Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Why: PSP Takes a Minute to Explain The Need and How We Meet It

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From time to time a project leader is asked why hospitals would need or want the care packages we donate to their parents who have children in the intensive care unit. "Don't the hospitals give them that stuff? Why don't the parents have those things with them? Are the families poor?" After being confronted with such questions, we began to wonder how many people without NICU experience ask themselves the same questions about why Project Sweet Peas does what it does.

We would like to attempt to answer the question “Why are our care packages important?” to provide insight, clarification, and understanding into the importance behind what Project Sweet Peas does and in hopes of encouraging people to help support us.

Often families arrive in the NICU in an emergency situation that was unexpected, leaving them unprepared and needing the items we provide them with in our care packages. The issue of families not having items they need often has nothing to do with the financial status of the family, although medical bills do pile up and some families probably already come in experiencing financial hardships, but many families who arrive unprepared are financially secure and successful. Therefore, it's not that they can't afford to buy these items, it's that they don't have access to them! Many families are living at the hospital or perhaps at a nearby Ronald McDonald House or hotel and do not have the option of going home (many being hours away from home anyway) or of spending time finding stores to go shopping for these items.

Moreover, hospitals and NICUs themselves do not provide the items that we include in our bags. If anything, some may have the unisex blanket and hat that most babies are given when born. Occasionally a NICU may have other organizations donating stuffed animals or name plaques, but often times there’s nothing for baby and especially nothing for the rest of the family. The purpose of the intensive care units is to provide medical care for the baby, not the items we donate to them.

Most families who end up spending time in a NICU are not prepared for the experience. Project Sweet Peas functions to meet this need so the families don't have to worry about how they're going to get everything they need. The parents’ focus is the health and survival of their new baby, and they are living under an incredibly stressful circumstance every second of every day. Therefore, our care packages provide them with items that make their stay more comforting, offer them glimpses of hope and love, and give them the items they need and want.


Project leaders are also asked from time to time about why we include certain items in our care packages. Like with the questions asked above in Part 1, we realized that when someone doesn’t have personal experience having a child in the intensive care unit, they have a hard time understanding what a person would need. Therefore, we thought we’d also take some time to share about the reasons we include the items that we do in our basic NICU care packages. (Please remember each project’s basic NICU bag may be slightly different; the items mentioned below are general items most projects try to include.)

ITEMS FOR BABY: blanket, stuffed animal, cap / hat, booties / socks, scratch mittens, baby brush/comb, baby clothing item. These items for baby enable parents to care for and bond with their baby. A mother’s touch only accounts for 14% of baby’s interaction in the NICU, which can lead to sensory issues. They help make the NICU life as "homey" and "warm" as possible. They can bring comfort and love to both the families and babies.

MEMORY MAKING ITEMS: disposable camera, picture frame, birth record pillow/item, hand/foot print kits or molds. These items give parents the opportunity to capture memories with their new babies, something all new parents want to do. Many babies in intensive care are experiencing serious, life-threatening conditions; therefore, capturing moments with their babies are even more important for parents. These items help families record, remember, and celebrate their new child’s life. For instance, a picture frame can be used to display a picture of the family by the baby at all times or it can be used for the parents to keep and display a picture of their baby so that they have it with them during the times they have to be separated.

ITEMS FOR PARENTS: lip balm, hand sanitizer, tissue packs, travel size toiletries, journals, pens. Lip balm and tissue packs are needed due to the results of the emotional and physical stress of being in a NICU. Hand sanitizer helps keep the family’s hands clean and germ free when they're touching their fragile babies. Travel size toiletries are needed because parents are often sleeping in hospitals, at Ronald McDonald Houses, or hotels while their babies are in NICUs, and they don't have any of the personal care items they need. Journals and pens are needed for parents to write down information given to them by doctors regarding conditions, procedures, and so on; they can also be used for parents to record milestones and memories.

ADDITIONAL ITEMS: children's book, puzzle books. Children's books can be used in a variety of ways. Parents can use the books to bond with their babies because the babies can hear their parents’ voices as they read. Children's books can also help entertain siblings who are there in the hospital with the baby and parents. Puzzle books (like crosswords, sodukus, etc.) are included sometimes as items to help the parents pass the time that is spent waiting when they can't be with their babies. It can help them take their minds off of things for a moment.

Every single item a included in the care packages donated by Project Sweet Peas is either a necessity for families to have or an important item of comfort that can help make life the best it can be for a family with a baby in a NICU. Most project leaders who have had their own children in intensive care units will tell you that if we had received a bag with all of these items when we arrived, it would have been like a sigh of relief, a breath of fresh air, a momentary weight lifted from our shoulders. We wouldn't have had to worry about not having those items and wonder how we'd get them. We would have felt loved, supported, and less alone on a frightening journey. It’s our hope to use our own experiences to make the experience of someone else better.


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