Monday, August 9, 2010

NICU Series by DiscoveryHealth - Why did I expect more?

I finally got around to watching my Tivo'd episodes of Discovery Health Channel's series "NICU". Why didn't I realize it would be "A Baby Story" dressed up in ventilator tubes and strung in bright, overwhelming lights? So disappointing.

The series is really about traumatic birth events where infants end up in the NICU by the grace of god or they would DIE. Yes, I realize that the NICU is a necessary place with lots of good, very well-intended physicians, nurse and others. Many babies would not survive without the highly technical care that a NICU provides. What was offensive to me was the sweeping dramatization and sensationalizing of the real trauma being inflicted upon those mothers and fathers and infants in the NAME of saving lives. That was the show. Not a sensitive, inside look at the life of infant and family experiencing the many days, weeks and months of a NICU admission. The show only highlighted the traumatic birth, over-reactive medical care, and then fast-forward, the baby's discharge day.

Here's a news flash: It doesn't have to be that way!!!! The trauma, the rough handling, the universal separation of infant and mother, the lack of breastfeeding, the overall normalization of medicalized births and beginning of life? It doesn't have to be that way. Mothers and infants have a right to be together after birth. Being close to the mother helps stabilize the baby's breathing, heart rate, nervous system, temperature, glucose and more. Overwhelming and painful experiences impact the developing brain, the brain doesn't "shut off" because the body is being saved. We can resuscitate and preserve neurological development at the same time. The opposite of all of that is what anyone who watched the show now knows of a NICU.

The lived experience of the NICU shouldn't be cheapened by such a show. Mothers, fathers and children shouldn't have to feel the ambivalence of being grateful for the care that saved/preserved their precious one's life while at the same time carrying the scars of separation, birth trauma and losing those never-to-be-had-again moments. The toll is great, too great. Any show about the NICU must honor the real experience and serve to highlight those places where compassion, sensitive and appropriate care is the norm.