All baby milestones are special, but for a baby in the Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
(NICU), they are very different—first skin-to-skin contact, last day of oxygen support or feeding tube—and deserve not only celebration, but also commemoration. Such was the inspiration for Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital’s scrapbooking program: letting Regional NICU families create a keepsake of their child’s trying—yet triumphant—earliest days, displaying not only photographs but also preemie diapers, tiny ID bracelets, feeding tubes and letters written by parents to their children. Called “Let Your Star Shine Bright” and supported by donations, the class meets every Monday in the Regional NICU’s conference room to bring parents together for what is—on the surface—merely a distraction.
Lauren Nittoli (above, with Regional NICU mom Regina Barone), one of Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital’s Certified Child Life Specialists, and Gabrielle Bellettieri, its Licensed Creative Art Therapist, oversee the group. “It’s a difficult journey in the NICU,” Nittoli says. “But the fact is, this is their baby’s beginning, and it is one they and their family will want to remember. We’re allowing parents to create something for their child at a time when they can’t do very much else. It gives them something to focus on.”
“The hospital ran talk therapy groups in the past and they never had longevity,” Bellettieri adds. “I love the art therapy aspect of creating the scrapbook, but the parents also end up connecting with each other: sharing pictures, milestones, things they just can’t discuss with parents other than those in the same boat.“
For Tara Mignanelli, mother of Regional NICU twins Quinny and Ziggy, just the act of writing the twins’ names and birthdays on the front page of her scrapbook was a wonderful feeling. “It amazes people that we did this in the NICU,” says Mignanelli. “It was a special time and a positive distraction, and a beautiful way to look back.”