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In this episode, I’m joined by Hollis Wakefield, also known as The NICU Doula. Join us as we delve into a crucial topic: how to help NICU families find empowerment and healing during their challenging journeys.

 

Hollis is a former NICU parent turned birth worker, educator, and family advocate, and she shares her own powerful story of navigating a traumatic birth, early delivery, and the emotional roller coaster of having a medically complex baby in the NICU. She sheds light on the critical gaps in support and resources that many NICU families encounter, from the emotional toll to practical challenges, and highlights the importance of empowering NICU families during their transition from the NICU to home and provides insights into her work as an educator for doulas supporting NICU families.

 

Content Warning: The conversation includes discussions about birth trauma, PTSD, and the potential for distressing experiences in the NICU environment.
Resources
Follow The NICU Doula on Instagram
Learn more about Hollis and her work below:

Click here for information from March of Dimes on preterm labor and premature birth.

 

For the Evidence Based Birth® Signature Article on Premature Rupture of Membranes, click here.

Listen to EBB episodes:
Transcript

Rebecca Dekker:

Hi, everyone. On today’s podcast, we’re going to talk with Hollis Wakefield, The NICU Doula, about how to help NICU families find empowerment and healing in their experience.

Welcome to the Evidence Based Birth® podcast. My name is Rebecca Dekker and I’m a nurse with my PhD and the founder of Evidence Based Birth®. Join me each week as we work together to get evidence-based information into the hands of families and professionals around the world. As a reminder, this information is not medical advice. See ebbirth.com/disclaimer for more details.

Hi everyone. My name is Rebecca Dekker, pronouns she/her, and I’ll be your host for today’s episode. If there are any detailed content or trigger warnings from this episode, we’ll post them in the description or show notes. And now I would like to introduce our honored guest. Hollis Wakefield, pronouns she her, also known as The NICU Doula, is a former NICU parent turned birth worker, educator, and family advocate. Due to complications from a previous cervical cancer surgery, Hollis’s water broke at exactly 24 weeks gestation. Following a five-day hospitalization, she gave birth to her daughter via emergency cesarean. Unable to breathe on her own, septic, and with nothing but a faint pulse, baby Keppley came into the world at just one pound and 10 ounces. Hollis’s body had an infection that would not respond to antibiotics, and days later, while still recovering from the original surgery, Hollis endured a traumatic but life-saving hysterectomy.

After 97 days in the NICU, Hollis and her spouse, Court, finally took their baby home, but the support they’d had in the NICU fell away, and the fourth trimester and beyond was more difficult than they ever could have imagined, especially with a medically complex baby, multiple appointments with specialists each week, and pumping around the clock. Holly’s experience inspired her to pursue doula training so she could advocate for NICU families and eventually expand her practice to include teaching other doulas and birth workers about how they can support NICU families. I am so thrilled that Hollis is here to talk with us. Welcome Hollis to the Evidence Based Birth® Podcast. 

 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:02:21: 

Hi there, thank you so much for having me today. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:02:23: 

Yeah, we are so excited to be talking to you. I know my team and I have been following your work at the NICU Doula on social media for a while and you’ve been doing so much to help educate families. And I was wondering if you could start off by talking us about kind of your journey towards working on this mission to empower NICU families and how you can help whole families get through this process and survive afterwards. 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:02:49: 

Sure. My experience in the NICU. I knew going through it that we held a lot of privilege in that area. My spouse worked at the hospital and we had the financial privilege to be able to pay for parking and I had maternity leave and so I was able to be there about 14 hours a day every day. But then that mat leave only lasted for 12 weeks, and we were in the NICU for 100 days about. And when that happened, I realized, oh, I’m going to have to quit my job. And we had the ability for me to do that. It was, it was a little bit tight, but it wasn’t the plan. But I just knew I had to be there if I could, because I was the one pumping around the clock. I was the one meeting with all the specialists’ attending rounds. I was doing everything. And then. I think the transition home for us, everyone feels different about their NICU team. We grew very close to ours. And I still text some of our NICU nurses with updates and we chat to this day. But you get so used to having a whole team behind you if something happens to your baby and they can jump in and they can reassure you and then you go home. We went home on oxygen. She had a Pulse Ox. that would go off all the time for no reason. And then navigating all of that. With, she was also getting heparin shots, trying to get to your appointments, like even just trying to get everything out of the car, like the oxygen tank and everything. It was so stressful. And I think I didn’t realize how much help we needed until about a year later. Cause like all the people that came brought us food and they were so supportive and the NICU, I think their idea is, oh, you’re an expert, you’re going home, you’ve got this. And to me, I always say. In the NICU, the beginning of your fourth trimester is when you go home. Because you’re usually going home if you have a preterm baby. Only about 50% of babies in the NICU are preterm. But if you have a preterm baby, you’re often going home around their actual due-date. So, it really is your fourth trimester starting. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:05:14: 

And the babies as well. 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:05:16: 

Yeah, absolutely. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:05:17:  

Because they completed the third trimester essentially on the outside. Yeah. Yeah.  

Hollis Wakefield – 00:05:22:  

Yeah. And I didn’t realize at the time that you can hire independent lactation consultants. I thought I had to use the ones in the hospital and that was really difficult. I remember they all had different opinions and I felt like every time someone came in, I was supposed to try something else and no one was on the same page. And that’s really tricky with a 24-weeker, especially when they’ve had an ng tube for a long time. Getting that suck, swallow, breathe thing is usually the last hurdle before leaving the NICU. And you know, I think everyone just kind of wanted to leave us alone. You know, people are doing what they think is best, but I was like, oh, no, this is when we needed the most help. But when you’re in it, you don’t really realize it. It was about a year later. I saw someone that I knew on Instagram who had become a doula and I thought, I wonder if there’s a such thing as an, like a NICU Doula. And I googled it and I only found like a handful of people who seemed to highlight at least NICU work and their doula work. There weren’t very many. And I have a former life in marketing. So, this is a very big jump for me. I didn’t grow up. Fantasizing about, like I wasn’t a birth nerd growing up, you know.  

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:06:37: 

You didn’t dream of being a midwife or OB or anything. 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:06:43: 

Also, a lot of that was because I thought you needed, like that stuff requires serious medical training and I was always terrible at chemistry. So that was like always my, can’t do that. But I told my spouse and my spouse was like… This is what you have to do. You’re already doing this. Like you’re already on the boards giving people advice. Like this is what you’re already doing. Yes, do it. And I was still very, it kind of takes me a long time sometimes to come around. You know, I quietly told a couple other people and I just had such. Positive feedback and court were like, I’m signing out for training. Because if I don’t, you’ll never do it. You’ll just worry that. About all the things. And I was like, okay, okay. So that’s kind of how it started and then. The very first day of my postpartum training, I had multiple other students in the group asking me if I was going to teach a workshop on the NICU. And I was like, I’m brand new here. What do you mean? So that was, should have been my first hint that there was a really big need and hunger really in the doula community to learn about how to support NICU families. Cause it definitely wasn’t covered in me. In my training.  

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:08:01: 

and. 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:08:02:  

At the time I was thinking I was going to mostly be directly helping. NICU families and the longer I’ve been in this and the more I even looked back on my own experience. When we were in the NICU. Couple weeks, like right around the time we knew we were going to actually be discharged in a couple weeks. A good friend of mine came to visit who had been a doula. And she offered to pay for, as our like gift, to pay for some postpartum doula work. And I never took her up on it. We had a birth doula. Like I knew about doulas. I wasn’t completely in the dark. And then, I had to start looking back and thinking about… Even my own experience, and that i think when you’re in the thick of it, you don’t know what you need. I didn’t know what I needed until a year later, you know, in hindsight. And so, I think that’s how i’ve kind of come to realize that, although i’m always here for NICU families who find me, I think educating other doulas is really aware. The need is and where the power is, because I can help so many other families. If I can help, Doulas help them. You know. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:09:18: 

Those are like the ultimate community workers. They’re out there spreading information.  

Hollis Wakefield – 00:09:24: 

They talk to each other. Yeah, so I started thinking about putting together a workshop. This is all in my head. And then I got this. Message on Instagram from someone who I never met before. And they were like, I’d love to talk to you. I was like, okay, so we talked and their name is Aruna Bodrum. And they were like, I would love to put together a NICU workshop with you. And so, you know, the universe is like. You need to do this. It just felt sort of undeniable and so strange that it was just coming at me. And so, we started working on something and then BADT reached out and they wanted me to teach a class for their postpartum training. And so, Aruna and I put together our first training and so we’re part of that group. And I’ve done the same training for a few Doula collectives. And then my plan is also in the next couple of weeks to start a, by the time this is out there hopefully, to have started a peer-to-peer group. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:10:32: 

For doulas who want to support NICU family.  

Hollis Wakefield – 00:10:35: 

For NICU families. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:10:37: 

For NICU families. 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:10:37: 

And then maybe if that does well, I could do both, like one for Doulas and one for. Just taking one step at a time trying to. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:10:47: 

You talked about messaging on social media boards and groups. But I was thinking about the statistics and how one in 10 babies in the United States is born preterm. And due to racism, it’s closer to 15% for black families. And in other countries, rates may be much lower or much higher. But with the prevalence of preterm birth and the need for NICU care for babies who have other complications, what resources do families have right now in terms of navigating the NICU system and also bringing your baby home? Like, do you feel families, for the most part, get the support they need from what you see and hear? Because you talk with families and doulas all across the United States. Or where are the gaps still? 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:11:36: 

I definitely don’t think they get enough support or resources. I think you tend to get more in the NICU than after, which is why I think my focus has been on the transition home. I give advice on everything and I can give resources on anything in the NICU too. But I find that in the NICU, people tend to be really overwhelmed with pumping and specialists and decisions and surgeries and work and all of that. And they tend to not have a lot of bandwidth for much more or maybe not even know what they might need. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:12:15: 

So they’re kind of like living in the moment day-to-day. 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:12:17: 

You’re like minute-to-minute. Yeah. Pretty much everyone calls the NICU a roller coaster because in the morning you might be like, oh, she’s up. 20 grams. And then an hour later, there’s some other complication, you know, and you just have to. Kind of be ready for anything. I mean, in my opinion. Maternity leave or parental leave should, there should be something for that gap. If you have a preterm baby, I think it shouldn’t start the minute you’re hospitalized or the minute your baby is born, baby is born at 24 weeks. And then you’re supposed to go back to work before your baby’s out of the NICU. You haven’t had your fourth trimester yet. There should be something to cover that time. And then. Your regular parental leave could start at discharge. I think that would be a huge help. And even things like parking. I mean, we had to pay, like everyone at our hospital had to pay for parking every day. And we know the massive. Positive impact that comes from parents being bedside with their preemie. Babies go home earlier, they have better outcomes, they have better oxygen rates. I mean, there’s just, with kangaroo care, there’s so many benefits. Parents are medicine. And the fact that they’re charging for parking. Alone, like that alone just made me infuriated. And it is actually something that I’m so proud that my spouse got changed at our hospital. So now parking is actually free for everyone. It was one of the things that it was like, if I do anything here, I’m going to change this parking situation. And I’m, I, it should be a no brainer and it shouldn’t be something you have to fight for or send up the ladder in the corporate world, but it got done. That feels, it feels good to me to know that other and acute parents aren’t having to struggle with that. And then, you know, how it is in the hospital, even if you have specific dietary needs. We are vegan and we had friends bring a little mini fridge when I was hospitalized to the room so that when people brought us food, we would have somewhere. To keep it. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:14:51: 

Speaking of rooming in, I’ve read research showing that there are huge health benefits to babies to having the parents be able to stay 24/7 if that’s what they choose to do. And unfortunately, most NICUs were built in the model where you have multiple babies in one room and parents can only be there during visiting hours. In talking to families around the country, have you seen more hospitals shift to the private room model where they’re remodeling their NICUs so that you can stay with your baby? You don’t have to get kicked out at a certain hour of the day. 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:15:25: 

Yeah, it’s happening slowly. And of course, as new hospitals get built, it’s happening. I think remodels are always tricky because then where’s it is placed? People go, what wing do they go to? But it is happening. It’s, I would love to see it happening more. I know for a lot of parents, they end up, especially if they’re admitted on bed rest, they end up on the same floor as labor and delivery. So, they, they, and then once you have your baby and your baby’s in the NICU, whether it’s preterm or not, you can hear all the other people. You know, soothing their babies and they can hear their babies crying and you’re not next to your baby and it can be extremely traumatic for families. For me, I was septic and, in a wheelchair, and even though my baby, like the NICU was on the same floor, you had to go downstairs to the first floor, take another elevator and go upstairs. To back to the third floor, whatever it was. And so, I had to have someone able to push me. I couldn’t just. I didn’t have any autonomy. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:16:40: 

Right. You couldn’t just walk up and go see your baby. You yourself were sick. 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:16:44: 

Yeah. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:16:45: 

Yeah. 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:16:46: 

But it was nice. And I know a lot of hospitals do this. We had a really big TV screen with what was it called? NICUCAM or Nikki something. And I could watch her pretty much 24 seven on that screen. So that was also helpful with. Pumping as you know, they say like, if you can look at your baby, if you can smell your baby. So we had loveys that we would exchange. Some people call them bonding hearts or scent cloths. And my spouse and I also made a website. It’s niculoveys.org where you can learn how to make a NICU lovey for friends or make them in large numbers for your local hospital. And so, you get a pair of them that match and you put one on your baby and one on like inside your bra for 24 hours and then you swap so they can smell you and you can smell them. And that’s especially helpful if you’re working on milk production. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:17:43: 

Oh yeah. And I was just going to bring that up because we loved your blog article about gift giving to families who are in the NICU and we’ll link to that in the show notes. But you also talk about a NICU octopus. So, could you talk a little bit about that? 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:17:58: 

I sure can. I could go grab one if you want to, but we have two and they’re little crocheted octopuses. You can get them on Etsy and there are lots of patterns out there if you know how to crochet. But the cool thing is they’re not just a toy. They’re actually for developmental and comfort measures. So, the little tentacles are curly and it helps the babies grab onto something that’s not their line. And it also can make them, remind them of the umbilical cord. And there have been studies that show that they really do help. And then it’s just I love them also because you can take growth pictures and see. The octopus stays the same, and then you can see how big. Your baby’s gotten. I remember Kelpies head was about the same size as the octopus. It was 20 centimeters. It’s about the size of a… Like a large clementine. And then as she got bigger, it was like, wow, I can’t. It’s, you almost have this like memory gap where you can’t even wrap your brain around. How tiny she was, you know? 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:19:05: 

I love it. It’s like baby’s first sensory toy. 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:19:08: 

Yeah. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:19:09: 

It really like being inside the womb and that’s, you know, a lot of what kangaroo care is about too, is kind of making them feel safe and that they’re still inside of you. And mimicking that. 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:19:21: 

Yeah. And there are like, I think they need to be cotton, like you need to look up. Usually, you wash them in really hot water before you send them out to the local hospitals if you’re making them for. Hospital, there are like rules for that, you know, like non scented detergent, stuff like that. Yeah, I’m about to learn. I’m a knitter, so I’ve never made one, but i’m learning now, because I’ve wanted to make them for so long. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:19:47: 

That’s so adorable. But so helpful too. So, one other question I have for you is that we saw a rise in preterm birth from 2020, 2021. I was wondering if you could talk to us about what people in the NICU community are saying about. The increase in the number of families who are having preterm births. 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:20:07: 

I think we’re really in a crisis right now between the rise and preterm birth. Well, I haven’t seen anything that tells us exactly why that’s happening. Maybe has been published. We’ve been pretty busy the last few months. I haven’t had as much time to keep up with all the medical studies that come out. But I will also say with the nursing shortage, it’s a real problem. I’m seeing parents. Terrified to go home at night, terrified to go home at all, because instead of having, especially in a level four, there’s usually two babies to each nurse. I am seeing sometimes. Four, five babies to a nurse. And nurses unable to respond when the monitor’s going off and things are not looking good. I even posted on my stories the other day; they were talking to a NICU nurse. Said they are having four babies in their NICU to a nurse and then if you need to take a break. Then you’re putting your four babies on another nurse that’s eight babies. It blows my mind because even with two, I remember. So, in our room, you have your monitor and then there’s like a little part of the monitor below where you can see the baby in the other room. Like you can’t see their face, but you can see their stats. You can see the oxygen on their heart rate. So, I could always see, okay. Our nurse, our primary is in there, I can see what’s going on. I could tell which baby needed the help more and where the nurse was and maybe when they’d be back, I could see when things were starting to get better. But with four, I don’t know. It’s so stressful. I can’t imagine, honestly. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:21:59: 

It’s so shocking to me because when I was, you know, in the middle of nursing education and teaching nursing students, there was always a steady stream of students who wanted to become NICU nurses. So I’m really confused as to why there’s a shortage in that specialty in particular. Is it because they require additional training after they graduate? So, it’s not like you can just hire a new grad and throw them into the NICU? 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:22:26: 

And it’s not every hospital. I’ll say our hospital doesn’t have a shortage right now in the NICU. So I’m not sure. You know, which hospitals, one of the things I try to tell people or try to like really get across is even if you’re not high risk, I was very high risk. So, we always knew, but a lot of people end up in the NICU who weren’t high risk or didn’t know who were high risk. If you can try to find out before, like as early as possible, before you hit viability, find out which levels of NICUs you have near you. So NICUs are level one through four here. Our birth hospital was a three and then we ended up being transferred across the street to children’s, which is a four. But if you can find out where they are. And then also, you want to find out what they consider to be viability at their hospital. Because it’s changed a lot even in four years. So, our hospital… When we were going through it, viability was 24 weeks. And if your baby was born before 24 weeks… They most likely were not going to do extensive measures or life-saving measures. There’s a really great Instagram account called 22 matters. There’s a big push to change it to 22 weeks. It can be controversial within the medical field, but we’re seeing a lot of 22-weekers do really well. A lot more. They still have a much higher mortality rate than even 24 weeks, but… You know, parents, I think it should be their decision if they want. If they have a 22-weeker and they want life-saving measures, I personally think they should be given that. And a lot of hospitals are bumping it down to 22 weeks, which is really awesome. Mine has; I know some of the others in the area have. And there are resources on my resource page. I know that I know we have one up for Texas that lists all of the levels of the hospitals of the NICUS. Yeah, if you can find out which hospital has a viability that resonates with you and what levels they are and you go into extreme preterm labor, then you can, it’s a lot harder to get transferred than it is to just go to the hospital right away. Getting transferred is a lot is a lot harder and usually they have to wait till your baby’s more stable. To transfer them. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:25:06: 

So that’s really important. Info for parents to know. I don’t think most parents think about the level of NICU. That their hospital has. And I think it’s one of those things where, you know, we talk about the research on home birth, for example, no, there’s not a NICU at home, but some hospitals don’t have much of a NICU either. So, it’s important to know what your options are. If you go into labor earlier, you seem to be having complications and 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:25:34: 

If you’re traveling also, I’ve had two different friends who were traveling far from who ended up with micro preemies in cities they didn’t live in. So, I mean. I am definitely an over-researcher, but knowing what I know now, if I were to be pregnant and to be traveling, I would definitely want to know what’s nearby as far as hospitals also, even if I’m… You know, at 20 weeks. Because if you end up on bed rest, you’re going to be stuck at that hospital. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:26:06: 

Right. 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:26:07: 

You know? 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:26:08: 

And I think you’re mentioning they’re able to save babies earlier in earlier gestations, but that means the babies in the NICU are sicker and in need of more care and there’s more people having preterm births and then we have a staffing shortage on top of it. So, knowing how is staffing at your local hospitals, like asking around and finding out are there issues or not? Because some hospitals probably don’t have problems and others are chronically short staffed. So that would be important for parents to be aware of as well. 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:26:40: 

I will say another reason that NICUs are more crowded and it was one of the first things that occurred to me is when the Dobbs decision came down, that’s going to lead to more babies in the NICU because it’s going to, it’s more babies in general. And then if you are being forced to go forward with a pregnancy that’s high risk or that you may know the baby’s not going to last long after delivery, that’s more babies in the NICU. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:27:11: 

And those are more stressful pregnancies and we know more high risk. 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:27:17: 

And I think that is one conversation that’s really been left out of. Of that whole situation. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:27:24: 

And I think also climate change and reproductive justice involves climate justice as well. And in our recent article on premature rupture of membranes or when your water breaks before the start of labor, we have a whole section in there about heat waves and extreme cold, extreme weather events can contribute to preterm birth as well as so can pollution. So, there’s a lot of factors we don’t really fully understand yet. But I think it’s important for families to also know about ways they can bond with their baby and take care of their mental health. So, could you talk a little bit about the impact of a NICU stay, but also what are some solutions, what are some things families can do when they find themselves in this situation or if they find themselves in this situation?

Hollis Wakefield – 00:28:12: 

Sure. I would say first of all, it’s really, really normal to have difficulty bonding in the NICU. I’ve seen so many parents feel guilty about that. But if you can’t be with your baby as often as you want to, you didn’t even get that third trimester. That’s also another level of bonding. You really do bond during that trimester. But when you’re in the hospital, you might have your own previous or current medical trauma, right? The smells, the sounds, the lights. We all know that none of that is conducive. Needles, IVs, the crappy food. We all know that that’s not conducive to bonding. If you’re in the NICU, we got the bonding hearts. I would say do as much kangaroo care as you possibly can, which I know can be. Tricky. I remember being very frustrated by the rules of the NICU, but then also how much they wanted me to do kangaroo care. So, no eating in the NICU. Keep your milk supply up. And they’re the first hospital we were at, if they got us into kangaroo care, because it can often take at least one nurse and one respiratory therapist to even get the baby into position. So, it’s a thing, it’s a little bit of an ordeal. It can be stressful to see a teeny tiny baby with the CPAP and all the leads and everything. That alone can raise your cortisol, right? But in that hospital, once they got you into kangaroo care, you had to stay there for at least three hours. But drink plenty of water, but you can’t go to the bathroom. You know, it was, I just remember being. So frustrated with the rules and how they counteracted the other rules or the things they wanted me to do as a parent. That was really frustrating. You can sing to your baby. You can read to your baby. If you have, I always call it child development. I think it’s called something else. The team that works on. How the babies are developing. I know our team gave me a sheet for every, it’s like 22 to 24 weeks, I got a piece of paper that said, this is how your baby’s developing now. This is what they like, this is what they don’t like, this is what stresses them out, and that changes every week to two weeks. So, in the beginning, the whole room had to be dark. 24/7 and then at a certain point you were able to take the blanket off the isolette and let a little more light in during the day. So that was really cool for me to know just even developmentally what she was going through, what kind of touch she liked. So early on its firm pressure, not nothing light, nothing strokey because their skin is so thin, and it’s not comfortable for them. Or when they’re going through… Your daily cares. So, every usually three to four hours, the nurses come in and they do temperature, they do any heel sticks they need to do, change a diaper, change, you know, just your regular cares. If you are able to, you can do what’s called a hand hug. So, you can kind of put your hands on each end of the baby, keep their arms here and their legs up to comfort them. And I remember asking the child life team, I said, i’m stressed out because I feel like if she smells me during the stressful time, she’s going to associate the stress with me. And they were really good about reassuring me, telling me that’s not what the evidence shows. And so, I would jump in when it was cares time and I would change her diaper and I would do the hand hug. And it was usually something about the cares that the babies don’t like. Each baby’s different. My baby hated having her temperature taken. That cold thing right under her arm, she would scream. And then the rest of cares was terrible. If you can save the thing they don’t like for the end, then you can keep their cortisol down a little bit longer. So, it’s not quite as stressful for them. So, you can do all those things in the NICU, but then when you go home, if you’re feeling like, oh, I haven’t bonded with my baby, it’s an excellent time to do baby wearing as much as you can. That’s what we did. And I really felt like it helped us bond. I will also say, this is slightly unrelated, but I want to get it in. Some hospitals have libraries. And they can be incredible resources. So, if you get a diagnosis and you don’t understand what it’s about, or they’re asking you to make a really big decision between two treatments, if you have a library, you have medical librarians and those medical librarians will pull studies for you. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:33:07: 

It’s like your personal EBB for the hospital. 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:33:10: 

Yeah, kind of. And that way you’re not on google trying to search through studies and what’s newest and which study was actually more. You know, done the best on those things. They’ll pull books for you. And I didn’t actually know that until we had gone home and we were facing some other diagnoses once we got home. Court was like, let me reach out to the librarians. And even though we were discharged, they were so kind. And I just would get email after email, like, here’s some more studies. It was really cool. I felt supported by them. And librarians are just awesome. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:33:50: 

Speaking of research and NICU research, I know on your website, nicudoula.com, there is a page with links to different research studies and places to get education. So, I want to make sure you mentioned that so you know you can go find that in the show notes because there’s all other so many topics we could cover today. You know, we didn’t even talk about feeding and pain management and other things. But I wanted to let people know. 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:34:17: 

You can get a little syringe and do a little bit of breast milk if you are lactating or you can do a little sugar water and that actually helps with pain instead of having to do pain meds. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:34:29: 

Yeah, that’s why they recommend, you know, if your baby’s getting shots, even at full term or, you know, you can nurse your baby while they’re getting their shots because it relieves pain. So, but that’s a whole big rabbit hole that could go down. One last thing I was wondering if you talk about before we go is, you know, talk about perinatal mental health. So, what tips do you have for parents who are coping with both a NICU admission and then kind of the going home and the afterwards that you talked about earlier? Like what are some tips you have for getting support or protecting your mental health? 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:35:03: 

If you’re able to have a Doula, I think a Doula is always a great way for an impartial person to interact with you and be able to talk to you about mental health. Anything, definitely you guys have some great resources on mental health. You can get there are checklists online and you can keep them around. And, and, cause I know. Actually, this last year, I started perimenopause unknowingly. And I had insomnia for a year. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t, I had anxiety and depression. And even though I know all the symptoms of depression, I had no idea I was depressed. I thought I was just tired until my doc got me on the right meds. And then all of a sudden, I was taking my child to the library every day and doing laundry and able to get off the couch and I had sort of missed. Almost misdiagnosed myself with just insomnia. And I didn’t even realize what I was going through. So, I think the more people in your orbit that know the signs that can maybe you know, help you see them yourself. I’ve known other therapists who didn’t realize when they were themselves going through. Some mental health struggles. So, if you can have people around you know, if you already have a predisposition to those things, obviously talk about that with your OB. Ahead of time. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:36:53: 

While your baby’s in the NICU, before you get close to going home to ask the hospital for like to talk with the social worker, just to get you set up to have someone to help you process what happened to you. Is that something that the hospitals are willing to help you with? Because I know a lot of families, they get home and they want to find a perinatal mental health specialist and they can’t find one that takes Medicaid or they can’t find one who has an opening. So, do hospitals ever help people connect with therapists before they go home? 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:37:24: 

Yeah, well, each hospital is different. Our social worker was really great with connecting us with different resources like that. I would definitely say reaching out to your local Doulas. They will know more about who in your area even if it’s lactation. They trust because I know my, when I left the hospital, our, the lactation team there was like, oh, there’s this clinic near you. Cause we were having trouble with latching. You can go see them. Well, then I called them and they said, sure, bring her in a little bit hungry, but not too hungry. I mean, I immediately was like, bye. That’s not going to happen. I’m pumping every two hours. Like she’s on meds. We’ve got appointments like that seemed, it literally seemed impossible to me. It felt impossible. So, if I had known that the doulas in my area would know who could come to my house, that would have made such a difference. Right. Just for us. And it’s the same for mental health. I think it is really hard to find mental health professionals who specialize in birth trauma or birth. Or things like that, because people in the NICU have a much higher rate of birth trauma and PTSD, as well as NICU partners. I think it’s definitely something that’s not talked about a whole lot outside of NICU circles. And it’s also common for you not to start processing things for a year or two later. I think that catches people off guard too. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:39:00: 

It’s like the, often the baby’s first birthday might be when the trauma starts to, you start to process what happened to you. So Hollis, thank you so much for talking with our listeners about how families can find healing in their NICU experience. Can you tell our listeners how they can follow and support your work if you have any other resources you want to give a mention to? 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:39:23: 

Sure. I’m on Instagram @TheNICUDoula. My website’s nicudoula.com. And there’s also a contact form on the very bottom of the homepage. So, if you want to find out about the peer-to-peer groups or anything else that might be coming out, feel free to sign up. I haven’t sent an email yet, so you’re not going to get a bunch of spam. And what else? I think, oh yeah, the nickielovies.org. That’s where you can go if you want to find out more about NICU lovey’s. So, and I’m, you can always message me on Instagram too. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:39:58: 

Thank you, Hollis, for all the work you do to educate families. And just, I feel like I learned a lot today listening from you, things I didn’t know about the NICU. And I appreciate you helping spread the word. 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:40:09: 

You’re welcome. Thank you for having me. 

Dr. Rebecca Dekker – 00:40:11: 

Thanks, everyone. And we’ll see you next week. Bye. 

Hollis Wakefield – 00:40:14: 

Bye.  

Dr. Rebecca Dekker– 00:40:15: 

This podcast episode was brought to you by the Evidence Based Birth® childbirth class. This is Rebecca speaking. When I walked into the hospital to have my first baby, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Since then, I’ve met countless parents who felt that they too were unprepared for the birth process and navigating the healthcare system. The next time I had a baby, I learned that in order to have the most empowering birth possible, I needed to learn the evidence on childbirth practices. We are now offering the evidence-based birth childbirth class totally online. In your class, you will work with an instructor who will skillfully mentor you and your partner in evidence-based care, comfort measures, and advocacy so that you can both embrace your birth and parenting experiences with courage and confidence. Get empowered with an interactive online childbirth class you and your partner will love. Visit evidencebasedbirth.com/childbirthclass to find your class now. 

 

 

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