A successful day filled with support, communication and motivation. President of the Parents of Preemies Association, Julia Shea, gave the community some insight as to what is to come for the organization. Earlier this year, Julia gave birth to her second child, who is also her second preemie. Although Julia was much more confident in navigating the world of prematurity having done it once before, many of the parents that were in the Civic’s Special Care Nursery with their infant at the same time did not feel the same. Julia could see that they were scared, unsure of themselves, isolated, confused, – just like she felt the first time around. While the hospital staff are amazing at answering questions and helping families, it is not the same as speaking to another parent who knows all of the emotions that accompany the difficult journey that one faces while in the NICU.
The board members at PoP have recognized this void and over the past couple of years we have been working towards filling it. We have always tried to reach out to families with babies in the NICU through our package program, but often families are so overwhelmed while dealing with their baby in the hospital that it is difficult for them to reach out for help. PoP has done a fantastic job connecting people through our online support group, however many families don’t discover this useful forum until after discharge. We knew we had to do something more and when The Canadian Premature Babies Foundation approached us with an idea they had to create parent support groups in hospitals across the country, we were very eager to get involved.
Like the board at Parents of Preemies Association, the Canadian Premature Babies Foundation saw that there are gaps in the care and support parents receive when they have a baby in the hospital. Based on a program already in place at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, they proposed that other hospitals and parent groups start peer based support programs. CPBF offerered to train individuals in peer support in order to help graduate parents become peer mentors.
Back in May, PoP Board members and our volunteer peer support mentors received training from Kate Robson of the CPBF. Since then, we have been working together to create a program that we feel would most benefit parents in Ottawa. In addition to our peer support training, our mentors have become TOH volunteers in order to work hand in hand with the hospital. It has been some time in the making, but we are so happy to finally announce that we will be hosting an in hospital peer support program to aid families when they most need the support, during those difficult days in the hospital.
The Hand in Hand Support Program will allow parents to speak to mentors who have been there before, ask questions, vent their frustrations, and share a cup of coffee. All our mentors have dealt with the overwhelming emotions of having a child in the NICU, and they have all come out on the other side. We have all had different experiences, and different outcomes, but we all share the same desire to help other parents. Our goal is to lift away some of the isolation that goes along with being a preemie parent.
Research shows that parents with babies in the NICU are at an increased risk for conditions such as post-partum depression, PTSD, and anxiety. Support is critical in mitigating the risk factors for developing these conditions, and while we know that there is medical staff available to help, not all parents will need or want this type of formal support. While support from family and friends is helpful, parents with a baby in the NICU are often disconnected from those traditional support networks and some parents may experience more stress from those outside of the NICU because of people’s inablilty to understand the NICU experience.
This is why an in-hospital peer support program is so necessary. The NICU experience is so unique and one to which only another parent who has been there can truly relate. Our aim is to share our experience with parents. We offer an opportunity for parents to voice their fears, to validate their feelings and to gain perspective. Our hope is that by talking to a parent mentor, parents can ease some of their anxiety and make connections with one another, support one another and learn from one another.
The Hand in Hand program will be held every Wednesday night, alternating between the the Ottawa Hospital Campuses. This Wednesday November 16th will mark our first meeting, which will be held at the Civic campus, followed next Wednesday, November 23rd by a meeting at the General campus.
We are so excited to be a part of this new endeavor and want to thank the hospital for making this possible. The Parents of Preemies Association would also like to thank the dedicated parents who have volunteered their time to become peer mentors; Izabela, Garry, Sarah, Amelie, and Julia.
Also, a special thank you to the PoP Board members for their dedication and for their efforts in organizing this year’s World Prematurity Day event: Julia Shea, Amelie Bisson, Krista Curtis, Pam Root, Rakhi Radia, Bonnie Bouliane, and Eric Bouliane, and to our volunteers Sara Chenier and Helen Parker. The day’s success would not have happened without their contributions.
Stay tuned for photographs provided by Shaun Gour and Kayla Photography.