There is nothing like words of wisdom from our peers who have already conquered the journey we find ourselves on. In this post, we share bits of advice from veteran NICU parents who have walked through the fire and come out the other side.
You are your baby’s number one advocate, even in the NICU. It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the enormous amount of information coming at you. Information that is not only full of terms and conditions you may have never even of before, but that is also being used in relation to the health of your precious new baby. Take a minute to compose yourself and ASK ALL THE QUESTIONS. Ask your nurse. Ask your baby’s neonatologist (pediatrician specializing in care of babies in the NICU). Don’t stop asking questions until you feel like you completely understand your baby’s condition and what the plan is moving forward. The staff in the NICU are there to take care of your baby but they also want you to be a part of their team because you will know your baby best and your participation is integral to your baby’s care. Grab a journal and write it all down. Write down your feelings, write down the information your doctors and nurses give you, write down words you don’t understand and need to look up, write down questions you want to ask so you don’t forget! Journals are an amazing tool for NICU parents and can even make a sweet memento to look back on your journey later down the road.
A little sunshine and deep breathing can always help clear your mind and give you a minute to refresh. The NICU is full of overload. Mental overload, sensory overload, emotional overload and, generally, that is all on top of sleep deprivation. All of that is a lot for anyone to continuously take on. Allow yourself moments to clear your head, breathe and self regulate from all the stimulation of the NICU journey, that baby isn’t the only one who can get overstimulated.
It’s easy in the NICU to find yourself comparing your journey with families’ journeys and think you shouldn’t feel how you feel because it could be worse. The truth is, it could always be worse BUT it could also be better. Know that your emotions are stemming from YOUR reality and they are 100% valid. Someone else’s difficult experience doesn’t make yours any less real or any less difficult for you. Cry when you need to, talk to someone who will just listen, and know that it’s okay to feel how you feel. Being able to deal with your emotions as they come instead of pushing them away will help keep you emotionally healthy and able to enjoy the little moments that matter.
The NICU can be scary, stressful, and traumatic. It’s not typically a place anyone wants to find themselves. However, it’s also a place full of magical first moments and the miracle of life unfolding in a way we rarely get to watch from the outside. Truth is alongside the fear and stress and tears there is still room for love, smiles, and contentment inside the walls of the NICU. Look for those moments! Take all the pictures of your baby throughout their journey. Write down the memories in a journal. At the end of the tunnel, you’ll be thankful for the ability to look back and smile at your firsts with your baby in the NICU and, one day, you’ll be able to show them what a fighter they were and how much you loved watching them grow.
It can be hard to step away from the NICU. Every time you walk out the doors without your baby, your heart breaks a little more.
Many parents feel guilt if they take any amount of time to do something just for them while their baby is in the NICU but it’s important to know that you can only give as much as you have. If you don’t take time for yourself outside of the NICU, whether that’s to get a good nights sleep, have a hot meal, get a pedicure or go home to your support system for a few days, you will end up with an empty tank.
Your baby is being cared for by a whole team of people focused on their health and safety. Who is caring for you? Make it a priority to care for yourself so you can be the best parent possible, running on a full tank of physical and mental health.