I was recently asked to answer an "Ask The Expert" question for Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine about surviving the NICU. While I'm no expert, I reflected on my experience with my first born, and the roller coaster of emotions that took over me. Hope this helps someone in a similar position!
I gave birth to my baby prematurely, and it looks like we'll be spending the next few weeks in the NICU. This is not what I anticipated my first weeks as a mother looking like. Is there anything I can do to make things feel more memorable and less medical?
First, I sympathize. We all envision perfection. We all want a full term pregnancy, flawless birth, healthy baby, and a swift stay in the hospital. And when that doesn’t happen, a piece of us might feel gipped, resentful, and sad. So I hear you—I understand—this isn’t what you expected. I want you to honor your feelings and allow yourself to go through the roller coaster of emotions. Cry and laugh--everything you are feeling is OK. Your feelings are real.
Next, get an outlet. Sitting in the NICU for days: hearing all those machine beeps, doctor visits, tests, etc.—it’s exhausting and draining. I suggest journaling your emotions; write a daily letter to your baby; read aloud to your newborn; color in a coloring book—anything that will keep your mind emotionally occupied.
Another thing: kangaroo. Should your child’s situation permit, utilize this method of caring for premature babies in which infants are held skin-to-skin with a parent. I remember the first time I kangarooed with my son; happy tears streamed from my face as I snuggled my tiny child. It is the ultimate bonding experience for preemie parents. You’ll love it.
Finally, realize the NICU a blessing in disguise. You have access to incredible resources: doctors, nurses, and experts. Pick their brain. Learn from them. Embrace the experience and consider the NICU a transitional tool between giving birth and going home.
My son’s stay in the NICU was the longest week of my life. I was overjoyed and overwhelmed at the same time, rejoicing in becoming a mother while worrying about my 4-pound son. But every birth is a blessing—our own magical story of welcoming our baby into the world. The NICU will soon become a mere memory, and you’ll eventually become like me—admiring your beautiful toddler and being amazed that he’s come such a long way.