Hand to Hold's Official Blog: Written by Parents for Parents

Peer Mentors: A Lifesaver In The NICU

peer mentor, NICU, prematurity, hand to hold, NICU family voices, preemie babies 101

It’s so easy to feel alone in the NICU. Your dream of a perfect healthy little baby may have been quickly taken away in a rushed birth. Sitting by your baby’s bedside, you can seem like no one understands how you feel. You might feel like no one understands the crazy roller coaster your emotions are on. Your friends may be posting pre-labor belly pictures, and you wish you had those too. You may feel alone and maybe jealous. You are not alone! Other NICU moms and mentors are there to help, and they want to help.

peer mentors, NICU, preemie, Hand to Hold, NICU Family Voices, preemie babies 101

The first time I saw my daughter. It was a scary, isolating feeling.

One of the biggest helps during our NICU stay was meeting other moms. I met moms who had babies in the NICU while we were there, as well as moms of NICU graduates. Both of these were so important. Talking with moms in the NICU, we could share our struggles and successes. We were able to encourage each other on hard days. We would sometimes chat late at night on Facebook as we were pumping for our babies who were miles away.

I remember one mom who surprised us with a special gift of Halloween onesies when we found out our daughter was going home the day before Halloween. It was the sweetest gesture, and I still cherish those onesies eight years later. Another mom and I would chat daily as we attempted to pump for our babies, even when the attempt yielded very little. I loved those conversations we had through the privacy screens in the pumping room.

peer mentors, NICU, preemie, Hand to Hold, NICU family voices, preemie babies 101

Sporting her special onesie from a special mommy friend

Talking with moms of graduates of the NICU was always so helpful and inspiring. Just hearing that their children were now doing so well and thriving was an encouragement. Two moms in particular worked in the NICU. They would tell us stories from their time in the NICU and offer wisdom for when were would finally go home. Their advice and help were invaluable. One of them always turned me around so I couldn’t see the monitors while holding our daughter skin to skin. She would say, “You won’t have those monitors at home. Let me worry about those and you just learn to trust your daughter’s cues for problems.”

She also told me it was ok to grieve the loss of the rest of the pregnancy, but to look at those eleven weeks as bonus time. Bonus time is time where I get to kiss my daughter, hold my daughter and tell her I love her before I would have if she was full term. Changing my thinking may have been what kept me out of depression.

You’ll meet all kinds of people when your child is in the NICU: doctors, nurses, therapists and people you never knew existed. I encourage you to seek out your peers during this time. Talk to other moms and dads in the NICU. Attend a support group or classes if your NICU offers them. Both are a great way to meet other parents.

If you find yourself in need of support during a NICU stay, consider connecting with other parents, both in and out of the NICU. Peer mentors can be a huge help as they have been down the road you are traveling and can offer advice and a listening ear of someone who understands when you just need to talk. Visit us at Hand to Hold to find out more about our Helping Hands program and get connected with a NICU mentor.

Julie Cruz About Julie Cruz

Julie Cruz (PA) is a stay-at-home-mom to four wonderful children and she enjoys spending her days with them. She and her husband are currently in the process of adopting a child from Haiti. She loves volunteering in the NICU as a mentor mom, conversing with other parents and bringing them special surprises. She is the author of “Tiny Feet,” a book about her NICU journey and things she learned along the way.

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