Today’s post comes from preemie mom Valerie Frost.
Valerie is a mother, scholar, and lifelong learning enthusiast. A Garden State native, she is a former Kindergarten teacher now tackling Stay-at-Home Mom life with single parenting of boy/girl premature twins. She recently completed her M.Ed. and has a passion for creativity, health, and personal well-being.
Six things I miss about NICU life
If you read the title and are facing the impending doom of probable NICU time, or are deep in the trenches right now, I can imagine your emotions ranging from a bit skeptic to downright incredulous. What is there to glamorize and reminisce over about such a time? What could possibly be enjoyable about seeing your baby sick and helpless? Going home day after day empty-handed?
As a NICU vet, I am not here to trivialize the terrors or minimize the trials. But, it is important to realize that this is not just a time to absently get through, ride out, or get to the other side of. Although not the ideal circumstances, your little one is here. Your NICU baby has already been born and this is a part of his or her (or both in my case with boy/girl twins) life. Before you know it, your baby will be a toddler and, depending on the length of NICU stay, you may have waited out a chunk of his or her early days.
Don’t miss milestones and memories just because they aren’t occurring the way you imagined they would. Cherish this time. Take the pictures. Celebrate the holidays. Mark the milestones. Your baby’s memories of this time will come from what you choose to highlight and record for them. They won’t consciously remember the wires, needles, beeps, and uncertainty.
With that being said, I miss:
- My babies being tiny
It totally throws off your sense of “normal” sizing when your baby reaches six pounds and you think they’re a gigantic mutant race of oversized baby now. I used to be disappointed that my twins didn’t look like typical newborns; but rather more like hairy naked mole rat babies. But there’s something so precious, although solemn, about holding your extra teeny bundle so carefully and close to you. They both still want to be on my chest together but clearly space-wise it is not the same.
- Skin-to-skin (aka Kangaroo care)
My babies used to literally melt on me and not move. Sometimes they would squeak (preemie hiccups) or grunt, but that was it. Now I hold them and once I start leaking milk they claw and struggle to get to their food source, or they get mad about sharing space with brother/sister and cry because they can’t kick the other good enough for their violent satisfaction, or they screech and whine like afflicted pterodactyls while trying to head-butt me because they’re overtired and fighting sleep.
- Optional cares
Ok, sorry to admit it…but it was kind of nice to be too tired or uncomfortable to take care of your child and have a way out. A twin pregnancy and emergency Cesarean section was rough on my back and sometimes, mid-bath during a care time, the strain of the pulling on nerves and muscles was too much to go on. At home, there are no nurses around to finish up a bath time for you when you’re in pain or do a bottle feed when your nipples have been gnawed on all day.
- Useful gifts
NICU families are our own community. A community that, from my experience, actually gets it. Everyone is excited about a new baby, and of course family, friends, and coworkers mean well, but how often do new parents get gifts they ask for or really need? No matter how many times you say “no more toys” or “no more clothes”, chances are if Grandma sees a cute little frilly dress for her precious granddaughter, she’s going to pick that up over the donation to the college fund you requested or another pack of diapers (who can ever have enough diapers?). During your baby’s NICU stay, however, there are numerous resources available to give families exactly what they need including a place to stay close to the hospital (the Ronald McDonald House), supplies for your baby (the hospital), care packages for parents and baby (Graham’s Foundation, Project Sweet Peas), and even a newborn photo session of your NICU baby (The Tiny Footprints Project).
- Hospital grade pump
I am not going to drone on in detail, but studies show that breast milk is highly beneficial for NICU babies. Simply put, it is digested better, can be allergen friendly if Mama is on a dairy free diet, and can reduce the risk of intestinal infections. While I was pregnant, I looked forward to embracing the challenge of mastering tandem nursing with my handy My Brest Friend Deluxe Plus Nursing Pillow. That dream came crashing down when my twins were born at 28 weeks and could not take feeds by mouth. My original soft and adjustable breastfeeding accessory was now replaced with an electric human milking machine. Keeping up with a strict pumping schedule (8 times a day around the clock) while managing NICU visits and recovering from a C-Section was not easy; but being able to use a hospital grade pump (Medela Symphony) while the twins were in the NICU was a lifesaver for initiating supply and building up a freezer stash.
- Lack of loneliness
Hospitals are busy places. My twins stayed at a Children’s Hospital that was also part of a University hospital. Their NICU team consisted of day nurses, night nurses, resident doctors, Fellows, Neonatologists, dieticians, social workers, and palliative care staff. Even getting to the hospital I had to encounter shuttle bus drivers and check in with the front desk. And that was after passing other guests and staff at the Ronald McDonald House. These are all people who become part of your new normal. They notice when your walk is a little slower than the day before and they cheer when you share an updated photo or new milestone reached by your NICU baby. Even though it can feel smothering to never get to be sad or worried alone, it is a lot quieter when all these people are gone at once.
Remember, your baby’s experiences in the world begin when he or she is born. Not when you take him or her home. Enjoy the moments now. Make the memories right away. Find the good where you can in the present.