Tracy is our newest preemie feeding challenges mentor, and she had some thoughts to share about how parents in the NICU can work through the experience and even thrive.
Reach out, find and lean on other parents and NICU nurses. Search for parents who have been through it or are going through it. I found the parent group in my NICU to be very supportive and helped me through my stay. Through this group I found both, experienced parents and fellow NICU parents. It took me a little time to go to the parent meetings because I was in denial a while that this experience was actually happening to me, that I needed others and I was one of “them”- a parent with a child in the NICU.
Once I reached out, I found the moments the other parents and I spent together to be some of the most supportive. There were times when it will be appropriate that you need the empathy of another parent, and there will be times when you may need the support of a nurse. Our NICU nurses were amazing, they became like family to us, and I leaned on them for advice, expertise, and a listening ear often. I found some of them to help me through my toughest times. A couple of them I call my closest friends now. They have stayed in my child’s life and it means so much. If you look, and find the people you need aren’t around you, look online, Graham’s Foundation is here with parents wanting to be there for you!
Give yourself time to mourn what you thought would be, and what you feel you lost. It is okay to feel cheated, angry, and sad about this situation. I grieved my perfect, natural labor and birth, my traditional c-section which left me unable to ever give birth naturally, not being able to nurse, my child having to go through this experience, watching the other full term parents leave the hospital with their baby and their, “Congrats” balloons.
It is okay. I realized it didn’t make me a horrible person to be sad. In time, these things you think you lost turn will turn into something else. I realized I have gained so much. I gained a life changing experience, an eye opening and heart opening on celebrating the little things (changing a poopy diaper, a bath, kangaroo care), a love and appreciation for my child I never thought possible, a whole new amazement at my child and what she has gone through and her unbelievable strength. I have been with her to celebrate all the accomplishments that she worked so hard for, things that come so easy to others.
Being the parent of a preemie will open your heart up in a way you never thought it could, it will change your life, you will come away from the NICU experience a different person. A person who takes less things for granted. A person who celebrates every success when your child overcomes a challenge. The NICU can beat you up, but you come out a stronger individual.
Honestly, the thing I remember most about the NICU is how hard it was. I remember how I felt emotionally. I remember hearing the saying about the “NICU being a roller coaster ride”, and remember when I realized on was on the uphill of that ride, buckled in and there was no turning back. I remember the wonderful, nervous, exciting feeling of finally taking my daughter home from the NICU. It was quite an experience, I met wonderful people, learned many things, but there was a little sigh when we finally arrived home. It was amazing relief to realize we survived that experience.