As a new nurse recently off of unit orientation in a large and busy neonatal intensive care unit, I was assigned to care for a set of adorable twin girls. During report from the off going nurse, I learned that the family was Hispanic and only spoke Spanish.
As I prepared for my first round of assessments, the parents walked in and approached the girls’ bedside. While waiting for an interpreter, I remember seeing the delight on the mother’s face when she saw her two beautiful girls close together! Earlier that day, the girls were placed in the same crib and were once again near one another.
Through the interpreter, I introduced myself to this mother and father and told them I was so honored to be able to care for their daughters that night. I asked them what they wanted to do while they were there for the evening and shared the tasks I needed to complete to ensure the girls were still doing well and progressing as planned.
Together we created a plan for the next three hours.
With the help of a very friendly interpreter, I learned Mom had only once changed a diaper and was very nervous about performing this task independently. Her girls were so small and appeared so fragile; she was afraid to do something wrong or possibly hurt them. I coached this scared mother through changing the diaper and she was able to complete the task independently.
I could tell she felt proud and very excited about her accomplishment.
I taught the parents how to properly take their childrens’ temperatures, dress them without mixing up and knotting wires and how to securely swaddle them in their blankets. After we had all the tasks completed, mom and dad each held one of their daughters and comforted them until they fell asleep. I remember feeling grateful for the interpreter phone which allowed meaningful and effective conversation with this family while they were there.
The next night I was once again assigned care of this set of twins. The parents came in just before I began the first round of cares, but this time they brought an English speaking friend with them. As they reached the bedside, the mom pulled out from behind her back two dozen long stemmed red roses…. For ME! A dozen from each girl.
The friend told me that in the two weeks since their girls’ birth I was the first person who made them feel like parents. I was the first person who made them feel welcomed and like they mattered in the lives of these fragile and precious girls.
In that moment I realized my role as a caregiver in the NICU is an amazing, powerful and honorable position.
Families that face a birth crisis and are separated from their infants find themselves feeling overwhelmed, fearful, stressed and maybe most importantly…. Disconnected. Yet in order to have infants grow and thrive they need to have deep connection to their parents.
So, despite the need to have infants and parents separated for life saving care in the intensive care unit it became very apparent to me that it is our job as neonatal care providers to find ways to enhance connection; to provide education, information, support and to help empower families to be full members of the team!
In the 12 years since that moment, I’ve focused my attention and passion on improving the NICU journey for families.
I can recount so many stories that capture the heart wrenching stories of families in crisis.
- Parents holding their infants for the last time as their precious child passes away;
- Families with extremely young parents forced to grow up so quickly;
- Families waiting anxiously for months to see if their child will grow strong enough to come home;
- Parents terrified to leave the hospital with a fragile infant on oxygen, home monitors and feeding tubes;
- Families separated due to neonatal transports or trying to balance the needs of all their children – including those at home;
- Couples facing bankruptcy due to overwhelming hospital bills;
- Marital conflict and divorce due to stress and the emotion of the NICU.
These experiences, and the many families that I have been honored enough to know and travel on their journey with them has made me wonder what would change if a NICU…
- Focused on the family as the patient?
- Wrote policies and procedures around the patient and family experience?
- Encouraged full parent and family participation?
- Welcomed family at all times? In all situations?
- Felt like a comforting and welcome home, rather than a hospital?
My goal is to bring change to the NICU… the kind of change that helps fragile babies thrive by supporting the needs of the entire family while caring for the child. My passion is improving patient outcomes by creating a family focused level of excellence to the NICU. And to be an additional layer of support to families by providing resources and communities to break the feeling of the isolation one has of being a NICU parent.