About Denise
“When I see reluctance, I see opportunities”

Twenty-six years ago, I was tossed into the world of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) with my first son who was born at 24-weeks’ gestation and weighed only one-pound, ten ounces. At that precise moment, my life changed forever. I never knew that such a place existed or that a baby so small could survive.  My heart broke along with the umbilical cord and it would be months before I would hold my own baby or fully comprehend his health outcome.

I quickly learned, however, that the NICU life was that of an endless ride on the “emotional rollercoaster.” Everyday brought with it, the unknown.  Each day would and could be completely different from the next.  One day my tiny baby would be doing well with his oxygen levels and then the next, his lungs would collapse.  One hour he’d be off the respirator and the next he’d be put right back on it.
 I was becoming increasingly agitated as the ups and downs of NICU life took their toll.  I struggled with the medical terminology that easily rolled off the tongues of doctors and nurses alike. And when I’d continually ask for clarification, I was confronted with edgy and rushed explanations that offered little hope for comprehension.

I struggled silently with my own guilt, grief and anger; not knowing that I wasn’t alone in this cycle of grief. While in this state of chaos, somewhere along the line without me realizing it, I was labeled as a “difficult” parent.  One would think that as my questions increased and became more intelligent, the medical staff would become more receptive but instead they saw my frustration and need for understanding as taxing on their energy and antagonistic in tone. Although it wasn’t my intent, it soon became just one of the many labels of which they choose to define me.  Therefore, in return, I labeled “them” as arrogant, uncaring, and controlling and found other families who would confirm my experience.
Needless to say, I’m sure you can guess where all of this was heading.  But then one day, it occurred to me that these doctors and nurses must love what they do because working in this environment wasn’t easy. It’s not easy watching people in pain. It’s not easy witnessing little lives pass away before they had the chance to live. It’s not easy translating difficult information so parents can make informed decisions that will affect their lives forever. 

For the first time, I saw the NICU from the perspective of the medical staff. Sure they may have chosen this career path but that didn’t make them less human. In fact, it made them my heroes!   It was then that it occurred to me that there had to be a better way for doctors and parents to communicate. So began my twenty-seven year journey of learning, advocating and sharing how we are emotionally wired and how to understand and use our minds, emotions, biology, and environment to live healthier and happier lives.

The NICU experience has changed me forever and in ways that are still surprising to me today. I’ve come to learn that our environment, culture, relationships, and social networks direct more of our emotions than we may care to acknowledge.  And, I must admit that I too wasn’t always so tuned-in and comfortable with my emotions and who I am, what I needed and how to ask for help and support.
When I began my graduate work in public health it wasn’t surprising to me that I heard similar communication scenarios in workplace well-being that I had witnessed in the NICU.  Perhaps some of this may be familiar to you too:

  • Measuring ourselves against others without knowing where they may be on the continuum.
  • Corporate leaders and supervisors assuming that everyone “gets it.”
  • Not offering opportunities for training, education and skill building to increase mastery.
  • Assuming that employees know which questions to ask.
  • Assuming that employees know where to go to find the answers.
  • Not offering a formal social or peer support system.  

Whether it’s in the NICU or your corporate office we are emotional beings. How we choose to generate those emotions or feelings is the bigger story and one that I hope you will take back to your offices.

It was my story of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), which taught me that adversity is inevitable and change is possible even in spite of chaos and fear.  What untold stories are hidden within you and your company that will engage the hearts and minds of your employees and change them forever?

I’d love to hear them if you’d like to share.
I wish you well my friends as you help move people towards the truth of health and wellness with hope, love and laughter.

Denise Campbell, Ph.D (c),MSPH, CHES
Behavioral Strategist