The Spiritual Care Service at Rambam Health Care Campus is designed to meet the spiritual, emotional and religious needs of all patients and their families. Acquiring an understanding of a patient's social, emotional, and spiritual needs (including religious beliefs), forging a connection with the patient, and making arrangements to meet these needs are all intrinsic to the treatment process.
What do parents do when a baby is born prematurely or with special needs? Inbal Liber, Head of the Pediatric Spiritual Care Service in Rambam’s Ruth Rappaport Children’s Hospital, explains how spiritual care is provided to parents in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Pregnancy and childbirth are perceived as uplifting experiences of happiness and excitement – the parents dream about their future child, how they will look, who they will resemble, how they will be received by siblings, and what the family will look like with the new addition. No parent imagines that something could go wrong. When a premature baby or a baby with special needs is born, dreams are shattered and the parenting path is not what they expected or planned.
The baby is transferred to the NICU, connected to devices and surrounded by advanced technology. Arriving at the NICU can be described as a stay in another country; the language, the smells, the sights, and the sounds are different. The parents find themselves standing in awe in the face of everything that has happened to them and their baby. Amidst the chaos, helplessness and uncertainty, between the medical and nursing staff, the parents in the NICU in Rambam’s Ruth Rappaport Children's Hospital also receive unique guidance by a spiritual caregiver.
Spirituality is an Anchor
Many parents talk about their feelings of helplessness – that they are unable to protect their baby, that their baby is so small and fragile that they cannot even hold him. All they have left to do is stand by and be with their suffering child. Parents in this situation often ask big or existential questions such as why they, specifically, are facing this difficulty, or whether their preterm baby will survive. There are preterm infants who are born very early, and then the concern arises about normal development, and whether their child will have disabilities.
“I accompanied a mother whose baby had a congenital malformation that required many surgeries and a long stay in the NICU. In our meetings, we used different texts and tools of spiritual guidance. In one of our later sessions, we talked about the name they chose for the baby – Pnina, or “Pearl”, and I brought a page with different texts related to pearls. Using the texts, the mother described her and her daughter's journey. The mother shared that her baby’s name was probably not a coincidence – like a grain of sand penetrates an oyster in a way that was not under the oyster’s control, her baby was born with a malformation whose creation was like that of the pearl. It was a journey they went through together and the final product—the pearl—is her baby. Thanks to what they went through together, the mother explained that she felt her connection with spirituality grew, that her abilities were strengthened, and that her belief in herself and her child was strengthened,” recalls Liber.
Spiritual care may sound like something very abstract, and for those who have already heard about this topic, they may be linking it to processes of separation from life rather than the beginning of life. However, spiritual care, by definition, is designed to support and guide people in dealing with reflections and questions that touch upon the distress and challenges of the event they are experiencing, and the meaning they give to this experience. It could involve serious illness, dealing with loss, dealing with the loss of physical or cognitive ability, and so on.
The spiritual caregiver is there to accompany and support the parent through their personal journey. Among other things, the spiritual caregiver helps the parent to open up and identify the contents of their own spirituality and to delve into it, all in accordance with their own needs as a parent.
Studies show that we are all wired to make a spiritual connection, even if we are not people who feel connected to religion and belief in God, that we still believe in something if it is “in the natural order of things”, if it is in nature, if it is in the meaning that our lives have. When we encounter adversity and difficulty, we need hope; we need a place where we can talk about our worldview through the filter of our experiences, the place where we will recognize that universal part within each of us that that connects us to ourselves, to others, and beyond.