Having a preemie is a very scary process and can also be very confusing. When your baby arrives early, you’re not prepared in the way you might have been if you’d carried to full term. I know this was the case for us. I was 31 weeks pregnant with our twins when I delivered unexpectedly via emergency c-section.
We had done a few things to prepare for our babies like paint their room and put away blankets and clothes, but really, nothing was quite how I’d hoped it would be when we had the babies, and after they were born it was very difficult to get all our ducks in a row. The only thing that I’d done that I felt was really useful (and it turned out it was), was apply for Medicaid. I’d been approved for pregnancy coverage for medicaid about a week and a half before the babies were born! I had NO idea what else needed to be done before I could bring them home and I also really had no idea what services were available to me.
Up until I had to stop working (a few weeks before the babies were born), we had a steady income and were squeaking by, but after I stopped working and the babies were born, our income stopped and our savings was dwindling. I was unfamiliar with social services offered by our state and by the hospital. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, protocol at the hospital where we had our babies was that if the baby is in the NICU then a social worker is assigned to the family.
Our social worker came to my hospital room the day after the babies were born. She came bearing LOTS of information and asked me many questions about our social situation: was I safe at home? Did we have steady income? Did we have other children at home? Would we have help with our twins once we got home with them? Were we on food stamps? Did we have WIC? Had we applied for any other social services?
It was a bit overwhelming but the information she provided was very useful–I didn’t even know what WIC was! (And in case you’re reading this thinking, “I have no clue what WIC is,” you can find out more here). Our social worker provided us with the necessary forms and phone numbers to apply for WIC, which we still use. They provided us with a breast pump, the formula the doctors recommended to fortify the breastmilk for extra calories, and food to supplement my diet (and now for the babies too). She also provided us with forms to apply for the SNAP program (food stamps) as well as a few other social services.
Over the next several weeks while our babies were in the hospital she would periodically check in with us when we were bedside to make sure we’d received everything we needed for applications and to make sure we didn’t have any questions about what would happen after our babies were discharged. She helped me understand what we were eligible for and how to best use the resources we qualified for. She was an invaluable part of our hospital stay and our continued success after the babies came home.
The role of social workers varies by hospital, but they are there to help families cope with the stress of having a baby (or babies) in the NICU. Social workers work closely with doctors and nurses to be sure that the needs of families are being met, and they are a branch to the “outside world” making sure that paperwork is correct and filed and often coordinating services for after discharge.
I never thought I’d need a social worker, but I will credit our social worker while we were in the NICU with our success providing breastmilk for our children and for making sure that we were actually prepared to bring our kids home!