According to the March of Dimes, 10-15% of the babies born in the U.S. each year are treated in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The parents of these babies must face what can be an intensely emotionalandoverwhelming experience. In addition to the normal post-partum struggles (physical recovery, hormonal changes, sleep deprivation), “NICU moms” also have to deal with the loss of the newborn period they imagined, and in most cases, uncertainties about their baby’s health.
Nothing can take away the unpleasant aspects of having a child in the NICU. But whether your baby’s there for 3 days, 3 weeks, or longer, there are steps you can take to make the best of this extremely difficult time.
Be Your Child’s Advocate
Even if you have all of the confidence in the world in your baby’s doctors and nurses, this doesn’t mean you should blindly accept everything they say and do as the last word. As dedicated as these medical professionals are, no one cares for your baby more than you and your partner. Take it upon yourself to do some research about your baby’s medical situation, read their chart on a daily basis, and don’t hesitate to ask questions or speak up if you don’t understand something about your little one’s condition or treatment.
Connect & Vent
Being a NICU mom can be an isolating and all-consuming experience. You may spend a large part of the day alone (save your baby and medical staff), or shuttling back and forth between the hospital and home. As supportive as they may be, chances are good that few (if any) of your friends or family members have been where you are. Make an effort to connect with other NICU moms, whether in person or online. Being able to talk with others who are going through the same thing you are can lessen your loneliness, and hearing stories from former NICU moms can remind you that it won’t always be like this. One way or another, make sure you have a way to express all of the feelings running through your head. Be it a blog, journal, or even a really supportive friend, sometimes just putting it all out there can make things seem a bit more manageable.
If you have a baby in the NICU, chances are you’ll get plenty of offers of help from your friends and family members. Although it’s easy to brush these off with a “thanks so much, but we’re good,” resist the urge. You may not want anyone else to take your position at your baby’s bedside, but there are plenty of things that others can do. Those who care for you really do want to help, so when they ask, go ahead and say that it would be wonderful if they could do a few loads of laundry, deliver a hot meal, or drive an older child to soccer practice for you.
Go Easy on Yourself
It’s normal to feel upset, or even angry, about your (and your baby’s) circumstances. But at the same time, don’t deprive yourself of happiness in all areas of your life, or feel guilty if you experience moments of joy. Revel in the special moments you do get with your baby, and (as hard as it may be), take some time for yourself (even if you just take a long bath or a nap.) No matter what you’re feeling, be kind to yourself ,and concentrate on making it through the day. However, if your feelings of grief don’t seem to subside, or you find it hard to function on a daily basis, consider talking to a therapist or counselor.
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hudsonthego/157033262/