LA CROSSE (AP) - Lindsey Shay wanted the fairy tale. To marry a caring husband. To live in the perfect house in a safe neighborhood. A set of twins to raise. She got all of it.
But then her daughter, Kaylee, died three days after birth, and son, Conner, spent eight months in the Rochester Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Minnesota.
It was in that NICU, though, that Shay met four other moms. It was there they decided to create a group to help other parents cope in similar situations.
So formed Our Miracle Babies , a nonprofit group that offers support and advice to NICU parents.
Now the Caledonia, Minn., woman spends her free time helping out other moms.
"When you're in the NICU, it all happens so fast," she said. "You're scared. You don't know who to talk to. I want to be there for them."
The group started at the end of last year and just recently came to the La Crosse area.
It offers free services such as a phone line, online chats, care packages, support groups and a helping hand.
"I would have appreciated something like this when I was (in the NICU)," Shay said.
She and her husband, Mark, found out they were having twins at 21 weeks.
At 22 weeks, they knew the babies would be early.
At 23 weeks, she was put on hospital bed rest.
At 24 weeks, July 19, 2010, Kaylee and Conner were born.
The first few weeks in the NICU, Shay didn't talk to the other moms. She didn't speak to anyone. Emails went unanswered, her phone shut off.
"It was a very isolating time," she said. "I didn't care to talk to anyone."
She spent each of the 229 days at Conner's side. She and her husband lived at Ronald McDonald House in Rochester, Mark traveling back and forth to La Crosse for work each day.
A few weeks in, Shay slowly opened up to other moms.
In a weekly scrapbooking group for NICU moms, Shay met and befriended four other women. One being Tamara Buechler, who is now president of Our Miracle Babies.
"Lindsey is a huge source of strength," Buechler said. "When I think of her story, there are so many downs. She's admirable. A lot of us turn to her for that strength."
Buechler and Shay initially bonded over their similar stories. Buechler, too, has twins. They were born at 31 weeks and spent 11 weeks in the NICU, facing many of the same problems Shay's son did.
"We had a couple of good cries together," Buechler said. "She's a good shoulder to cry on."
There's about 120 members in Our Miracle Babies now, with more added each week. Some need an extra hand around the house. Other parents, to gain tips. Most mothers just need an understanding ear to listen.
"Until you've stood over your baby and feared for their life, watch them struggle to breath, you can't truly understand what these parents are going through," Buechler said. "It's easy to form a bond with people who have gone through it."
That bond helps moms carry on with life.
Shay has another baby coming in July.
She miscarried last summer, so she's been nervous throughout the whole pregnancy. Just weeks before the due date, she is now ready to start getting the room ready.
"It wasn't a hard choice," she said of their decision to have more children. "I've always wanted two or three kids. I just told myself if it happens, it happens."
Until the delivery, her days are filled with physical therapy for Conner, who was recently diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
Sometimes still she gets teary-eyed when thinking about Kaylee.
"But she's in heaven watching over Conner," she said.