Every pregnant, birthing, and newly postpartum family deserves support, but especially those families that experience the unexpected. After experiencing the NICU firsthand when my daughter was born 8 weeks early due to an infection in the placenta, and then attending two other women during their NICU encounters, I started the Cincinnati & Dayton NICU Peer Support Group and the NICU Peer Mentorship program.
The Cincinnati & Dayton NICU Peer Support Group is a Facebook group designed to be a safe place for NICU moms past and present to connect, share their stories, emotions, and experiences, find local resources, and take one more step toward healing on a difficult journey. We also try to have periodic meetings to get together, talk, laugh, cry, and know firsthand: our stories may be unique, but none of us is alone.
One thing I learned along the way, though, is that we don't always know exactly where to go to begin to process our thoughts, feelings, and emotions surrounding difficult or unexpected birth or birth outcomes. For this reason, a team of wonderful former NICU moms decided to form the NICU Peer Mentorship program.
The NICU Peer Mentorship program is a 10 week, email-based program that matches women who have recently or are currently dealing with having a child in the NICU with one of the women on the team who have previously experienced the NICU themselves and would like to help other women navigate their experience. Over the course of the 10 weeks, the Mentors send their Mentee one email a week, sharing their own personal stories, tips, and resources around a specific weekly challenge designed to encourage personal reflection and growth in a positive direction. Topics include:
Week 1: Introductions
Week 2: Identifying Physical Obstacles
Week 3: Identifying Support People
Week 4: Identifying Emotional & Spiritual Obstacles
Week 5: Practicing Self-Care
Week 6: Identifying Gratitude
Week 7: Connecting with the Baby
Week 8: Sharing the Birth Story with the Baby
Week 9: Connecting with Loved Ones
Week 10: Moving Forward
The mentors don't replace the professional help of a nurse, doctor, mental health counselor, or lactation counselor, but they are women whose invaluable experiences can help others to begin to navigate many of the unique challenges and emotional struggles that are faced when a child is in the NICU. They are willing to be one extra layer in the web of support, and one extra piece of healing in the puzzle that is starting to be put back together again. They are willing to use their own experiences, and the tips and resources they learned about along the way, to help women currently facing the unexpected.
It is my hope that the Cincinnati & Dayton NICU Peer Support Group and the NICU Peer Mentorship will be a source of help to those in the Cincinnati or Dayton area facing the NICU with a child. If you or someone you know is currently in this situation, please join our group or share our information! And if you have previously experienced the NICU yourself and would like to learn about becoming a mentor, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.