Why you should care
Because preemies are powerful; their parents just need some help.
It’s the happiest and scariest moment of your life. Moments after you welcome a tiny human into the world — in my case, two — you’re following as they are whizzed down the hallway into a flurry of nurses and doctors and incubators and beeping, impossibly small children attached to an array of machines. A doctor is explaining what’s going on, and your brain registers only that they can’t go home for weeks or, gulp, months?
No piece of technology can manage the emotional cyclone of the neonatal intensive care unit, but a new app launched in May by the March of Dimes charity can bring some order and a little more sanity to a harrowing time for neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) fathers and mothers. My NICU Baby lets parents track their child’s progress — from weight to feedings to time in skin-to-skin contact with parents, known as “kangaroo care.” It includes a glossary of medical terms so you know what it means if your baby gets an endotracheal tube, and what that blue bili light does.
Scrolling through others’ responses, she thought: “I’m not alone in this. It’s normal. I shouldn’t beat myself up for that.”
March of Dimes — founded in 1938 to fight polio — has been involved with preemies for long enough that it gets the little things right, too. We did not have the app when my twins were born last year, but when I downloaded it to write this story, my eyes gravitated instantly to one seemingly small feature. It happens to be the part that NICU mother Denise Zahui-Gboignon uses daily: the grams-to-pounds calculator. Every morning, nurses provide a baby’s weight in grams, so it’s nice to alleviate the daily math quiz.
For Zahui-Gboignon’s long months in a Massachusetts NICU following her son’s premature birth in February, the other crucial feature of the app was the talk-back section. Personal connections with fellow parents can be hard when you’re in a place everyone wants to leave. But on the app, NICU mothers pour out their raw emotions, and Zahui-Gboignon found validation for her complicated reaction to other mothers in the maternal ward who got to snuggle with their little ones immediately. Scrolling through others’ responses, she thought: “I’m not alone in this. It’s normal. I shouldn’t beat myself up for that.”
Progress in these halls is uneven and can often be measured in reading the faces of your fellow parents. You celebrate milestones that would appear so mundane to the outside world: breathing room air, drinking from a bottle.
The free app also provides users with instructional videos on parenting and the checklist to complete before the child goes home — from learning how to feed the baby on your own to taking an infant CPR class. Departure day can appear tantalizingly out of reach until it smacks you in the face, and you walk into the sunlight for your baby’s first gulps of fresh air. You check the connections on the car seat for the 67th time. A new stage of joyful terror awaits.
Disclosure: The author has donated a small amount of money to March of Dimes and participated in a charity walk.