Mother’s Day in the NICU

adult hand with NICU infant

Mother’s Day is supposed to be a day of pampering; a day the family goes to brunch. Or your children make you breakfast in bed decorated with flowers they picked themselves. Or maybe you simply spend all day in your pajamas cuddling your little one.

But for moms who have a baby in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), none of these are an option.

Instead, a NICU mother wakes up in a home without her baby. She quickly gets herself together and hurries through congested streets to the hospital. She checks in at the front desk before entering the guarded door. She diligently scrubs in and shuffles her way down the hall carrying bags of freshly cleaned blankets, onesies and bottles. She passes bed after bed of babies with varying levels of illness, until she finally drops her bags on the well-worn chair she sits in day after day, next to one special crib.

“Good morning, sweetheart!”

There is no sugar coating this. Mother’s Day in the NICU completely and irrevocably stinks.

This year will be my first Mother’s Day, and while I am dreading spending the day in a hospital, I am over-the-moon excited to celebrate.

A few months ago I never imagined I would have anything to celebrate this May because my baby was not expected to survive. But thanks to the wonder of modern medicine, and a few miracles, my baby girl is still with us.

And no one can relate to this grateful feeling better than my fellow NICU moms.

This Mother’s Day, I am guaranteed to be surrounded by an incredible sisterhood. It’s a sisterhood no one wants to be a part of, but when you are, it’s a bond you can never break.

We can talk about blood transfusions, CPAP, RetCam eye exams or the litany of other NICU services with complete understanding and empathy—a feat that is nearly impossible for those who haven’t experienced the Unit.

I can also take comfort in the fact that my daughter is surrounded by top-notch medical professionals. So in case something does go wrong, I know she is in the absolute safest place in the world.

I am going to spend my first Mother’s Day cuddle with my baby while also watching her heart and oxygen monitor to ensure she keeps breathing, and that is OK.

Do I wish I was going out to brunch with my baby? Absolutely.

But, no matter where my child may be, I am a mom.

If you know a mom who will be celebrating Mother’s Day in the NICU, tell them “Happy Mother’s Day” and give them a big hug. Because a NICU mom is also a “NICU warrior.”

– A NICU mom

10 Tips for Parents on Coping with a Baby in the NICU

NICU baby under bili lights

Image credit: Sara Kuhn

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.

 

A Love Letter to the Beaumont Parenting Program

Mom holding a NICU newborn

Sara Kuhn with daughter, Grace

I was admitted to the antepartum unit at Beaumont, Royal Oak in mid-December 2013 where I stayed (aside from a brief few days at home in January) until I gave birth to my daughter via cesarean section on Feb. 12, 2014. She was 10 1/2 weeks premature, weighed 3 pounds 7 oz., and spent 41 days in the NICU.

Baby in isolette

Grace in her isolette.

My first experience with the Parenting Program was two days after Grace was born. It was Valentine’s Day and I made the slow trek from the 6th floor down to the 5 th to visit my baby. I was physically and emotionally exhausted from being in the hospital for so long and feeling rather sad. Friends and family are unsure how to react when the fate of your newborn is unknown, so the normal, hearty congratulations and excitement aren’t as forthcoming. When I arrived to her room, it was decorated! There were construction paper hearts and decorations with her name on it. This may seem like such a small thing to care about so much, but it was very uplifting. It felt wonderful to know that other people were acknowledging that my baby was worth celebrating. Over the course of our stay, the regularly delivered small and thoughtful gifts were instrumental in keeping my spirits up.

My next experience consisted of meeting and getting to know Michelle Enerson, NICU Coordinator with the Parenting Program. She reached out to me shortly after Grace arrived in the NICU and I was very impressed with her warm, friendly demeanor. I was ecstatic to discover that there were classes held right in the NICU for new parents to learn about different topics regarding parenting and child care. I had planned to take classes before giving birth and was very disappointed when I couldn’t. Michelle taught me safe sleep practices, how to bathe my baby, and basic CPR among other things. The best part was that I didn’t have to leave the NICU. I got to take a break from the worry without feeling guilty and felt like I was actively doing something to help. She also put me in touch with Melanie, a volunteer, who quickly became a lifeline for me as someone who went through the NICU experience herself and could relate to how I was feeling. It was a huge help to see a light at the end of the tunnel. We communicated through phone calls, email and text, which was perfect. We are still in contact and recently met in person for the first time. There was a lot of hugging. It was a wonderful experience.

I also joined an evening parenting group with my husband. We were put in a group with babies around Grace’s adjusted age so she was at the same developmental stages as the others. My husband especially benefited from our group as he didn’t have any other Dad friends and was feeling rather isolated. It’s great have so many other parents to bounce ideas off of or to commiserate with on the peculiarities of raising children! Our leaders, Emily Swan Detrisac and her husband, Bill, were fantastic — very approachable and kind. We really enjoyed the topics and they boosted our confidence in many of our parental decisions. Our group made plans to get together after our last topic date, too.

Baby girl standing in pack-n-play

Happy Grace!

I’m so grateful for the wonderful experiences that I had with the Parenting Program. Being a new parent can be challenging, frightening and isolating. Through the Parenting Program I gained knowledge, confidence and lasting friendships. I’m looking forward to becoming a volunteer and giving back to new parents.

Thank you!

– Sara Kuhn is a Parenting Program participant and new volunteer.

Volunteer Profile: Offering Support as Someone Who’s Experienced the Same

What makes us parents, at the most basic level, is our little bundles of joy. We are all a part of that special group of people who are guiding new lives through the world, and we are related to each other because of them. But some bundles are littler than others. And when your joy comes in a 1 pound, 4 ounce package, your joy is mixed with terror and uncertainty. And parents who have experienced that terror certainly understand what I’m talking about. I’d like you to meet one of those parents: Jason Pyciak. Continue reading

What to Expect When You’re Expecting: Choosing a Hospital

You’re expecting. Naturally, you want to deliver your baby in a comfortable setting, perhaps with some amenities. But more importantly, you want a hospital where the medical care you and your baby will need is available to ensure a safe delivery.

“Expecting mothers should look for certain attributes when choosing a hospital,” says Robert Starr, M.D., interim chief of obstetrics and gynecology, Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak. Continue reading

When Your Parenting Plans Go Out the Window

When we were expecting a baby, the planning started early. Books, magazines, registering for gifts. I quickly realized what a crazy amount of planning and getting ready for a new baby was. Then, I learned that those plans can quickly change.

We registered, we picked out the furniture for baby’s room. We even planned out our weeks around when our daughter was due. However, our daughter had other plans. Continue reading

Take Time to Enjoy The Present

Earlier this year, I was gently reminded by my 3-year-old that I was always “busy”. Alena had requested that I sit down and help her put a puzzle together. When asked to join her, my first response was, “Not right now, but maybe later.” She immediately responded, “There is never a later! You are always busy!” In her child mind she could see something that even I as the adult did not recognize. I was too busy to stop and see the most important thing right in front of me: My family! Continue reading