A few days ago, I stumbled across For the Love of Babies by chance and immediately wanted to purchase it. I love medical stories, and I am a former neonatal intensive care patient, so this boook seemed perfect. And it’s not been disappointing.
What takes place in the neonatal intensive care unit is the high drama of real life. The author pulls back the curtain to show the inner workings of this area in the hospital that is unfamiliar and frightening to most people. Hall, a longtime neonatologist and former social worker, writes with caring and compassion about the challenges each fragile baby must surmount in order to survive and thrive, all the while conveying a sense of life-and-death urgency that permeates neonatal intensive care. She expertly weaves the social and emotional threads of each family’s journey into their baby’s story, and also speaks candidly about the stresses and difficult decisions that neonatologists and their tiny patients’ parents routinely face.
In this book, Dr. Hall talks about a variety of patients. Most people do know that premature infants will spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), but that so will babies with severe birth defects and babies born addicted to drugs, is a lesser-known fact. Although a large number of Hall’s stories are about preemies, there are also stories about babies who need to be in the NICU for other reasons, and stories about preemies who happen to aso have severe birth defects or are born addicted. The babies Hall treats range from a baby born with trisomy 18, a formerly thought to be lethal birth defect, to a baby born with Down Syndrome to a fifteen-year-old mother, and from a relatively “normal” preemie to preemies experiencing the most devastating complications. Some of the babies die, but the majority survive.
Hall includes in her stories not just the medical aspects of caring for NICU patients, but also the social and emotional aspects influencing the families and babies. For example, she ponders a mother’s reasons for using cocaine during pregnancy, leading to her child’s premature birth and ultimately death. Hall describes with caring even the bleakest scenarios. For example, one mother delivers a baby with anencephaly, a birth defect causing the baby to have virtually no brain and die shortly after birth. This mother had previously lost a baby to stillbirth who was just whisked away from her by the obstetrician. In the case of her anencephalic baby, Hall makes sure the baby and family are all as comfortable as possible and have every opportunity to love the baby until her death and even care for her afterwards.
Hall shows us not only the families’ and babies’ struggles, but also her own. For example, it’s clear that she feels disappointment with the substance-abusing mother abandoning her child shortly after he can go home, and sadness for the baby she resuscitated in the delivery room but who died of sudden infant death syndrome several months after going home.
Lastly, it is clear that Hall is very much in favor of giving parents as much control over their babies’ care as possible. I remember hearing about my own situation in which my treating neonatologist told my parents that the staff were keeping me alive and not to interfere. Usually in Hall’s stories, parents want more aggressive treatment than she recommends, sometimes with good outcomes, such as in the case of the little girl who sings to Hall at her unusually late follow-up appointmnet at four years of age.
Hall ends her book with several appendices full of advice for parents of NICU patients. I only skimmed through these, but I’m sure many parents will find the advice extremely useful.
Title: For the Love of Babies: One Doctor’s Stories About Life in the Neonatal ICU (SmashWords edition)
Author: Sue Hall
Publisher: WorldMaker Media
Publication Date: July 2011