When Melissa was pregnant with her first baby, she had lots of sweet dreams about her daughter’s arrival. She and her husband bought tiny pink clothes and created a cozy nursery for her to come home to. Melissa read all the books and thought she knew “what to expect” from this little bundle of joy.
And then their lives were turned upside down in an instant. They had no warning that their baby would be coming early. Melissa remembered clearly the moment she was about to give birth 14 weeks too early. She recalled the face of the sweet nurse who firmly told her that her daughter needed her to relax and breathe. She remembered the exact topic of conversation that the nurses and doctors had while preparing her for surgery.
And then her daughter Addie was born, crying like a newborn kitten with those soft little mews. After being checked over by the neonatologist and his transport team, Addie’s plastic isolette was wheeled into her mom’s recovery room for a moment before she left in an ambulance, without either of her parents.
“Most first-time parents don’t send their child off on their first car ride by themselves when they are hours old, count surgeries before teeth, or speak like they’ve been through years of medical school. Most parents don’t call a nurse every morning to find out how their child did overnight—they tuck their child safely into a bassinet next to them and complain about not getting enough sleep.” – Melissa D., mother of Addie born at 26 weeks gestation
Melissa’s daughter Addie was born unexpectedly at 26 weeks, weighing just 680 grams, approximately 1.5 pounds. She was immediately transferred to their local children’s hospital where she lived for the first 135 days of her life.
For two days, Melissa was kept at her delivery hospital and relied solely on pictures and updates from her husband, parents and NICU nurses. For a month, she waited to hold Addie for the first time. For 135 days, she longed to take her home.
While Addie was in the NICU for those 135 days, Melissa and her husband struggled a lot with feelings of isolation. Addie’s nearly five month stay in the hospital was followed by a four-month RSV quarantine that left her parents both stir crazy and far removed from many of their “old” friends. The small support system they had was great and all of their extended family was very supportive. But most of their friends were far away and those that did live close had small children that were restricted from visiting the hospital. And, none of them had gone through that kind of experience before.
Melissa would have loved to be part of a support group at Addie’s hospital, but for whatever reason, parental relationships were not really encouraged in their NICU. Although she was able to form relationships with a few of the other NICU families, Melissa would have welcomed the connection with another family who had already been through a similar experience.
Hand to Hold’s Helping Hand peer mentor program has the power to be just what many new parents need – someone to turn to and ask questions or just listen when new parents need someone who understands. Having a Helping Hand mentor would have given Melissa the outside connection she yearned for from someone who truly understood her circumstances.
Melissa also found that reading other families’ experiences and, in turn, writing about her own on PreemieBabies101.com was cathartic. (See more of Melissa’s posts on PreemieBabies101.) She truly believes all NICU families are bound by a common thread, both strong and invisible.