There’s a steady current of life-affirming energy that runs through a neonatal intensive care unit. As a neonatal nurse, I have felt this energy transcending the beeps and buzzes and fluorescent lights, its source found among the families we encounter, and the little ones themselves, who respond with a primal sense, an instinctual clinging to life.
Having a medically fragile newborn is a life-altering event, one which profoundly affects parents’ lives long after the hospital stay. I wanted to make a film that allows families’ voices to be heard, to focus on the human side of health care rather than the rising tide of technology.
The NICU is truly an equal opportunity employer, an unexpected detour for a host of families: black, white, Asian, and Latino, straight and gay, wealthy and welfare-dependent. Here up to 12% of all newborns spend their first days, weeks, or months. Advances in neonatal medicine have dramatically improved survival rates, with babies born as early as five and a half months gestation able to survive outside the womb.
In addition to the difficult ethical issues inherent to the NICU, I wanted to emphasize the positive aspects: the close relationships that form there, the profound impact this environment can have on professionals, the healing power of touch, and how the NICU experience can transform parental love into its purest, most elemental form.
The film was shot at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City. I not only had unique access to these stories, but the parents knew me as a partner in their children’s care, establishing a foundation of trust that allowed for intimate, candid responses. Throughout the process, I tried to help each parent unravel their own sense of meaning as they shared their experiences via the camera.