From the NICU to Entrepreneurship: bökee’s Lauren and Brandon Stuart

by Hannah Howard May 23, 2022

young family

When Lauren Stuart got pregnant in January 2016, she was shocked to learn she and her husband Brandon Stuart were going to have twins. At their ultrasound appointment, the doctor asked Brandon how many kids he wanted. “He said one; the doctor said, ‘well, you’re having two,’” Lauren remembers laughing and thought it was a joke. 

Lauren and Brandon spent the next few months processing big news—they weren’t just going to be new parents; they were going to be new parents of two.

“Pregnancy was going fine until 18 weeks or so, when Owen [their baby boy] was falling behind in gestational weeks,” Lauren explained. That started Lauren and Brandon’s tumultuous, often harrowing experience as expecting and new parents. 

Lauren had several complications during pregnancy that threw her for a loop. From cholestasis, a liver condition that sometimes occurs in late pregnancy, to intrauterine growth restriction, she experienced the opposite of an easy pregnancy. Lauren was put on modified bedrest at around 26 weeks, right before the start of her third trimester. “I could go to work but had to sit at my desk and stay there,” she remembers. Lauren worked for Google as a Sales Strategy Manager. “I couldn’t walk the dogs, I had to sit in the shower, I had to minimize all activity so more blood would go to my uterus.” 

More tests showed that Owen’s heart was enlarged, and Lauren went to see the fetal cardiologist. At 28 weeks, she was put on full bed rest. Just two days later, their 14 year old family dog died suddenly. She remembers hanging out with her other dog on the couch all day, feeling sad and a bit numb to all that was going on. 

“I’m very strong in my faith,” said Lauren. “I never thought there was a chance Owen wasn’t going to survive. I never went there. If I focused on everything that could have happened, I would have been more fearful.” 

At 30 weeks, Lauren’s doctor told her to pack her bags and head to the hospital. “It was pretty rough news from there on out,” Brandon remembers. 

At the hospital, it was a waiting game. Lauren loves dogs, so the nurses would bring the service dogs who came to visit to her room. They even arranged for special permission for their dog, Fisher,  to come to the hospital. “He was so well behaved.” Lauren remembers “him lying in my hospital bed with his head on my belly.” 

At 32 weeks, Owen had stopped growing and Lauren’s perinatologist described the environment as “toxic.” Lauren and Brandon’s daughter Elodie, who was developing on target, was born at 3 lbs 15 oz and spent 5 weeks in the NICU. Owen was just 1lb 13oz and spent 8 weeks there.

“No one could have prepared me for the journey we were about to take,” says Lauren. 

For Brandon, “It was the farthest thing from what I thought being a dad would be like.” 

Lauren quit her job when she realized how much the babies would need. “My full-time job was going to be taking care of them,” she said. Brandon didn’t have any paternity leave from his work as a creative director. He tried to juggle working with hospital visits and caring for his family, which was incredibly taxing. 

From there, things only got harder. Both babies needed blood transfusions, but Lauren couldn’t give her blood because she had just had a c-section and had lost a significant amount of blood. “First it had been getting through trimesters, then months, then weeks…at that point we were just trying to get through the hours,” Brandon said. 

Lauren had an infection and was readmitted to the hospital. She couldn’t visit her babies. When she could, her days felt endless, pumping at their bedside, talking to the nurses, worrying, and feeling powerless. “It was an out of body experience,” she recalls. It was nearly two weeks before she got to hold her own children for the first time. The NICU was a loud place, with the constant humming and beeping of monitors. 

“It wasn’t love immediately,” for Lauren, who was processing physical and emotional trauma as she became a mom. “It’s a feeling a lot of people don’t talk about; not experiencing that bond right away.”

Instead, it was something that took time, that grew slowly but surely as the whole family recovered. “I’ll never forget seeing Owen’s face when they finally removed his nose tube after 7.5 weeks,” Lauren shared. “Hello - this is what you look like!” 

The challenges continued as the couple took home Elodie; Lauren remembers rushing to the hospital at midnight to deliver milk for Owen. To address underlying medical challenges, the twins required weekly therapy multiple times a week until they were three. For Lauren, caring for two premature babies was a lonely experience. 

What made it even harder was pumping every three hours and managing the schedule of feeding, which involved breastmilk, donor milk, and formula. At two and a half, Owen got a feeding tube. “I have fed my child in every way possible,” says Lauren. “There should be no judgment of how anyone feeds; these things saved his life.” 

“Just like any new parents, Lauren and I spent many sleepless nights consoling our crying babies (and each other), making bottles at all hours of the day, and generally trying to keep it together,” Brandon remembers. 

During one of those nights, Brandon went to prepare a bottle for his baby. He had to put the crying infant down to get the bottle ready. “The whole process seemed disruptive and unnecessary, and I couldn’t grasp that putting a crying baby down in the middle of the night was the best solution” says Brandon, who was “grasping for the butterfly in the stomach you get as a creative person.”

The next week, Brandon met with Andrew Doan, one of his closest friends and a dad of three—Andrew’s second was born the same day as Lauren and Brandon’s twins. Andrew is an engineer who has worked on everything from VR headsets, cell phones, and self-driving cars. He quickly jumped in to help solve the one-handed bottle dilemma, and started building prototypes in his garage. 

Andrew, Lauren, and Brandon saw so much room for innovation in addressing everyday parenting challenges. They believe in simple solutions with elegant design. (Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest ones!)  

After many iterations and experiments - they thought about new bottles, or adding onto bottes - they arrived at a one-piece, dishwasher-safe, food-grade silicone bottle prep accessory. The bökee was born. The bökee works with any bottle or sippy cup; it suctions to the counter, so parents and caregivers have a free hand to make a bottle (or open a jar of peanut butter for an impatient toddler!). It’s also pretty, which is a nice bonus. 

“You can feel helpless as a dad,” says Brandon, who created the bökee to be able to parent more efficiently and effectively. “It was born of necessity.” Any parent knows you need more hands; the bökee gives caregivers that. It lets them hold/bounce/dance a baby while preparing to feed them. It’s simple but revolutionary.  

The response to the bokee has been amazing. “After securing a patent and launching it we were honored to have it recognized by so many credible industry sources, editorial outlets, and parenting bloggers," Brandon says. 

Lauren and Brandon’s confidence about “what to do with two babies” grew slowly but surely. As for the twins, they’ll be 6 in August. 

Owen especially has had a journey full of surgeries, interventions, and therapies. Brandon’s goal was to “get them out of this mess before they will remember it,” he shared. They seem to be succeeding. Today, both kids are thriving. Lauren and Brandon are truly enjoying parenting and growing the bökee brand.




Hannah Howard

Author



Also in Conversations

man stopping cars and allowing ducks to cross
Plan Your Next Family Vacation: Real-World Places From Your Child's Favorite Books

by ParentCo.

Give your child an opportunity to live “inside” their favorite books with a trip to one of the real-world locations of their favorite stories.

Continue Reading

a grandmother drying her grandson
To Fight Ageism, Start with Calling your Grandma

by ParentCo.

Many elderly people in the American community feel neglected. Making a change starts with the way we treat our grandparents.

Continue Reading

girl reading with stuffed animal
9 Inspiring Books to Celebrate Earth Day with your Kids

by ParentCo.

Happy reading—and planting, recycling, conserving, and more—on Earth Day and every day. 

Continue Reading