Nurtured in the NICU: Peer Mentorship and the value of the “lived experience”
Updated: Mar 6, 2020
By Pam Thomson-Kai
Life would never be the same after our son Sawyer was born in 2014, prematurely and with life threatening conditions. No one could prepare us for the NICU experience and I struggled as a mom to know where I fit into his care and to create a connection with him. I wasn’t able to do the typical mom things with him like breast or bottle feed, hold him for endless amounts of hours or take him home. There were moments and days when I felt so isolated and alone – life stood still for hours inside the walls of the NICU.
Throughout his 112 days in the NICU, I began to connect with other moms in the pumping room, hallways and family lounge. We understood each other, immediately connected on an emotional level and it was those things that helped pull me through some of the darkest days. I didn’t realize how valuable those connections were at the time however it became so clear to me as our journey continued and we left the hospital.
Because of my experience with peer supports, I have since become a Peer Mentor volunteer with Family to Family Connections at the Alberta Children’s Hospital and a family ambassador for the Canadian Premature Babies Foundation. Peer mentors are parents with lived experience who are further along in their journey and able to support other parents in a variety of ways. Peer Mentorship is one extension of FiCare (family integrated care) and is one I think holds a lot of value. At the ACH, I volunteer in all 3 Family to Family Connections programs which include Bedside Connections, One to One Connections and Co-facilitated programs.
Bedside Connections – Peer Mentors go room to room in the hospital providing newly admitted families with information about the hospital, supports available, and tips on partnering with their healthcare team.
Family to Family Connections – Peer Mentors are connected to a Requesting Family based on the specific needs and concerns of the Requesting Family.
Co-facilitated programs – Peer Mentors participate in sessions offered to families to share their experiences, offer helpful strategies, and provide a sense of hope. In the NICU, this is done with a monthly tea.
Through these programs, parents are able to find connection and support to help them process and cope with their own NICU journey.
At the beginning of 2019, I had the honour of having a digital story produced of my journey as a caregiver – first to my son Sawyer and now to the families I support through my volunteering. It highlights the value of human connection with another person who has had a similar experience, to meet them where they are at and help them understand they are never alone.
You can view my digital story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YH4a7sHEGvE
Nurtured in the NICU stories are created by the Canadian Premature Babies Foundation to highlight the wonderful work of doctors, nurses, and parent volunteers in Canada’s NICUs. For more information or if you would like to share an initiative happening in your NICU, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.