Did you know that September is NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) awareness month? I honestly didn’t know much about it until after having Bernadette. Shortly after birth, we spent about two months inside those hospital walls, our time divided between the NICU and the CICU (Cadiac Intensive Care Unit). Not an experience I ever through would be a part of my journey, but nonetheless a big part of Bernadette’s newborn days.
The days spent inside the NICU can be incredibly difficult, filled with trauma, and extremely isolating. At the end of the day, no two NICU experiences are alike but having a couple of comforts while I sat by her bedside day in and day out were especially helpful for me to have and break up the monotony of the time spent there.
This first list is of items I greatly benefited from.
- A warm blanket: This was one of my favorite things I had in the NICU. A warm, fuzzy blanket that I kept in her room for me. Especially in the CICU. The NICU was fairly warm, but the CICU was always freezing. Important for Bernadette to keep the room cool, but I was always so cold. Having the comfort of a warm blanket I could wrap myself in that reminded me of home was essential for me to have.
- Pictures: A dear friend of mine made a beautiful picture holder for us while we were in the NICU. She printed out a beautiful picture of Bernadette as well as one of the whole family. My other girls lived with my parents for the time we spent in the hospital and I missed them so much, my heart physically ached for them. Having a printed picture of their sweet smiling faces close by that I could look at when I was holding Bernadette and unable to get to my phone was perfect. It also helped to remind me that there was life beyond the hospital. It is so easy to fixate on the present moment of difficulty, but seeing them reminded me that this was only part of the story, whatever the duration of our time spent there happened to be.
- An Easy Read: I took a couple of books that had been gifted to me by my friends before Bernadette was born. I was saving them specifically for the NICU. I honestly could not get into them. I would read a couple of pages and find myself skimming the words when I would stop and realized I had no idea what I had just read. I found reading pretty magazines more enticing, especially those filled with mostly beautiful photos. I wasn’t missing crucial storylines or self-help ideas. I returned to those books a few months later and got so much more out of them!
- WATER: I needed gallons of water and could not get enough. In the NICU, I was only aloud to have water in the room. I was pumping full-time and needed to keep my supply up. I kept a huge thermos of water with me at all times along with a smaller Hydroflask that I could refill. It kept the water super cold which I craved!
- My Phone: This one may seem obvious, but preload it with some of your favorite shows or movies, podcasts or audiobooks. The internet was sketchy and didn’t always work to livestream something, so having things downloaded on my phone was nice when I needed a short brain break. It was usually a show I had seen before or a short podcast that made me chuckle, but it was nice to have.
This second list are tips and tricks are things that helped me to not lose my mind while in the NICU.
- Gym membership: Ok, maybe you aren’t much of gym goer, but hear me out. There was a gym close by the hospital. Once I finally got the all clear from my doc (please make sure you check in with your doctor first!!!) David signed me up with a gym membership. I went several times a week. It helped give me a sense of normalcy by getting into a familiar routine and exercise = endorphins. It also gave me a reason to get my booty out of bed (other than pumping) and helped to get me outside of the hospital!
- Taking breaks: I was so bad at this. I hated leaving Bernadette. I was always afraid something would happen while I was gone or I would miss a specialist and have to hear second hand what the plan of care was. I made sure to be there during rounds and most of the time, but I also gave myself a break to go outside. There was a lovely garden area on our floor and even stepping outside in the fresh air was life-giving. It gave me something else to look at and momentarily distracted me.
- Find a new restaurant: Down the street within walking distance, there was the best farm to table restaurant. David’s cousin worked there, which is how we found out about it, and after our first breakfast there, I was hooked. We visited a handful of times, but again, it gave us something fun to look forward to and a minute out of the hospital. I knew that Bernadette was in extremely capable hands and the change of scenery helped recharge me!
- Call a friend: The brief phone conversations I had with friends throughout our hospital stay helped me stay connected to our community. It also helped spread the news about any new updates that were hard for me to get out to the masses. Whomever I spoke to would be able to text out the gist of the update instead of me reaching to out to our wonderful friends and family. It also gave me an opportunity to be reminded there was life on the other side (just like looking at the pictures of my other daughters!).
- Have grace with yourself!!! Chances are, if you are in the NICU, life is chaotic and unpredictable. It is scary and unknown and extremely difficult. It’s ok to cry. It’s ok to laugh! It’s ok to take breaks and it’s ok to sit with your baby 100% of the time. Feel it out! And give yourself the grace to decide in the moment what feels right. The nurses there are incredibly wonderful and are well prepared to step in for your baby as necessary. It is an emotional rollercoaster and knowing there is space for it all is very important.
Lastly, hospitals often have helpful resources for families, whether that be an advocate or a social worker or even the hospitality service that may be working where you are staying. Don’t hesitate to reach out for things you need or if things don’t seem right. Chances are someone there can help you!