A visually gripping graphic memoir, this book delivers the gritty details of a mother, a newborn, and a five-month stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
When my water broke prematurely and we rushed to the hospital, the last thing on my mind as a first-time parent (Type A with all the right things packed for a two night visit) did I think something would go WRONG. I had a healthy pregnancy thus far, so Brooke being sick was the furthest thing from my mind. Soon after Brooke was born, I could tell by the look on Bob’s face (who had been an Army medic) was he was full of worry and concern. Delusional and foggy, I didn’t really understand what was happening until after dealing with the post-birth and neither my husband or baby were there to greet me when I was sent to the post-recovery room. I later learned that Brooke’s lung weren’t functioning properly and she would have to have surgery to correct the issue. In a complete state of shock and painkillers, I figured it would be a ‘quick fix’, and we’d soon all be going home. I was wrong and that night, with just Bob and I to navigate through the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) experience as our entire family lived thousands of miles away, I finally got to see Brooke hooked up to machines unable to touch her. My feet had swelled to the size of watermelons to make the trek from my post-op room to the NICU, but I didn’t care. The NICU nurses insisted I sit down and put up my feet, and for the first time I thought about what this all meant. It happened so quickly and I didn’t know what the next steps would be. I learned and I wrote and I tracked the experience through the haze of it all and I learned just how lucky we were over our time there. The baby next to Brooke wasn’t as lucky and to be surrounded by babies on the potential verge of death or permanent disease and disability was a HUGE wake-up call for us.
My third and last pregnancy (my second pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage) revealed a high-risk pregnancy with many issues with both me and my youngest child, a rainbow baby (a term I recently learned), and my world felt crushed. I didn’t want to deal with the NICU again and I felt like I had very little control over the situation. Despite issues that continue to this day, Brie and I survived and I’ve played a small role in helping others navigate through the NICU experience. I was drawn to the new book Spot 12: Five Months in the Neonatal ICU because I can relate. Perhaps not on the same level of this family as all experience are different, but the resilience, the struggles, and even grasping at the humor in a very unlikely circumstance had me nodding my head throughout the book. It’s real and it’s positive, and it shows the unsung heroes of the NICU; the doctors and nurses you heavily rely on to take care of your baby when you can’t. It’s heartbreaking but also very enlightening. I’m going to talk about the book, our experience, and even a little guide I put together called ‘Surviving the NICU’ for friends who were facing a similar situation. It’s not a club you intentional or willingly join, but I made so many friends and relied on others to see us through our situation.
Spot 12 is Jenny Jaeckel’s graphic memoir about her experience with her newborn daughter who had to be in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for almost 6 months. Graphic black and white images of anthropomorphized animal characters that are sometimes cute and sometimes chilling, convey the raw, mixed emotional edge of Jenny’s experience and that of her family.
During a routine prenatal exam, Jenny’s ultrasound revealed a dangerous problem and the first-time parents find themselves thrust into a world of close calls, sleepless nights, and psychological crisis. When you are surrounded by close calls, unsure of medical advice, and find yourself dealing with disagreements, deaths, extended family tensions, and questions of faith, it is usually a huge emotional toll on the mother carrying the baby who struggles to maintain a positive frame of mind. That part hit HOME to me. Against the antiseptic, mechanical reality of the NICU, the dedicated health professionals are drawn as sympathetic and wry animal characters, which is both a break from reality while bring painfully honest. The animals have interesting names like Doctor Eyes and Nurse Gentlehands, who are two of the care providers that do all they can to take care of Jenny’s little baby Asa. The battles that both parents struggle with were so similar to ours, the feelings of helplessness, determination, insight into the human spirit and will, bravery, and the ultimate connection all parents deal with to help keep their little one alive. This is a must read for all parents and especially NICU parents who forever share that similar bond of heartbreak and look for wins on a daily basis, as small as they are. Love and Light to all family’s with a similar struggle. May all your children thrive and grow into adulthood.
Bob Scrubbing Up! Get used to scrubbing up each time you enter the NICU, which is MULTIPLE times a day. It’s a timed experience that feels like forever and you have to use scrubbing devices to make sure no germs enter the area.
A week after Brooke was born, I realized I had not sent out any e-mails to friends and co-workers, so I drafted up the below e-mail to send out. It had been touch and go with Brooke’s health since she was born, but it was either self-preservation or not to freak anyone out that I remained relatively calm in the midst of the storm and it was helpful to fill in our loved ones.
“Thanks so much for all your well wishes. I don’t have time to answer any individual e-mails right now (or probably for some time) so I wanted to give you all an update on Brooke. Nothing to worry about, but she was born premature and is spending some time in the NICU while her lungs continue to develop. She can breathe on her own now but they are just giving her some oxygen and waiting until she can absorb enough oxygen on her own. We don’t know how long she will be there yet – it could be a few days or a few weeks, but she will get through this just fine and there won’t be any long term issues/complications. When she gets discharged she will be a perfectly healthy little girl who I can’t wait to introduce to everyone soon enough.”
As Brooke healed, she had less and less machines hooked up to her and we could finally hold her. A HUGE relief.
Surviving the NICU – from my family’s perspective
Document the Experience – Our NICU gave us a NICU journal that had pages for pictures, milestones, etc. Bob and I looked at ours yesterday and it was really great to see how far she has come and I can’t wait for her to see it when she is older. We took videos, pictures and I wrote things down about the experience. The NICU nurses were awesome and one told us that kids think it is really awesome that they were NICU kids when they are older. We call her our little tough baby. I attached some pictures to the e-mail (even one of Bob scrubbing in….fun!). I still remember how exciting it was to see her in CLOTHES for the first time instead of just a diaper! Or seeing her without a cannula.
Don’t get caught up in timelines – This was hard for me because I like to know everything! The NICU was not like that for us and at first I kept trying to figure out when she would be able to leave and that will really just drive you mad. I vowed to not think about timelines until we were asked to bring the car seat in for a car seat test and that helped me relax. When things started to progress with Brooke – they progressed very quickly….but it was the initial waiting that seemed like forever.
Engage in conversation with other NICU parents – they are going through a tough time and just reaching out – NICU parents who have been there for months always seem to want to know at how many weeks your baby was born. Don’t take it personally if they seem indifferent when you tell them your child was born at 30+ weeks. To them that is barely a preemie and they know you will probably be out of there soon. I tried to hold in my excitement a little when we knew Brooke would be discharged. I knew that bitter-sweet feeling when you saw other babies get to leave the NICU when your child was still there. 🙂
Don’t wear yourself out or feel guilty if you happen to miss a changing, etc – After I was discharged and Brooke was still in the NICU, I was exhausted. At first, Bob and I were there at the NICU driving back and forth to see her for each feeding – note: you have scheduled visits and they WILL kick you out – (when she started eating from bottle)/diaper change/taking temperature rotation. I was pumping all the time and taking milk in even if it was just an oz. I finally realize I need rest and that the nurses were there to do what they needed to do and if I got a few hours extra of sleep – that is a good thing! We were actually both well rested and up for the challenge when she was released because of it!
Take advantage of the SWAG – Don’t be afraid to ask for additional breast milk storage bottles, nipples, wipes, diapers, etc….. I even took the gumdrop pacifier that Brooke had grown accustomed to while there. The nurses were really accommodating! Our hospital also had a Ronald McDonald House room for NICU families that had couches and tvs, etc., to hang out in – you just had to check in at the NICU front desk.
I fully realize all NICU experiences are different and not all outcomes are positive, but one thing that I have held on to is the fact that Brooke is now a healthy (albeit, on the smaller side) child and her first few months of life has not affected her in the slightest. She’s a funny, brilliant person whom we are proud to call our daughter. I wish the same for all NICU parents.
Brooke at age 6!
About the Author: Jenny Jaeckel has worked as a translator, Spanish teacher, graphics teacher, and an editor. She is the author and illustrator of For the Love of Meat, Odd Pieces, and Siberiak. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia.
List Price: $ 19.95