Packages for Preemies

In January, I mentioned the charity drive I was planning for this month, Packages for Preemies.  I’m happy to report that it was a very successful endeavor.

The event was sponsored by two student groups at my school: American Pharmacists Association Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP) and American Society of Health-Systems Pharmacists (ASHP).  The former is a general student group for pharmacy students; the latter targets students who are particularly interested in working in a hospital setting.   I made some attempt to get the nursing students involved with the event, too, but because my e-mails were redirected to spam boxes, that plan didn’t work out very well.

It was fortunate that I asked ASHP to become involved in my project, which was originally pitched to APhA-ASP.  The new president of ASHP is very supportive of philanthropic events, and she set aside $200 from the group’s budget for Packages for Preemies.  She also asked all the group’s executive board members to volunteer some time to help with the event.

Friday before the event started, I met with my volunteers to discuss the logistics  of the project and prepare the display for our donations table.  I also made a point to educate the volunteers a bit about premature birth.  One of the volunteers knew a near-term baby who had spent a couple weeks in the NICU, but for the most part, the pharmacy students at my school did not seem to be very familiar with preterm birth.  I brought photos of 1- and2-pound babies that had been shared with me for use during this event.  Some of them were amazing…

We used the photos to make a poster for our donations table the following week.  I also had my volunteers cut out heart-shaped tags listing the items we were requesting for in-kind donation: preemie-size button-up outfits, blankets, journals, disposable cameras, hand lotion, and hand sanitizer.

My volunteers attended our donations table all week (2/13/12 – 2/17/12) during lunch.  We had a good turn-out on Monday, Thursday, and Friday.  Few people stopped by our table on Tuesday or Wednesday, though; that’s when I stepped up my advertising efforts, announcing before class that my classmates needed to check out our table in the lobby of 19 Foster during lunch break, even if for no other reason than to get a free home -baked cookie.

At the end of the week, we had $127 in monetary donations, and I expected that we would receive enough in-kind donations to assemble 20-22 care packages altogether.  As it turned out, though, more people than I was expecting jumped on the opportunity to buy tiny outfits and accessories.   My original plan was to put one footed sleeper in each care package, but we received so many extra outfits, onesies, hats, and bibs that we  were able to provide a blanket, pajamas, and a “bonus” item for 34 babies.

We were able to assemble care packages for 28 families, so we had 6 extra outfit/blanket sets to supplement care packages for families with twins and higher-order multiples.  My original goal was to provide 30 care packages, so we were pretty much spot-on what I was hoping to be able to donate.  It’s hard to estimate the total value of the care packages we donated, but I would estimate that it was about $650.

In addition to the MCPHS students, faculty, and staff who offered monetary and in-kind donations for this project, I need to extend my thanks to Betsy from Classic Toy Shop, who generously provided 33 gift bags for our packages.

I couldn’t help but feel proud yesterday as we rolled a cart piled high with care packages into the UMass Memorial NICU.  The nurses and other staff were delighted to see everything that we had brought in for donation.  I could tell that they were excited to start distributing the packages as they told me that they have a lot of 27-weekers right now.

However, part of me felt like we didn’t do quite enough.  Each year, the UMass Memorial NICU admits roughly 120 babies born at less than 29 weeks gestation, so our care packages will only last for about 1/4 of the year.

I included a pamphlet with each care package.  The pamphlets explained where the care packages came from and offered advice for NICU parents:

  • Take one day at a time. The NICU is such a roller coaster and things can change by the second. One minute things may be going badly, but keep holding on and don’t lose faith because it will get better!
  • Be patient.  Everything happens on the baby’s timeline.  You will get frustrated, but the frustration will pass.  You will take this wonderful little miracle on a journey through life, and you will experience the world again through brand new eyes.
  • It’s very, very common for mothers of preemies to get hit with feelings of overwhelming guilt in the weeks after delivery.  Please, please try your very best not to entertain thoughts of guilt – guilt that your body somehow failed you – or guilt that your baby has to endure so much because you did something wrong.  None of this is true.  You’re doing an awesome job under very difficult circumstances.
  • Cry when you need to cry, laugh when you need to laugh, scream when you need to scream, brag when you need to brag, and sleep when you need to sleep.  There are so many emotions that can be overwhelming; don’t try to suppress them.
  • Seek support from family, friends, counselors, online support groups, and wherever else you can find it.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Take care of yourself so that you can take care of your baby.  Don’t be afraid to take off a day from the NICU so that you can rest and attend to your other obligations.
  • Take advantage of all the resources that the hospital offers: the social workers, the NICU librarian, the lactation consultants, and the therapists.  Ask questions, and if you don’t get a satisfactory answer from one person, ask someone else.
  • The NICU is no picnic.  However, there will be good days… days when lab values improve, days when your baby requires less respiratory support, the day you get to hold your baby for the first time, the day your baby gets to wear clothes for the first time, the day your baby gets to breastfeed for the first time, and so on.  Relish those days.  Write about them in a journal or in a blog.  They are moments you’ll want to remember for the rest of your life.
  • You may not really feel like your baby’s mother or father right away.  That’s okay.  Do what you can do: hold your baby as much as possible, change his diaper, hold his syringe during feedings, take his temperature, etc.  Your ability to advocate and make decisions for your baby will improve with time, and the bond between you and baby will grow with time.
  • Take lots of photos.  Your baby’s NICU stay will eventually come to an end, and someday in the future you will want to look back and see how far he or she has come.
  • It’s okay if your milk never comes in or your supply suddenly disappears.  Try not to be too hard on yourself if you need to supplement with formula.
  • Try to stay optimistic.  Babies are a lot stronger than we give them credit for, and these tiny newborns often end up being the biggest miracles.
  • Losing a baby in the NICU is the most horrifying and scary thing that can ever happen.  If for some reason you lose your baby, just know that whatever emotions you are feeling are the right ones.

My hope is that the care packages will provide practical and emotional support for parents who are just beginning what will inevitably be a long journey in the NICU.

It was nice to  see the NICU staff again.  Patty and Paula, two of Peter’s primary nurses, were both working yesterday, so they had the pleasure of seeing how much Peter has grown.  At Peter’s physical last Friday, he weighed 21 lbs, 10.5 oz, so he has officially octupled his birth weight.  I keep expecting him to start working his way up the growth chart, but his weight is still hovering around 3 %ile for his actual age.  However, he continues to impress me with his head circumference, now 95 %ile for his actual age.  Given how quickly he’s learning to recognize the letters of the alphabet, I’ll trust that he’s just a brainy kid.  [insert facetious little wink]

Dr. Picarillo was also working yesterday.  Alan was present at Peter’s birth, and he immediately remembered Peter as soon as he saw me.  It felt good to know that the people who were present for such pivotal events in my life remember and are happy to see me and Son and Peter.

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