BRANDON — When a newborn ends up in the neonatal intensive care unit and parents must leave the hospital without their baby, an emotional roller coaster ensues.
“For parents, it’s a huge loss of control,” said Gina Csontos, the charge nurse on the unit at Brandon Regional Hospital.
Having a support group and knowing they are not alone takes away much of parents’ stress associated with a sick baby, she said.
Lauren Lantz, a Brandon mother of identical twin girls born 12 weeks early, remembers those feelings. No control. No real answers. Not knowing what to expect. She wanted to do something to ensure others didn’t have to follow that same blind path.
With the help of the staff and administration at Brandon Regional, Lantz began leading a group twice a month called Family to Family Circle for the families of those whose babies are sent to a neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU.
The group is open to anyone who has had such an experience, not just parents whose babies were admitted to the Brandon care unit.
With her girls, Kate and Hannah, now entering kindergarten, Lantz still occasionally wonders whether their early births will have lasting ramifications. For now, though, she focuses on helping others.
“The real reason we started the group is that we just really didn’t know anybody else when we were in there going through that,” Lantz said of herself and her husband, George.
The twins were their first children.
“I had never even heard of a NICU before we found ourselves in one. We had no experience and didn’t know anybody that had any experience.”
Once their ordeal was done and their babies were home safe and healthy, they felt a calling, she said.
“We know that one of the things Jesus Christ wanted us to do was to love other families and let them know they are not alone.”
After trying to start a group at their church, which didn’t take off, they reached out to the hospital. Family to Family Circle has been in operation for a year.
Most of the time, parents of babies still in the unit show up looking for answers, a way to decompress or to seek help, said Nancy Landfish, a neonatologist and medical director for the Brandon NICU.
“Parent support groups aren’t unique to our unit,” Landfish said. “What we do know is that it is not just the baby that is hurting in these situations. It’s the entire family.”
The Brandon NICU staff always has taken an approach to be family focused, she said.
“And it is critical for us to address the needs of the entire family.”
Most years, about 400 babies less than 28 days old end up in the NICU for anywhere from one day to three or four months. All are there because they need continuous cardiopulmonary monitoring, Landfish said.
During the support group meetings, which are the first and third Tuesday of every month from 6:45 to 8 p.m. at the Brandon NICU, Csontos and other speakers go over the resources families might need to help.
They discuss breastfeeding, do crafts and prepare families for when their babies are discharged.
“It allows another avenue for communication,” Landfish said.
There might be a parent who is without a crib or a car seat, or a mother with postpartum depression.
While the meetings do not focus strictly on medical issues, information gleaned from them can be used to help fill a family’s needs, she said.
The staff can find an organization that will donate that car seat or crib, for instance, or contact a woman’s obstetrician about the postpartum depression.
“It’s one of those little hidden jewels that most people don’t know about,” Landfish said.
The next meeting is Jan. 7, and walk-ins are welcome. To learn more, visit brandonregional hospital.com.