Pagans, Hospitals, and Premature Babies
I have been a parent for 45 months.
In that time, between my two children, we’ve racked up more than 560 days of hospital admissions.
That’s more than 18 months total – more than 1/3 of our nights as parents spent with a child in the hospital.
455 of those days were spent in the NICU – 291 for my first child, and 164 for my second – due to premature birth.
We’re getting to be pros at this hospital thing.
Being in the hospital with a sick child is hard. It’s hard to balance normal things like making sure you eat once in a while and get a shower with staying with your child and taking care of their needs. It’s hard to sleep on the so-called couches and pull-out beds that hospitals allow parents to sleep on in their child’s room, if they let you stay at all. It’s hard to see them in pain, to see the procedures they have to go through, to care for them amongst tubes and wires. It’s hard when you know there’s a chance your child might die.
That whole situation is even harder when you add in being Pagan, when most of the people around you are definitely not.
When you see nurses and doctors who care for your child each day wearing crosses and saint’s medals (or symbols of other faiths – though less common, amongst our various medical teams we have a doctor who wears a hijab and a doctor who wears a yarmulke), you know it’s likely they would have a different opinion of you if they knew your religion.
And that leaves you wondering whether they’d treat your child differently if they knew.
In the NICU, a lot of families have support from their churches. Pastors make calls on parents at their child’s bedside, church members bring meals, gifts show up, and cards get taped to the walls. In the case of one family we met in the NICU, a half dozen men in suits (keep in mind, the rule was no more than 4 people in to see a baby at a time) showed up every night to pray over the tiny boy, blocking out nurses who needed access to care for him.
Pagan families, if they’re lucky, have a Pagan friend or two – usually a member of their coven or grove or someone they know from coffee night – show up once or twice, or call to see how things are going.
Most hospitals don’t have Pagan chaplains of any sort – in my month of hospital bedrest before the birth of my second child, I met all of the chaplains at our “home” hospital (the one we spend the most time in – our home away from home). Only the Jewish chaplain actually asked what faith I was; only one (a chaplain in training) commented on the Goddess statue on my nightstand. If there’s anyone in their files to contact, it’s more than likely me, with a phone number that’s been out of service for several years.
And that leaves us all in a bit of a muddle. We’re afraid to be open about our faith in this very trying time, and often have little or no support from our spiritual community. And spiritual connections are one of the things that can help us get through the crazy times in a hospital setting.
With all that in mind, last year I started a support group for Pagan families who are or have been through the NICU experience. We have a facebook page, a newsletter, twitter, and a blog (all of which are updated as I can, given the medical issues here and the level of care my two former preemies need).
I also wrote an ebook on the subject, “Pagan Parenting in the NICU” – free as a PDF on the blog, but available as a very low cost download in other formats from Smashwords.
We also offer care packages for families currently in the NICU. We haven’t shipped one yet but the intention is to include things many families find useful during their hospital stay – snacks, notepad, and other things for parents, clothing and other baby goods appropriately sized for their child, and some faith related things. As a family, we’ve been doing care packages for the smallest preemies in our home NICU, so we’ve got quite a few things on hand already.
If you’ve been through the NICU rollercoaster, or just want to support other Pagan families, you’re welcome to connect with the group through any of the links listed below. You can sign up for our newsletter on our blog. And If you know of a Pagan family who’s in the midst of the NICU experience, fill out the page on our blog to request a care package (or suggest to them to request one for themselves).
Parenting Pagan Preemies Links: