In May, Bridget Nolan-McKinney left the hospital after giving birth without her baby.
That’s because Nora was born seven weeks early and had to spend time in the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania’s neonatal intensive care unit.
“You just expect to have them in your arms and walk home with them,” Nolan-McKinney said.
When Nolan-McKinney returned home, her mother had a brand-new pair of pajamas waiting for her. It was a reminder to rest. She had just had a baby, after all, even if Nora needed a little extra time in the incubator.
Now, Nolan-McKinney wants all moms who have babies in the NICU to have the same experience. She is kickstarting a project to give pajama packs to mothers who are discharged from the hospital without their newborns.
In addition to the fresh pair of pajamas, the kit will include a note from a former NICU mom, flowers and resources for women struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety.
The initiative, which is called “PJs with a smile,” will launch later this month at Penn. It is being done in conjunction with the Superhero Project, a nonprofit founded three years ago by Somerton native Kelly Gallagher to help NICU families.
Nolan-McKinney pitched the new effort to Gallagher, who said she thought it could be a “game-changer.”
“It’s really saying to a mom: This gift is for you,” said Gallagher, a teacher who now lives in North Wales, Montgomery County.
One of the crucial aspects of the program is connecting NICU moms, according to Nolan-McKinney. The note in each pack will have the contact information of the former NICU mother.
“No one really knows how to help because they’ve never been in that position,” Nolan-McKinney said.
“It’s almost validating to say it’s OK to have anxiety about this,” she added. “You really have to look at your self-care because you’re not going to think about it at all after delivering a baby.”
Nolan-McKinney found out about the Superhero Project after having Nora. The nonprofit has donated $50,000 and attracted support from former Sixers guard Jrue Holiday and retired NFL receiver Marques Colston, according to Gallagher.
Gallagher said one of the major projects was raising money to install Angel Eye Cameras in local hospitals. The cameras are hooked up to NICU incubators and provide 24/7 feeds for parents so they can monitor their babies at home.
“It’s heart-wrenching when you have to leave without that baby,” Gallagher said. “You don’t even know your own baby yet, and you’re forced to leave.”
So far, the Superhero Project has funded camera systems for a number of hospitals, including Holy Redeemer Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
The “PJs with a smile” initiative will begin Nov. 27 at Penn, and Nolan-McKinney said she hopes to expand it to other hospitals in the future.
The Superhero Project has teamed up with Ingrid & Isabel, a maternity clothing company, for the pajamas. They have agreed to donate 30 pairs of pajamas, and the company will also donate a portion of all online pajama sales on Giving Tuesday, Nov. 27.
For more information on “PJs with a smile” or the Superhero Project, visit www.superheroprojectinc.org ••
Jack Tomczuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org