The Magic and Mystery of Memory

I'm writing this post to you from Scotland, Dunblane to be specific sipping a lovely cup of tea made by my dear friend's husband. (Why does tea always taste better when someone else makes it?)   Looking out the floor to ceiling window, the bucolic view is dappled with baby cows and their mamas grazing on the hillside.  As I gaze out I reflect on this past week and the amazingly heartfelt encounters I had with so many lovely souls up in Aberdeen.

I'm working with the neonatal staff at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital and their outlying community hospital in Elgin, Dr. Gray, to adopt and implement evidence-based best practices related to the Pain & Stress Core Measure. We began the program in March and kicked it off with a series of education sessions introducing  the biology of toxic stress and the relevance of trauma-informed care in the NICU. 

The June visit is about checking-in, in-person, to assess their progress with the pilot phase of this quality improvement initiative and set-up for implementation. In chatting with the project leads, we decided to re-run the education sessions as not everyone was able to attend in March - great plan and I was pumped (as you know, I can talk on this subject for ever ️).

I had just read a couple of papers talking about traumatic memory in babies and was eager to integrate and share this wicked interesting information.  As I was presenting the material in one of the sessions my attention was drawn to a woman sitting in the back of the room.  She seemed very intrigued and almost energized by my talk.  Needless to say this made me want to share more as her head nodded up and down in agreement in what I deduced as an understanding of the material.  She hung back after the session broke up to speak with me.  

Her enthusiasm was palpable and she very quickly began to share her story with me. She told me she was adopted as a baby and described how that experience left a deep hole inside her.  Her birth mother never wanted her, she shared, and as she said those very weighted words I could feel her deep sadness. Her adoptive mother came to pick her up from the hospital and found her all alone in a big room with lots of other babies unsupervised.  After picking her new baby up, the adoptive mother had to search for a caregiver and let them know she was here to take her baby home. Described as an independent baby, her adoptive mother noted that she was not a very cuddly baby, and the woman described how she remembers physically withdrawing from cuddles and snuggles from adults, including her new mom.

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She was so animated in the telling of her story and turned to look directly at me and said what I had presented in the learning session had been the explanation she had been in search of her entire life.  This lovely woman (possibly close to 50), had been searching for so long, searching for an understanding of her feelings, her sadness, her detachment from others. She shared her experience of years of counseling and therapy - and that here, in this tiny tutorial room, this presentation resonated with her, opened a door in her heart and mind and she felt free. 

Later that week I presented the session to the staff at the community hospital and as I wrapped up I invited the group to share their insights on the material. Like so many of the learners I have met, the group acknowledged resonance with the material and the content.  And then, one of the pediatricians raised his hand. He spoke very deliberately to share one of his earliest memories.  It was of a 'huge' green needle (needle gauge is often color coded and green represents a 21 gauge needle).  He described his terror as the needle was thrust into his leg and believes that it was that incident that was the root of his lifelong phobia of needles.  

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My colleague at the community hospital, where the pediatrician worked, shared with me that this particular physician never provided sucrose or any non-pharmacologic intervention for painful procedures so she was surprised about his story and hoped that his revelation would positively impact his future practice. I hope so too.

My adopted friend seemed literally born again, she wanted to be part of the QI project team. She felt a renewed sense of empowerment and wanted to create a better story, a better memory for the babies and families she served. 

These two powerful stories, along with so many others people have shared with me over the years, demonstrate the power of trauma-informed care, the power of authentic healing presence and the power of kindness. 

It doesn't matter if we think the baby 'won't remember' the NICU experience with its painful procedures, parental separation, and socio-emotional isolation.  It's not our experience, it's theirs!

Babies remember how the world makes them feel at a very quintessential level, a cellular, somatic level.  It's time to change the system, to change how we engage with our patients, their families and each other.  It's time to return to humans being love instead humans doing tasks.

Are you ready to make the change?

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Let compassion lead us forward ❣️

Take care and care well,

Mary

P.S.  If you are interested in learning more about the biologic relevance of trauma-informed care and how to transform the culture of care in your organization Caring Essentials can help.

Using breakthrough, evidence-based strategies Caring Essentials helps you achieve clarity, build congruence, and challenges you, your colleagues, and your organization to become a center of excellence in trauma-informed neuroprotective care.

The babies and families are waiting , 

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