In October, we observe Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. Unfortunately, many families around the world know this pain all too well and spent the day honoring their little ones.
In the Bryan Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Prisma Health Children’s Hospital, we also know this pain too well. Our NICU is the largest in the state, and receives newborns from other hospitals throughout the region who need specialized care. But despite the best neonatal medicine and technological advances, there are still babies born too early, whose underdeveloped organs cannot handle the demands of the extra-uterine environment. There are still babies born so sick that the most skillful medical efforts are not enough.
While there is nothing worse than knowing a family will become part of the “infant loss” community, there are many things we have in place to comfort families and build help precious memories.
Just last year, a family donation enabled us to convert existing space to an “end-of-life suite” in the NICU so that families can have more privacy and time to grieve an imminent loss. Photographers can be brought in, baptisms may take place, extended family and friends can gather and parents can bathe, dress and hold their babies. The suite is essentially a home within the hospital and helps make a very traumatic experience more bearable.
The community helps our families as well. Families who have endured losses have donated incredible gifts for other families in similar situations, including teddy bears and “lovies” for surviving twins or multiples. Beautifully smocked gowns, crocheted blankets and fabric diapers are handmade with love and provided by local volunteer groups. Prisma Health provides memory boxes—designed with the help of bereaved parents—to hold special keepsakes such as hand and foot prints, three-dimensional molds, charms and poems.
As staff members, there is nothing harder than knowing that a family will not be able to take their beloved infant home. Yet having these resources and supports in place enables us to help families create beautiful memories. While we may not be able to change what has happened, we are able to do all that is in our power to provide compassionate and supportive care.
Rachel Balck, EdD, provides information, guidance and comfort to families as a support specialist with March of Dimes NICU Family Support. She is based in the Bryan Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Prisma Health Children’s Hospital. Learn more about the NICU here.