Being discharged from the hospital without your premature baby can be an incredibly painful experience on so many levels. While the logical part of your mind recognizes that the NICU is exactly where a micro-preemie should be, your heart breaks as you walk out for the first time without an infant car seat slung over your arm. The sadness you feel may be heightened as you see other families heading home with newborns along with balloons and gifts and realize just how long the hospital will be your preemie’s first home.
Nothing can totally take away the pain mothers and fathers feel when they really internalize that they and their babies will to some degree be living in different worlds for some unknown number of months. Being the parent of a micro-preemie is already a stressful, harrowing, and intense experience, and the physical distance between moms, dads, and the tiniest newborns and babies can intensify these feelings, making an already difficult time even more difficult.
But there are things parents of micro-preemies can do to ease the pain when they are released from the hospital, but their premature babies must remain behind. Below we’ve created a short list of things moms, dads, and other primary caregivers can do to make the initial post-discharge period a little less sad and frightening. As parents get used to balancing the pull of hospital and home, they may need to employ fewer coping mechanisms and the coping mechanisms they use may change. These are just a few to get you started:
- Use any family rooms, computer stations, or other amenities when you feel the urge. They’re there to make it easier for you to spend time with your micro-preemie baby.
- If your home is too far from the NICU that visits are financially or logistically impossible, look into local temporary housing options like Ronald McDonald House and other home-away-from-home programs.
- Ask as many questions as you need to in the beginning, and be up front about the kind of information you’re looking for (e.g., hard facts, hope, etc.). You’ll always have more questions, but the more you know before you check in at home the first time, the more confident you’ll feel.
- CALL! You are not inconveniencing anyone by calling for updates. If you can’t be present because of work or other responsibilities, phone in.
- As soon as you’re ready, create a website, either through a free blog program like Blogger or a site like CaringBridge, and send the url to family members. You can point loved ones to your site for information and updates instead of having to field tons of calls.
- Look for a local preemie-parents support group or connect with other families of micro-preemies online through our Facebook page and elsewhere. Talking to other moms and dads whose babies are still in the hospital can be reassuring.
- Ask the NICU staff what you can do right away to imbue your baby’s corner of the NICU with your presence. Your scent and the sound of your voice can be soothing, and there are lots of ways to be there for your preemie when you can’t be physically present.
- Streamline your day so you don’t get burnt out trying to do it all. Cut back wherever you can at home and at work. Let people help you!
- Talk to anyone who offers to listen, and don’t feel like you have to keep it together. At the same time, if you’re feeling positive and hopeful, and what you’d like is congratulations and shared celebration, let people know.
What coping strategies helped you deal with the stress those first few days and weeks after your infant’s birth?