Advice for NICU Moms
You go through 40 weeks of pregnancy imagining exactly what your life will be like once your little one joins you at home. A nervous excitement courses through your veins. Most mothers to be do not spend a significant amount of time worrying about the possibility of their baby being born early or spending time in the NICU.
According to BabyCentre about 7% of all babies born in Canada are born premature. Luckily most premature babies arrive after 32 weeks and do well. They will however spend some time in the NICU and it will be stressful for parents.
Most parents are not prepared for the NICU and don’t know what to expect. When we found ourselves unexpectedly in the NICU, I wasn’t at all prepared and it really threw me. I experienced a rollercoaster of emotions and there weren’t a lot of people around who were equipped to help me through that.
What advice would I give parents just entering the NICU? I would tell you to take photos and record everything. I would tell you to read and sing to your babies all the time, let them hear your voice. I would tell you to touch them and hold them as much as you possibly can. But more importantly I would tell you to be prepared for the feelings, the confusing and overwhelming emotions that are going to become a part of your every day for a very long time. This is the hardest part of the NICU, the part that is hard to prepare you for. But if I can prepare you, even in the slightest I would tell you this:
Own your feelings: Throughout our entire six weeks in the NICU my emotions were completely out of control. I went through feelings of sadness, helplessness, confusion, frustration and anger. I also felt happy and excited to become a mother. Hope wound its way into each and every day. When I saw what complete strangers were willing to do for us it made me realize how many good people are left in the world. The love that I felt not only for my own child but for my parents and in-laws when they put their lives on hold to stand by us during our darkest hour.
Your feelings are your feelings. It’s ok to feel them. There will be people who might be uncomfortable with your sadness and will try and convince you to feel otherwise. There will be some who won’t fully understand what you are going through. It’s ok. This is your story. These are your emotions. Own them unapologetically. Feeling all these emotions are a part of your healing.
Lose the guilt: You will feel guilty. You will wonder what you did to cause this or if you could have prevented it. You will feel guilty for not being able to let go of the sadness. Accept that this is something that is out of your control and that it is not at all your fault. It will become so much easier to handle what is to come and to work through your own emotions if you can let go of the guilt. The sooner you let go of those feelings of guilt the sooner you can begin your healing.
Lean on others: Once we were out the NICU I spent a lot of time focusing on the people who went MIA the moment we had a sick baby. What I quickly realized is that, in reality, we had so many wonderful strong people who were there supporting us. Our parents, who not only made sure we were fed, but who stood by us each and every day. Friends who would just randomly show up at the hospital or who sent us care packages to show us they were thinking of us. Nurses who explained things to us when we were confused, who gave us a little bit of stability in the most unstable environment and who took care of our baby and showed him love when we weren’t around. Strangers who knit hats and booties, made quilts, volunteered to rock him if he was alone. There were so many people who helped us stand up when we couldn’t do it on our own.
Take it one day at a time: There will be good days and there will be bad days. Some days it’s all great news, everything is on the way up and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you will be hit with some bad news. Ask questions, stay informed and then just take it one day at a time. It’s really all you can do.