CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Parents are rarely prepared when their newborn baby gets transferred to the intensive care unit.
Though some know their child could have medical issues, many are taken completely unawares when their baby has a severe birth defect or is born weeks early. Suddenly, the new mom and dad are thrust into a world of confusing medical terminology, sterile hospital rooms and seemingly endless hours of waiting.
That's where Edith Hayes comes in.
While nurses and doctors are primarily focused on the health of their patients, the babies, Hayes' No. 1 priority is the children's parents.
Hayes is a neonatal intensive care unit family support specialist for the March of Dimes. Though she is paid by the organization, she spends most of her days working at the NICU in Charleston Area Medical Center's Women and Children's Hospital.
She does not provide any medical advice, and she's not a counselor. Hayes' job is to bridge the gap between parents and hospital staff.
"Sometimes nurses and medical staff are intimidating to families, not meaning to be," she said.
It's like a grown-up version of "white coat syndrome," Hayes said.
"They don't want to ask dumb questions."
When parents are confused about their child's progress, an upcoming medical procedure or any other NICU-related event, Hayes goes to the nurses and doctors and asks them to visit the family to better explain what is going on.
"It is kind of a foreign language," she said.
She also connects parents with any services they might need. If a mom wants to breastfeed, Hayes directs her to one of the hospital's lactation consultants. If parents need temporary housing while their child is in the hospital, she connects them with the Ronald McDonald House.