Having a baby in the NICU is never easy, but the coronavirus crisis is making it even harder. Hand to Hold's support group is giving NICU parents a way to be there for each other from afar during these difficult months.

hand to hold support group coronavirus
Credit: Courtesy Hand to Hold

As coronavirus anxiety seeps into every part of our normal lives, many people are struggling to keep their fears at bay, and if you have a loved one in the hospital it can be especially difficult. This is doubly true for families with babies currently in neonatal intensive care units (NICU). To keep vulnerable little ones in the NICU safe from coronavirus, many hospitals have limited visitors, leaving parents unable to see, hold, and snuggle their new babies.

To help ease the burden of separation from not only their children but also from vital community support networks, nonprofit organization Hand to Hold recently launched a virtual support group initiative aimed at providing connection, companionship, and community for NICU parents during these unprecedented times. Groups are led by certified peer support specialists and take the place of traditional in-person support groups that have been discontinued due to social distancing concerns.

"NICU families are facing escalating mental health challenges due to virus infection fears, additional financial concerns, limitations on when they can visit their baby in the NICU and being socially isolated from their support system of family and friends," said Kelli Kelley, NICU parent and founder/CEO of Hand to Hold, in a press release for the project. "Our online support groups are designed to provide NICU families with a virtual 'hand to hold' and emotional support during the COVID-19 crisis."

The Hand to Hold initiative, which is sponsored by Kimberly Clark's Huggies brand, also has several private Facebook groups available where parents can connect with other NICU families and find much-needed kinship and support.

"A virtual group is great right now when even us NICU parents at home are also feeling isolated," says Dana Booth, a mom in Dallas, Texas. "Group helped me to not feel so isolated and alone at the hospital all those days and hours. It made me feel like I had a family there at the hospital to walk with me through the fire."

The virtual support meetings, which are available in both English and Spanish, are held via Zoom videoconference and are being offered free of charge.

"We were shown empathy, not sympathy," says Valerie Rodriguez of Mckinney, Texas. "Virtual allows us to cover a wider community to provide support, exchange fears, but most importantly provide hope!"

Booth says, the group "also gave me a place to vent, and opportunity to help others coming after me (which was therapeutic)." If you want to offer or receive support during your family's time in the NICU, interested parents can register through the Hand to Hold website.