.”