If you have ever had your baby admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), you know that it can be a very difficult place to navigate. Even if you haven't personally been in the NICU, chances are you know someone who has.
It can very difficult to think about anything else other than your baby, understandably. But it is so important to think about yourself as well. If you are not thinking about your own well-being and practicing self-care, you can't be at your best. And your baby needs you at your best so you can help him or her recover faster.
Sadie's Purpose would love to welcome Melanie Sevcik to our blog. Melanie shares with us her story of how she survived the NICU, not once but twice. We thank Melanie for graciously sharing her story with us.
No doubt, the NICU is a hard place to land. Let’s be honest, anything besides going home to care for your healthy infant born on or around their scheduled due date will be difficult. And even this perfect scenario isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination- easy!
But if your baby (or babies!) need to be in the NICU, here are some things you can do that will help you keep your sanity!
First, though, a little bit about how I came to realize these things- I was there twice- with my first and my third child. And my fourth and fifth, twins, were in a step-down nursery for nine days after birth. Thankfully, by then, I kind of had the hang of it.
My first daughter, a preemie, developed NEC, endured 4 surgeries, and was in the hospital for the better part of three months. My second daughter, born with a rare alloimmune disorder, was in intensive care for six weeks before she died.
In that time, she had 6 surgeries including two liver transplants. She was at our local children’s hospital for three weeks and then she was transferred to a higher level hospital in Washington DC, three hours from our home.
What I learned from my first daughter’s stay helped me significantly when I found myself living through what felt a bit like dé·jà vu with some hell thrown in after my third child, and second daughter was born.
With my first daughter, I was at her side every minute I could be. I did not have other children to care for and as a self-employed contractor, I was able to hand over work to someone else and not take any more on.
My life and every waking moment became consumed within a 50-square-foot pod. I was glued to the vital statistics monitor. Furthermore, I had no idea what day of the week it was or what was going on in the world.
What used to be important to me was not. I wore the same clothes over and over. In the beginning, I am not sure what…or if I ate. I probably smelled.
By the end of the three months though, I did improve as she improved. I became friends with the doctors and nurses that cared for her and so I listened as they told me to go get sleep, she was in good hands. They would call me if anything arose. They would give her their all. (And they really did, they were phenomenal.)
Basic self-care is essential because when you get home, you need to be able to take care of your infant at a minimum, and if you have other small children at home, they will understandably be in great need of your time and attention as well.
Here are some things you can do to help you take care of yourself-
You are not required or needed at your baby’s bedside every moment of every day. You will still bond. Sleep is essential. Food is also essential- and the healthier the better.
Take walks. Not just one a day but small ones every few hours. Get outside and breathe in the fresh air.
Write. A journal is a great thing to have. Even if you hate writing, get a spiral-bound notebook and at a minimum, record what you learned from the doctors, tests your baby had, results, and anything the nurses tell you. You think you will remember, but you don’t. Just like "pregnancy brain" is a thing, “stress brain” is also a thing- and at times, you will feel like you are bordering on dementia. You are not. This is normal.
Try using this same journal to write a few words (or more!) about how you are feeling, what your concerns are, and what you are grateful for.
Think about the small things that bring you comfort and make time for them…simple things like listening to music, reading a book, listening to a book, a cup of coffee, a cup of tea, or a glass of wine at night.
You can update on social media if you are comfortable with it. (Caring Bridge is a great option.) This way you are not bombarded with calls or texts.
If you aren’t into social media, create an update tree so you don’t have to let people know all the time what is going on. Every morning and night, I would update my mom and my husband, his mom. All my friends and family would check in with her, and all of his with his mom. This helped to minimize our responsibility to keep everyone informed.
Because our moms felt helpless and needed something they could do, they both loved this job. Many people felt this way, so if people ask- do let them help.
Some simple things they can do:
Watch kids or pets, if needed
Bring you fresh clothes and take the dirty ones home
Provide rides to and from the hospital
Provide comfort items- such as coffee, tea, books, etc.
Clean your house and get it ready for your arrival home.
9. When people call to ask you if they can come take you out for a meal, stop and think about how your body just physiologically responded to that. If your stomach tightened and you feel like your body closed up, saying “No, thank you. Not now.” might be the best answer. If you stand up a little straighter and things feel like they open up, a “Yes, I would love that” may be the way to go. I know this sounds weird, but it works.
10. If having someone else stay at the NICU while you go to sleep is helpful, don’t be afraid to ask those you trust for such responsibility.
Self-care isn’t about selfishness, it is about being in the best shape mentally, physically, and spiritually for your family when you get home. As parents, you are in the driver’s seat. It is okay to say, “No, not right now.”
That being said, if you are the type that loves to give help but struggles to take it- know that this experience will be difficult. It is extraordinarily humbling. Help and care are needed though, so think about what would bless you and your family. Asking for those things will put your mind at ease and will keep your attention where it needs to be.
Thank you to Melanie for such a thoughtful post detailing her NICU experiences. It is our mission every day to help families just like hers by making their NICU stay a little less stressful. If you would like to help us help families, please check out our 'Get Involved' page here.