Five Months in the NICU
One mother recounts the experience of having a sick baby in the NICU in a powerful new graphic novel.
Spot 12: Five Months in the Neonatal ICU, which came out October 7 (Raincloud Press), is a graphic memoir from author, illustrator and mother Jenny Jaeckel. Jaeckel, who earned her creative writing degree from The Evergreen State College in Olympia before relocating to Vancouver, Canada, with her husband, uses black-and-white illustrations to tell the raw and honest story of her daughter’s birth and subsequent five months spent in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at BC Children's Hospital. Jaeckel had a seemingly normal and uneventful pregnancy, until a routine exam just weeks before her due date revealed concerning health problems for her baby. From that point on, Jaeckel and her husband endured a long and winding road into the early stages of parenthood.
Spot 12 conveys Jaeckel’s pain, fear, joy and pride as a new mom experiencing the incomprehensible. Using cartoon-like animal characters and playful names, she guides readers through her interactions with her family, friends, the medical staff helping to care for her baby, Asa, and her own rampant thoughts. While this is Jaeckel’s story, many readers will be able to see themselves in the mix of emotions and empathize, if not somehow relate.
Seattle’s Child: Who did you write Spot 12 for?
Jenny Jaeckel: I created Spot 12 in part for myself. I needed a way to process and reprocess the experience of having my child in the NICU for five months, and I needed a container to put it in that was outside myself, so it wasn't just a black cloud hanging over me. When I was making the book though, I did have the feeling that it would have a role of its own, outside of my own life and purposes, especially for other parents in a similar situation. It's meant as a letter of solidarity.
SC: What do you hope readers take away from it?
JJ: I hope the book helps people to feel they are entitled to the truth of their own experience, that it’s ok to be struggling and feel devastated, that it’s ok — and critical — to get help in any way they can, and that we aren't alone.
SC: What is your advice to anyone reading this who may have a young child struggling with serious health issues? Or for those of us who may have a friend or family member with an infant in the NICU?
JJ: For parents my advice is trust yourself. Listen to your instincts, find any way you can to be with and protect your child, but take care of yourself, too. For friends or family members wanting to support a NICU parent, my advice is ask what you can do to help, and keep asking. Your help is very needed, and it will help the most if you start by listening.
SC: How is Asa doing today?
JJ: Asa is doing great! Asa is 11 and just started middle school. Last April, Asa had surgery to reverse the tracheostomy by closing the surgically made hole in the front of her throat that directly accessed her windpipe, and in the summer could finally learn to swim. Asa is active, creative, has good friends, takes capoeira classes, does great in school, loves to climb trees, and is all around healthy, happy and kind. Asa does have a slightly compromised airway, but this should continue to improve with time.
SC: What does Asa think about the book?
JJ: Funnily enough, Asa still has not read the book, only flipped through it a little. I think we may both be wary of Asa reading it. For myself, I wanted Asa to be old enough to know how to handle the dark parts of the story before reading it. When Asa decides the time has come to read it, I'm sure we will have a lot to talk about.