New London couple weds at NICU at L+M Hospital
New London ― Jason Barnwell and Grier Stanley were planning a wedding for late April at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford.
Their daughter, Drue, had other plans.
Drue’s due date was July 14, but she was born early on April 21 and weighed just 2.61 pounds. She has been in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital since then.
On Wednesday, the New London couple got married there.
Grier walked down the aisle, holding her daughter, and wed Jason in a small ceremony in the NICU, as NICU staff took photos and videos. Father Anthony Dinoto of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Niantic officiated. NICU staff made a backdrop for the wedding and played music.
There were flower petals, as well as framed photos of the couple’s family, so the wedding couple could feel like they were there too. Family could not attend, because of hospital restrictions on visitors to the NICU during the COVID-19 pandemic. The couple also wanted to surprise family members.
“It was fantastic,” said Grier, who is now Grier Barnwell. “The NICU crew is just amazing.”
“It was perfect,” Jason added.
The New London couple, who told their story to reporters on Wednesday, has been at the NICU every single day since their daughter was born and had the greatest support from the NICU staff, Grier said. So when someone suggested that the couple actually could have their wedding at the hospital, they decided to go ahead and get married there and be able to leave the hospital as a Barnwell family.
Grier said it was Drue and God’s plan. “We’re just grateful because she has plans and she’s going to move mountains so she’s just starting already,” Grier said.
Dinoto said “Drue is definitely a moment of grace for all of us.”
Next, Drue will be baptized at St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Dinoto said he didn’t hesitate for a moment when asked to officiate the wedding: “I couldn’t be any more proud of these two young people for the commitment they’ve made and the love that they’ve shown,” Dinoto said. “It’s just wonderful.”
Grier has her own private practice as a counseling therapist, and Jason works at Electric Boat and is a New London Planning and Zoning Commissioner.
The couple, who had been planning for a small April wedding ceremony, followed by a larger celebration with friends and family in a year, still plan on holding a larger celebration later.
Drue now weighs a little over 8 pounds and the family hopes to take her home within the week, her parents said.
“She’s doing great,” Jason said. “Her progression from when she first got here to now is just unbelievable really.”
The NICU staff took photos and a video of the wedding that the Barnwells will be able to show their daughter one day, though she’ll likely remember the whole day, Grier said.
“Chances are, she’ll know, and she’ll tell us the whole story because that’s just the type of baby she is,” Grier said.
“She’s such a fighter. When it didn’t look good, she still pressed on, and she’s here today with us,” said Jason.
Jason said they’re so blessed to have her: “It’s just a miracle,” he added.
Grier and Jason said they are so grateful for the love and support of their family, hospital staff, and friends. People reached out, calling them to ask how they are doing and giving them gift cards for meals.
Jason thanked all the staff at L+M for their hard work in helping their daughter, as Grier’s eyes welled with tears.
“We just appreciate it, and without you guys, she wouldn’t be here, so thank you,” Jason said.
Dr. James Pellegrini, director of the NICU, said what’s most impressive about the family is how incredibly involved they’ve been in the decision-making for their daughter.
"They’ve been here multiple times each day to join in the care of the baby, and they’ve very much been part of our team, so as much as we are healthcare givers for this family, they have been too,“ Pellegrini said, ”and their love and their concern and their giving has made a powerful contribution to Drue’s healing process ― so a very special family.“