Paying It Forward: Volunteering in the NICU

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Prematurity Awareness Week 2013: How Do You Do It?

World Prematurity Day November 17In the United States, 1 in 9 babies is born prematurely, 1 in 10 in Canada. Worldwide, over 15 million babies are born too soon each year. While not all multiples are born prematurely, a multiple birth increases the probability of an early delivery. Babies born prematurely, before 37 weeks gestation, are at a higher risk for health complications in infancy, some of which can have long-term effects. Full-term infants are not all free from their own health complications, of course.

In honor of November’s Prematurity Awareness Month, led by the March of Dimes, How Do You Do It? is focusing this week’s posts on The Moms’ experiences with premature deliveries, NICU stays, health complications, special needs, and how we’ve dealt with these complex issues.

Our twin girls were born six weeks early. We were so blessed that they required minimal assistance, and after 10 days in the NICU, they were ready to come home.

I knew we were very fortunate that our girls were so healthy…but at the time, those 10 days in the NICU seemed like much longer. I remember feeling so helpless, and so confused. I felt like I couldn’t grasp what was happening…was something wrong with me? Why couldn’t I understand?

In addition to the raw emotion, I felt almost embarrassed at the biggest breakdown I had, the day I was discharged from the hospital without my babies. It was one of the hardest experiences of my life.

Fast forward a couple of years, and those NICU days – while still crystal clear in some ways – were far behind me. My girls were healthy and happy, and if anything, the challenges during the girls’ first few days made me even more appreciative of my blessings.

Sometime before the girls’ second birthday, I received a call from the NICU, asking if I would be willing to volunteer as a “support parent”, as part of a new program they were starting.

I tentatively said yes. I felt like it was the “right” thing to do…but – to be completely honest – part of me dreaded facing that environment again.

I was completely engaged at home, singing songs, reading books, and playing endless games of pretend with my amazing girls. I feared that the sights and sounds and smells of the hospital would bring back too many emotions.

For the first year or so, I visited the hospital when they called me, on average about once a month. I’d psyche myself up beforehand, preparing my game face. I’d let myself be reminded of those emotional days of the girls’ early infancy, and then I’d focus on trying to help another family who was dealing with a similar situation.

The visits could be challenging for me, but I always felt like I’d made a positive impact afterwards. (And they reminded me to squeeze my girls extra tightly when I got home.)

Ahead of the girls starting preschool last fall, I talked with the NICU about volunteering more regularly. To once again be completely honest, I was a little bit torn. For the first time in close to four years, I’d finally have some “off” time. Did I really want to spend part of that each week in such an emotionally-charged environment? But again, I felt like it was the “right” thing for me to do.

A year and a half later, I am so thankful I made the call.

Every Tuesday morning, after I drop the girls off with their beloved teachers and friends, I head to the hospital. No longer do I have any nervous anticipation. I see the same nurses who took care of our beautiful girls. I get to know the families who are in for the long haul. And – if I’m lucky – I sometimes get to be among the first to congratulate a new mom.

I do my best to be a good listener, and – when I feel it’s appropriate – to talk about some of our experiences in the NICU. It can be a delicate balance, but I try to respectfully share what I found as the ultimate blessings of this challenging time.

I hope I’m able to help in some small way the families who are currently experiencing the NICU…to validate their feelings…to be a sounding board, and sometimes lend a shoulder.

I read a quote once upon a time, that there is no true act of altruism, and I find that very true. For any help I am able to provide others, it heals my soul, too.

MandyE is mom to fraternal twin girls, now almost five.  She blogs about their adventures and her journey through motherhood at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

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MandyE is the mother of 4 ½-year old fraternal twin girls, Baby A and Baby B. (And yes, their names actually start with the letters A and B!) She worked in the marketing field for nine years before her girls were born, but these days she’s relishing the opportunity to be a SAHM, which she plans to continue until the girls start kindergarten. MandyE has been blogging at Twin Trials and Triumphs since her girls were a year old. Between her blog and her local Mothers of Multiples group, she considers the multiples community a huge part of her support system.

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