What Parents with Babies in the NICU Want You To Know
By Jen Kossowan, Mama.Papa.Bubba
Photographs courtesy Jen Kossowan
Apr 21, 2017
I never thought I’d be a NICU parent. I don’t think most expectant parents do. But after my appendix ruptured and caused me to go into preterm labour 27 weeks into my pregnancy, there I was, months before my due date, standing next to my two-pound babe in an isolette.
He looked nothing like I’d expected him to — under the wires and tubes, his nearly transparent skin was a glossy red, his limbs were long and alien-like, and his forehead was covered in a layer of dark fuzz that had yet to come off. Beyond the shock of the situation, I felt helpless, sad, overwhelmed, and sort of like the awful start he’d been given was all my fault.
It was an incredibly hard.
Thankfully, we made it out. Our little 27-weeker is now a thriving one-year old chock full of personality and if you didn’t know his story, you might never guess that he began he life the way he did. We’re so grateful of that.
These days, one of the things I’m asked about most is how people can support loved ones who’ve had their babies prematurely and are just beginning their NICU journey. Now, I’m no expert and every situation truly is different, but because being a parent of a NICU baby isn’t something most know much about (thank goodness for that), I think that understanding a little bit of what a NICU parent is going through is a good start. Here are 5 things NICU parents want you to know.
We so appreciate the messages of support
Shortly after our preemie babe made his surprise arrival, my phone, inboxes and social media feeds were absolutely flooded with messages of support. Some wrote to say congratulations, some sent their love and support, and others shared their wisdom and preemie stories of their own and every single one was appreciated. It killed me a little bit not to be able to respond to everyone personally, but there were truly times when reading those messages kept me going through yet another pumping session or sleepless night.
Recommended Reading: A Guide to Staying Sane While Your Child is in the Hospital
Being a NICU parent is much harder than we’re letting on
(In fact, it might be one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do.) Naturally an optimist, I made a conscious decision to stay positive during our time in the NICU. Not only did it help me get through the days, but I felt like our bub needed me to believe in him. To come in each day and shower him not only in love, but in warmth and positivity too. Even on the hard days, the updates I’d send friends and family members were framed in positivity because I needed them to believe in him too. Deep down, I’m certain that I did believe that he was going to be okay, that we’d eventually bring him home and he’d one day thrive without medical support, but that didn’t cancel out the fact that having our sweet baby in intensive care was incredibly frightening and exhausting.
We’re probably not asking for help, but we could absolutely could use it
Not being great at asking for help at the best of times, I certainly wasn’t in the right frame of mind to ask for it during our NICU stay. I just had too much going on to even think about asking, honestly. That being said, we had all kinds of friends and family members jump to our rescue and it was amazing. From bringing us care packages, to dropping off meals, to visiting the house to play with our daughter and sending us gift cards for the hospital cafes and nearby grocery stores and food services, it was truly so, so helpful and appreciated.
We need to stay healthy
If you’ve never been a NICU parent, it might not be something that would cross your mind, but we NEED to stay healthy. Desperately so, in fact. Getting sick, even with a common cold, means that we don’t get to see our baby and that’s just not something we can handle right now. The babes in the NICU are already fighting with all they have without visitors bringing illnesses into their space, so if we become sick, we have to stay home — simple as that. So please (please, please) only come to our home when you’re 100% healthy, and even if you are, please wash your hands as soon as you arrive.
We may be an emotional disaster at the moment, but don't let that scare you off
While I held it together pretty well most of the time, my gosh — in some moments, I was an emotional wreck. The stress, the uncertainty, the exhaustion — It was just too much sometimes. I’d turn onto the final road leading to the hospital and I’d be in tears from being so anxious to see my baby. I’d drive out of the parking lot late at night and I’d be in tears about having to leave him there. I was in tears the time I accidentally spilled a full pump of milk all over the kitchen counter in the middle of the night and tears again (the hot, stingy kind) the time a nurse poured out the majority of pumped milk she’d already warmed. My heart raced each time my phone rang in fear of it being the NICU with bad news. The guilt of not being able to give my own baby what he needed often left me with a lump in my throat. It felt like I was constantly holding my breath. So if we don’t seem like ourselves at the moment, it’s probably because we’re not. Please don’t let our emotional state scare you off.
For more information about premature babies and life in the NICU, the Canadian Premature Babies Foundation is a great resource and place to start.
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