If the answer is ‘yes’ you are in a club that you probably never anticipated joining. It’s a quick learning curve- understanding the unique needs of your child, how you can support them, and how to ground yourself during days of little personal control over your child’s health. It can be a challenging place to spend your days- but there can be a lot of meaning in the time you spend there. In case there are any new NICU families out there, here are a few ways that I made the NICU ‘home’ over my son’s 3.5 month stay:
I brought his own linens and blankets
– This meant lots of laundry every night- but it allowed me to bring a piece of home to the hospital for my son (and really who gets tired of folding adorable baby blankets?)
-He had the fresh laundered smell and the scent of home wrapped around him (rather than the sterile smell of the hospital linens)
I brought his own clothes
-He had a number of cords to accommodate but I enjoyed shopping for the cutest cord-friendly attire. The hospital clothes didn’t fit right and were often stained. I enjoyed knowing that his clothes were hand picked (and washed with love). (Tip: Carters has a great selection of button up sleepers)
-Again, lots of laundry, but worth it
I celebrated holidays
– For each holiday, I made my son a custom sign with his name (I.e. Shamrocks for St. Patty’s , Jalapeños for Cinco De Mayo) and threw a mini celebration at his crib side.
-Nothing distracts me like getting to business with some elbow grease. Each day when I arrived in the pod, I cleaned his entire bed space with sterile wipes. You’d be surprised, this isn’t always done on a regular basis… If at all. Keep it clean, mamma!
I brought toys and books and music for stimulus in his crib
– The bed space gets boring, the pumps are monotonous, and babies need stimulation
I connected with other parents and nurses
–Nurses are the caretakers of your child but also a connected outlet to share your child’s needs and even chat about your favorite vino (it doesn’t have to be all business- a game face everyday will leave you feeling depleted, find a way to laugh) I’m guilty of the occasional crib side dance party- my son loved them! ” ain’t no party like a NICU party, cause a NICU party don’t stop!”
-You may not feel like you have anything in common with other parents in the pod (backgrounds are different, personal interests are different, diagnoses and prognoses are different)… But you do. The time in the NICU becomes your world and everyone is fighting for the same thing, the well-being of their child. Make eye contact, say hello, send encouragement on tough days, and above all DON’T compare, everyone’s circumstance is unique to them, let that be okay and keep a focus on your child’s goals and milestones.
I kept a journal
–I chronicled memories and important health information so that I always had a reference
I learned my sons needs and I made myself responsible for his care
-I changed his diapers, changed ostomy bags, sheets, offered feedings, etc. This helps you feel connected, it was very meaningful to me.
I found a way to make contact
–There are times in the NICU when you can’t hold your child and that can be hard. I always asked the team how I could make contact. Sometimes contact was hand holding, sometimes it was singing, other times laying my head down beside my son so that he could smell me- either way I tried – he knew I was there. We connected and that’s important
I took the monthly birthdate photos
-I kept my sons hospital ID bracelet, a knit hat, a blanket or love square with me at night when I was home, so that I could cuddle and smell his baby scent and it made me feel more connected.
-Love squares are great, they are small squares of fabric that to swap back and forth with your child to exchange scent while away from one another. Many hospitals have these if you ask.
-I participated in rounds and fought for communication form the NICU doctors (promise me, they can be available)
-When at home, I had a regular call schedule to check in with the nurse on my sons condition and comfort level. I felt comfortable making suggestions over the phone to meet his needs.
Above all-I always remembered, although unique- we were making memories and we were having the chance to fight and I left the hospital everyday (no matter how stressful) grateful with a prayer on my lips.
How did you NICU?