The following is a guest post by Jennifer Gossett, MT-BC, NICU MT. Jennifer is a Board-Certified Music Therapist based in Charleston, SC. She ventured into the field of music therapy after a 15-year career as a band director in public and private schools, and opened her private practice, Noteworthy Music Therapy, in 2012. Jennifer and her husband, Kevin, are parents of two sons, ages 12 and 10, each of whom has both special needs and special talents.
My sons were born in 2001 and 2004, and both were preemies. My youngest weighed 700 grams at birth, and the Beanie Baby that nurses placed in the isolette with him was as big as he was. Thankfully, our city has a Level 3 nursery for these tiny, fragile babies, so our boys had access to wonderful care and best technology available at the time. Between the two boys, we spent 18 weeks making daily visits to the NICU, rejoicing on the good days and crying on the bad ones, feeling helpless to do much of anything besides wait and pray.
Blessedly, both boys survived their early starts, and for the most part they have thrived and blossomed. Today, they’re tweens who love music, video games, Pokemon and Legos. Like so many of these former preemies, they’ve had bumps in the road, developmentally speaking: one has a diagnosis on the mild end of the autism spectrum, and the other has the hyperactive/impulsive type of ADHD and a moderate hearing loss. So, we’ve spent many an hour visiting pediatric specialists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, etc., and being immersed in the special needs world.
Becoming a Mom changes any woman’s life, but I could never have guessed in 2001 how drastically my life would change in the years to come. I had been a music teacher before I was a parent; my training was in how to play the trumpet, how to conduct a concert band, how to assemble a bassoon or correctly grip a pair of drumsticks. I was NOT prepared to negotiate a world in which I would watch my child breathe on a ventilator, bring him home on oxygen, or advocate for his education year after year in IEP meetings.
But as I grew and learned, I became drawn to the world of these special children and their families, and looked for a way in so that I could work with those children as I saw so many amazing professionals do for my own boys. It was then that I discovered my calling as a music therapist, and went back to college at the seasoned age of 38 to begin my new training.
Fast forward to the Fall of 2013: I’ve completed the training, passed the board exam, and I’m a board-certified music therapist. I’m doing exactly what I set out to do—using music to connect with and enhance the quality of life of children with autism, Down Syndrome and other special needs. It was a dream come true, but something was missing. I felt that “pull” again, realizing there was something else I needed to pursue—an advanced, specialized training in music therapy practices for NICU babies.
I headed to Florida, to the only site in the country that provides this level of training, for an intense few days of hands-on experience using MT strategies with these fragile infants. One other MT-BC was in the program with me, so we agreed to take turns holding the babies and going through the specific music therapy protocol. She took the first turn, which meant the next baby would be mine.
He was very small, very squirmy, and very easily overstimulated. I held him as I’d been taught, began to hum…and realized tears were trickling down my cheeks. I was shocked, not realizing that the memories would come flooding back like that after nearly 10 years since I’d last entered a NICU. Call it PTSD, call it a trip down memory lane, call it what you will, but for me it was a powerful Mama Moment — realizing that my life-changing experiences as NICU Mom had now come full circle to my career in MT.
Once I dried the tears and got through that first encounter and those moments of doubt, I knew I’d come to the right place and was doing what I was meant to do—to make a difference in the lives of children and families who face the same challenges that I’ve faced, and to use the awesome, powerful gift of music to do that. Or as a favorite quote says: “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” (Aldous Huxley)
Are you a music therapist with a “mama moment” to share? If so, please submit your story, along with a photo and short bio, via email.