In honor of Prematurity Awareness Month, I am attempting to write a post a day. With each post, I hope to address a different aspect of our prematurity journey.
I have read many articles and posts about the wonderful medical professionals in the NICU and have written a few myself. However, there seems to be little written about social workers. There were two, in particular, who were heroes in the shadows of my NICU experience. I will not forget the support and comfort they provided.
I was well aware of the role of a social worker before I had my preemie. A few years prior to Charlie’s birth, I had earned my BSW. Charlie’s birth transposed things and placed me on the opposite side of the exchange from what I was accustomed. Therefore, it was peculiar for me to be visited by the NICU social worker a few hours after Charlie was born. I am sure that it was strange for her to visit me during the midst of my nightmare. Anger was one of the multitude of emotions I was experiencing at the time and I had no problem expressing it. But, social workers can be counted on to respond where they are needed no matter how unpleasant (or, in my case, angry) the situation may be. I didn’t know it at the time but I needed a social worker.
The NICU social worker managed to introduce herself in between my magnesium sulfate fueled rants and my heartbroken sobs. She left a bag with booklets and literature about the NICU, preemies, and support organizations. I dismissed the encounter as something that was part of the administrative process and had no intention of ever speaking to her again. I mistakenly believed that I did not need a social worker. She may have stopped by my room during the course of my stay but I had mastered the art of avoiding visitors by pretending I was asleep.
The day after I was discharged, she found me by my baby’s isolette. We retreated to a quiet room and talked. I profusely apologized for our first meeting. However, I was hardly more agreeable that day. Undeterred, she proceeded to address the concerns of a new long term NICU mom. First, she helped me to understand my baby’s insurance situation. That was followed by a crash course on our new NICU life which included information such as where to eat, where to pump, parking, visiting regulations, resources, and NICU procedures. Next, she explained that I needed to advocate for my baby. Finally, we touched on the unthinkable as I asked about choices, decisions, and options in my baby’s care.
The first month or two that Charlie was in the NICU, I was consumed with grief. It was confusing for me to be lost in grief despite my baby’s survival. The NICU social worker directed me towards helpful resources and provided NICU parent groups. Eventually, the grief started to lift. Each time we passed in a hallway, she reminded me that she was there if I needed anything.
A little over two months into Charlie’s NICU stay, she was considered a feeder-grower. At which point, we had opted to have her transferred to a different hospital. My husband and I looked forward to having a shorter drive, a private NICU room, and several other advantages the new hospital afforded. Despite our eager anticipation, the transfer stalled.
We were told each day that our baby would probably transfer the next day. After a week of this, I had enough. It was one of those days in which my private kangaroo session had been peeped on by prying eyes, other babies’ visitors sniffled and coughed as they passed my baby’s isolette, and unattended kids screamed relentlessly all day in the NICU waiting room. I needed to get my baby out of there. No one could answer the questions I asked and appeared to be irked that I asked them. I was stuck and frustrated.
With no where else to turn, I wrote an angry email rant to the NICU social worker. I wanted her to sympathize. I needed to let off steam. I hoped she could explain what was happening and possibly have ideas of what to do next. Instead, her response exceeded anything I hoped for. She simply responded, “Do you want me to help you with this?” I realized that I had an ally and accepted her offer to help. She instructed me to meet with her the next day.
As I left for the hospital the following day, I muttered to my husband, “I’m not leaving the hospital today until I get my baby out.” Once at the hospital, I stomped through the parking garage with my teeth grit and fists clenched. I was ready for battle. I made my way up to the NICU with my head held high and chest thrust forward. If necessary, I was prepared to create a scene.
A battle wasn’t necessary that morning because the social worker had taken care of everything. She explained that Charlie had been, in essence, lost in the system. Due to her intervention, Charlie would be transferred the following morning at 10 AM.
My husband and I joke that Charlie would still reside in the first NICU if it weren’t for the NICU social worker. She was one of two social workers that were invaluable during our preemie journey. The second social worker was from the March of Dimes. That story is another post for later this month.