A child requires a positive reaction from the touch of hands, from the beating and breathing during the Kangaroo care, and from the tone of voice of the parents. In this sense, the concept of “Family Centered Care”— personalized care centered on the entire family — is in my opinion the only way to treat premature babies.
Medical science, medicines and technology alone are not enough to achieve the miracles that happen every day in the NICU. In Mangiagalli parents, who have access 24/7 to the department, are encouraged to become an active part of the care process, becoming themselves the object of care, gaining safety and confidence and alleviating their baby from sufferings and small ‘tortures’ coming from the NICU.
The NICU is still far away from the welcoming womb, but it is improving thanks to renewed attention to noise control, containment of light pollution, reduced use of invasive medical procedures and, especially to the presence of parents, a medicine that is good for the hearts of all three.
So, four and a half months after June 1st, Anna Lu ended up being born and we could take her home, thanks to God and science, safe and sound.
I am certain that premature babies like Anna Lu have a strong memory of their stay in NICU; not a conscious memory but a biological one. After the primary goal of survival, the aim for all of the caregivers is to make this period less shocking to the child, and the parents.
It goes from an approach in which the baby is the only patient to one in which the unit takes care of the parents too, so that they can heal themselves. Doing this, with attention also being paid to the right environmental stimuli, the Family Centered Care approach becomes an incredible resource for the child, supporting them while they overcome the trauma of a troubled birth.
It would be nice to think that the importance of Family Centered Care ends with the hospital stay, as if the chapter can be closed and forgotten. But the journey goes on for some less fortunate children, even longer. It is important that the ‘care’ of the whole family continues outside of the hospital environment.
We are lucky in that Mangiagalli has a free follow-up service, which continues supporting children and their families for several years after discharge and it does so with a multidisciplinary team that assists each case according to its own specificities along three main pillars: pediatric, psychological and physical therapy.
For us this continuation of the Family Centered Care was important as it gave Anna Lu — and us — time to overcome some emotional fragility.
Anna Lu is now six years old. She goes to primary school and is a strong child: emotionally balanced, skinny and beautiful. Seeing her grow up every day has been the best present ever. Seeing her walk, talk and play with other children is an immeasurable joy, since parents of a preterm baby tend to reset their expectations.