Admission to the NICU isn’t something that any parent hopes for. Unfortunately it is a reality for many and can bring a range of emotions.
I spent 43 days in the Royal Oak Beaumont NICU. Here are some things I did, and some things I wish I did.
1. Take care of yourself.
I know this is easier said than done. I wish I did a better job at this. Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. Try to get enough sleep. Don’t isolate yourself from your family or partner.
2. Accept help if it’s offered. If it isn’t, don’t be afraid to ask for it.
Friends and family often feel helpless and don’t know what they can do to make you feel better. Be specific and polite. Trips to the grocery store, meal prep, pet care, and house cleaning are all small things that they can do that can make a huge difference.
3. Reach out to other parents in the NICU.
They’re going through a lot of the same things, and have many of the same fears and insecurities. Some of these parents you may see for weeks or months at a time. Smile. Say hi in the lounge. If you make a friend, keep in touch with them. This way when you bring the baby home, you’ll have some support from other NICU parents. There are certain quirks (e.g., extreme germ paranoia, very chapped hands, strange reactions to beeping sounds, etc.) that you probably won’t find with your non-NICU parent friends.
4. Don’t compare yourself or your baby to anyone else.
In the NICU, as in life, someone will always have it better and someone will always have it worse.
5. Find a mentor.
One of the greatest things I did was request to be put in touch with a mom whose children were Beaumont NICU graduates. We communicated via text and she was my light at the end of the tunnel throughout the process. It was tangible proof for me that I could make it. She also kept in touch with me after my daughter went home and was a great resource as we adjusted. You can contact a staff member of the Parenting Program if you’re interested in this.
6. Get to know your nurses.
The Beaumont NICU nurses are some of the most dedicated, hard-working and compassionate people I’ve ever met. They care about you and they care about your baby. They want you to succeed and have so much knowledge. Don’t understand a word the doctor said at rounds? Ask your nurse questions. Let them know you. They can be incredible allies if you let them. They might even end up at your baby’s first birthday party.
7. Document your experiences.
This is another thing that I wish I would’ve done better. Use your NICU journal. Take lots of pictures and video. I love looking back now and seeing now how far we’ve come.
8. Take advantage of the resources at Beaumont.
Check to see if you qualify for a meal to be sent up. Go to the education classes offered. Even if you think you know everything about the topic being presented, it can be a great way to take a breather and connect with other parents for support.
9. Believe in your baby.
The NICU can be sad, scary, overwhelming, difficult, disappointing, frustrating and downright horrible. Through all this, your baby is fighting. Joe Louis has nothing on a preemie baby. They are tough. They are strong. And they are fighting. Fight with them. Muster every ounce of positivity you can find and channel it into your baby. They need you to believe in them and yourself. You will find strength you never knew you had in the NICU. Live in every precious moment that you have to hold them, see them and talk to them.
10. Take care of yourself.
I know I said this already, but it’s the most important thing that’s the easiest to forget. Drink lots of water. Bring healthy snacks. Invest in some good hand lotion. You’re going to need it.
– Sara Kuhn is a Parenting Program participant and volunteer.