The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) was a place I knew nothing about before our oldest daughter was born six weeks early. After she was born, I wasn’t sure where to go when I was looking for NICU advice and wisdom. It’s not like this was a chapter in What To Expect When You’re Expecting.
I read a lot on google, mainly related to our daughter’s specific situation and the health issues she was diagnosed with. I thought I’d feel better if I could read about someone else going through what I was going through; someone else who had an experience that I could relate to. But, the thing about a google search is that you don’t always find articles that you feel personally connected to. They were helpful, but they didn’t feel very authentic.
In recent years I’ve been pretty open about our NICU journey, and because of this, I’m often asked for NICU advice. While I am by no means an expert, I am a mama who’s been there before. I’m a person, writing a post for me, in the past. This is the NICU advice I needed five years ago. And today, I’d like to share it with you.
Here are five things to remember, as you’re looking for NICU advice:
Remember to take this journey one step at a time.
Or, maybe even a few hours at a time. Remember to take things slow. Upon admission to this corner of the hospital, you’re going to stress and worry about “milestones” and all the things your baby is “missing” but let me tell you, the work being done here is THE most important.
And this work takes time. While not all babies admitted to the NICU are born prematurely, all babies in the NICU have special circumstances they are being cared for under. And these circumstances are going to take time to make progress. As much as you want to, you can’t speed this process up. So give it time and give in to moving slowly, but surely.
Remember to give yourself space to be sad or upset.
You are going to have bad days. I repeat: You. Are. Going. To. Have. Bad. Days. Your baby is going to take steps back after inching forward. Let yourself feel all of the emotions that come with these steps back.
Feeling like you want to cry? Then cry. Right there in the NICU. Because here’s the thing about NICU parents: we get it. We know. Maybe we don’t know the specifics, but my gosh, we KNOW what it’s like to move forward and then fall back. The steps forward make you glimpse the future, a future free from the NICU; the steps back can really knock you down. Sit with those feelings, mama. Let them out.
Remember to hit the record button sometimes.
I really encourage you to take some videos while you’re in the NICU. There will be so many magical moments to look back on, and you’ll be happy you have these moments to watch later on. We have videos of our first time holding our daughter, and even times of us just sitting with her. The videos are for us but they’re for her, too.
I want to be able to show her these videos when she is older. To be able to show her how strong she was, and how far she came. There’s something about video and the opportunity to experience things again and again that I’m drawn to. And I hope you feel drawn to doing taking videos too.
Remember the reason that YOUR baby is there.
Okay, this should probably be listed first, but these pieces of advice are in no particular order. It can be easy to be caught up in the busyness of the NICU. You might have your own room, or you might be sharing a larger pod with many other babies. But try to only focus on your sweet little one.
As I mentioned above, not all babies in the NICU are preemies. You’ll see full-term babies there, too. It is easy to compare your baby to others, and wonder why they are being discharged and your baby is not. One helpful thing I did read about being in the NICU is to remember that every baby is there for their own reason, and it’s a reason that you don’t know. You don’t know when they were admitted, or if they were sick, or any of the details. And that’s okay. Remember that your baby is on their own timeline, and don’t worry about what skills the other babies are working on.
Remember how strong your baby is.
Those little NICU babies are fighters. I’ve witnessed it with my own eyes, and surely if you’re a NICU parent, you know what I’m talking about. You will spend so much time worrying about your baby and how they are doing and then all of a sudden, you’re talking with the medical team about the car seat test and being discharged. Wait, what?!
It’s incredibly difficult to have to sit next to your baby while they receive oxygen support, or have testing done, or need bloodwork. Your first instinct is to scoop them into your arms and protect them, but chances are you haven’t even held them yet and they’re already fighting to get better and you can only watch and hope and pray. But, they are so, so tough. Trust me. And, don’t worry–they know you’re there next to them, I promise you that.
Being in the NICU is such an emotional experience. And, it’s likely one that will impact you every single day. As hard as it is to see past the NICU, please know, from a mom who’s been there before, that you can do it. Your baby can do this. Your family will become so much stronger through this experience. And your little one will make you proud every single day.