Four years ago I embarked on a new journey: using fMRI to understand how the baby mind works. Do babies see and experience the world the same way we do? Using fMRI, I took pictures of Hope’s brain while she watched movies of kids, toys, and places. A new image of her brain appeared on the screen in front of me every 3 seconds. The images were gray and distorted but, I was so excited. I, a girl that had no hope of a future five short years earlier, was collecting fMRI data from an awake baby at MIT.
It wasn’t the first time I had scanned a baby and I wasn’t the first person to do an awake infant fMRI experiment. In 2017, Ben Deen, along with colleagues, proved to the world that was it possible to collect high quality fMRI data from awake infants. But, it was hard. They tried scanning 17 babies and successfully got data from 9 of them. Not only did they prove awake infant fMRI was possible, they also showed the world some of the first pictures of a baby’s brain while the baby was awake. The hurdles they overcame to acquire those pictures was incredible!
The results were super exciting and I wanted to know more! In the last four years of scanning babies, I have learned not only about the brain but also, about myself. I have learned to say good-bye as well as hello. I have learned when to leave and how to leave well and I am still learning how to stay, and to stay well. Four years of scanning infants has been a total rollercoaster ride. Many tears have been shed — both tears of joy as well as tears of despair. In the last four years, I met 87 families that entrusted their baby to me. From each of these babies I attempted to learn about how their brains functions while they are awake. I spent 326 hours with these families.
Of those 87 babies, I collected at least 10 minutes of data from 32 of them!! Last Friday I scanned my last infant for this project. I still have other projects and I will still scan more infants. But, to finish data collection for this project definitely feels like an era has come to an end.
Change is once again on the horizon. And, as with all of the changes from my past, I cannot predict how the path ahead will change me. How this experience will mold me as I move toward an unknown future. But, I am grateful. I am grateful for the friends and family I have now. I am grateful for my experiences, my advisors, my lab mates, and especially the families that trusted me with their babies. This era is coming to an end but, a whole new is just beginning.