Premature babies, life in the Utin wards and support for parents

It is celebrated today throughout the World day of premature babies, World Prematurity Day. Worldwide, one in 10 babies is born earlier than the expected date of delivery. Often, from that moment, a real struggle for survival begins, especially if the birth occurs very early. NICUs are a crossroads of hope and despair, tears and victories, joys and sorrows. And it's not just the little ones who struggle: with them there are many mothers and many fathers for whom every day, every hour is an achievement. Our thoughts go to them and their "warriors" and we do it with a nice reflection from the psychologist and psychotherapist , who for work every day meets and supports many parents of premature babies. 

In the belly of the whale

I think I will never forget the eyes of a mother who, while trying to understand the fate of her son in the neonatal ward, told me "Doctor, I feel like in the belly of a whale" to indicate the gap between everyday life that inexorably went forward outside the ward and a completely superimposable reality that in the same way went forward within the ward itself. Department in which you leave your child, you leave a little creature that from the point of view of mom and dad must be protected because it is defenseless, but that you cannot and cannot help physically and you can only entrust to doctors and nurses. 

The complexity of a Utin department is also there! Interconnection of situations, roles, professions, pathologies that very often you do not know if they will take your little one away or if they will leave serious damage that will change your world, or if after a few weeks it will be just a bad memory. Only one thing is certain once you enter a Utin department: there is no turning back and - like in the belly of a whale - you don't know what will happen to you and how it will go but it will surely mark you for life because you will bring memories and emotions of that to life. place and of that period. Whether you are a parent or a health care worker working in that ward, every little boy and every person "actor of that scene" will drop and take something.

Premature babies. Personally I could speak individually about every single child and every single parent met in that ward, worried parents, saddened and heartbroken parents, parents with more or less relaxed smiles, little kids who left us too early and little kids we can still meet on the street today. as they walk with mum and dad. Each of them has left their mark and each of them has made something change.

When I was asked to write these few lines in my head, a series of thoughts followed one another. What to write? What advice should you give? What would it be useful to say? Will it be useful to report published statistical data and scientific research? After reflecting, I thought that perhaps it would be better to put aside any type of data and let the heart and experiences speak even just to remember, on the world day of premature births, every single child and every single parent in their uniqueness. 

A few nights ago while watching a movie (Cloud Atlas) my mind focused on two phrases that struck me and triggered many reflections and that I would like to quote.

"From womb to grave we are linked to others, past and present, and from every crime and every kindness we generate our future". 

The context of a neonatal intensive care unit is particularly prone to such bonds, and it is precisely there that stories from various points of view intertwine and every smile given by a nurse or doctor, or every single hand placed on the shoulder of a parent can generate a somewhat better future. 

By working together in a multidisciplinary way, many critical issues can be transformed into resources by involving gynecologists, neonatologists, psychologists, obstetricians, nurses, dedicated to the support and activation of resources present in the parental couple. 

The other sentence quotes: “At times like these, I feel your heart beating as clearly as I feel mine, and I know that separation is an illusion. My life extends far beyond the limits of myself ”. 

Within the “belly of the whale” precisely those dynamics are generated in which mothers and fathers feel their child's heart beating as they hear theirs beating. In that place they become one thing because their destiny will be inevitably and inexorably intertwined from there to eternity. Supporting parents becomes essential and creating clear communication on what is happening becomes vital because each child's jolt will be matched by a parent's jolt, who is there to pray and wait to know the fate of his child. 

There are no data to report but only to highlight the importance of communication and interaction between the various systems involved. Offering tools, information and support becomes important to help mothers and fathers to find the best way to recover early and unexpectedly interrupted parenthood, and to professionals in the sector to offer a space in which to contain and manage the inevitable emotions that are humanly activated and which increase the risk of burn-out.

The management and the possibility of offering an open ward, with the help of pouch therapy, breastfeeding and the use of donated human milk, has shown a decrease in risk factors useful not only for the parental couple, but also for premature babies and professionals who revolve around them.

The effects of multidisciplinary support are functional for a positive recovery of motherhood and paternity, with an important contrast to post-partum depression and a reconstruction of a family balance that is inevitably put to the test with the arrival of a premature child. 

In a neonatology ward we can only put ourselves in a waiting position and we can only live in the here and now facing what will be activated or known every day. A few other words but just a thought to all those who have known those places and those emotions, whatever the final outcome of that stay.


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