September is NICU Awareness Month, a month to honor all NICU families and the healthcare professionals who care for them. This topic is near and dear to our hearts because so many members of our community are NICU families who have gone through so much. To help raise NICU awareness, we connected with Lauren Vollentine, a NICU Nurse at Atrium Health in Charlotte, NC. She shared her experiences with us in this interview:
How long have you been a NICU nurse?
I have worked in the NICU for five and a half years! I’ve had multiple roles in the unit including bedside nurse, clinical case manager (setting up home health services and home equipment), and I’m currently one of the discharge coordinators/nurse.
What is the most challenging thing about your role?
One of the most challenging things about my role is witnessing setbacks for our families and babies; when they see that light at the end of the tunnel and then they experience another setback, it can be devastating.
What about the most rewarding?
The most rewarding things about my job are being a part of discharge day and when you witness a parent learn something new about taking care of their baby. Discharge day is a day full of emotions and it is a beautiful day to witness. The parents have done the work in preparation for their baby to come home (there is a lot of teaching that is completed with the family), and the medical team puts in a lot of work to make sure that the baby is truly ready and the parents feel confident and comfortable with taking their baby home.
It is no surprise that after seeing your baby attached to wires, tubes, IVs, oxygen support, etc., it can be a little bit scary for our parents to then learn how to care for their baby in fear of something going wrong. Babies that are born prematurely enter into the world in an entirely different way. Our parents learn a new way of feeding, supporting their baby’s development, and different ways of bonding. It's truly something special when a parent feels confident in skills to feed their baby that was born premature, or when they feel comfortable doing skin-to-skin time with their baby to be able to bond.
Why is NICU Awareness Month so important?
The only people that normally know about the NICU are the families that have to walk through this journey when their baby ends up needing a NICU stay, and healthcare workers. Most people, they don't know that a place like the NICU exists. No matter the NICU journey, it's not an easy one. It's important to be aware because these families and babies need and deserve so much love and support. The NICU team needs support too! When working in the NICU, you're not just caring for the baby, you're also caring for the family. Awareness and support of the medical team help keep everyone going!
What can others do to raise awareness and support families & their NICU babies?
You can help us spread the word about NICU awareness! Not just during September but all year-round. One thing people can do in support of families is to listen to their NICU story; not giving input or opinions, just listening and being there for them. Other ways to support are participating in a blanket drive, offering to drop off a meal, sending a kind message (without an expectation of receiving a message back), donating to organizations that assist with funeral costs, baby supplies, gas cards, and therapy/counseling support (mental health support is HUGE in the NICU). Also, don't forget to thank a healthcare worker!
What are some organizations we can support that help NICU families?
Thank you to Lauren for sharing your experience with us and helping us spread awareness this month and beyond.