My defining moment came on a hot summer day in 2000 when I gave birth to my son, Jackson, in an emergency c-section at 24 weeks gestation. He weighed just one pound, eight ounces – a micro preemie. At the time I had no idea the impact this experience would have on my life, but I knew nothing would ever be the same.
Jackson spent four months in the hospital. He endured three surgeries before his first birthday and has received extensive occupational, physical and speech therapies for most of his life. His childhood has been filled with doctor visits, medications and many respiratory infections.
A little more than two years after Jackson’s birth, his sweet baby sister was born six weeks premature. Lauren was a healthy weight, but suffered from a blood disorder. Once again I was forced to leave the hospital without a baby in my arms. Lauren recovered quickly, but has experienced auditory and visual processing disorders that are directly related to her preterm birth.
Despite being surrounded by friends and family, I truly never felt so alone. I searched for support groups and online discussions, but a void remained. I longed for someone to hold my hand and light my way through this difficult journey. Thus came the inspiration for Hand to Hold, a peer-to-peer support network for NICU families.
For the past decade I have been dedicated to raising awareness about the increased risk of perinatal mood disorders for NICU parents including post-partum depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the long-term implications for the baby and family. I have advocated for standardization of psychosocial support services in hospital NICUs and worked to develop and deliver affordable programs, services and resources hospitals can use to help parents navigate the emotional trauma of the NICU and to prepare them to be confident caregivers for their medically fragile children.
Hand to Hold has quickly grown into a national leader in support programs for NICU families. Hospitals rely on our printed educational resources to help teach parents how to bond with their babies and effectively communicate with their care team. Our Helping Hands peer-to-peer support program provides comfort and support to thousands of families each year. Hand to Hold Ambassadors provide direct support at the bedside and lead support groups, ensuring parents have someone to help them navigate their NICU journey. And we could not be more proud of our podcast, NICU Now, an audio support series that features insights for medical and mental health professionals as well as NICU graduate parents.
I give my deepest appreciation to my amazing staff, dedicated board of directors, husband, sister, parents, friends and extended family for their dedication to our mission and their constant love, encouragement and prayers. Together we are making a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of NICU parents each year!
Welcome to Hand to Hold. May it be a blessing to you and your family.