Surviving the NICU: My Story
I've experienced nothing more helplessly frightening than giving birth to premature infants. I felt like I held my breath from the moment I rolled into the operating room until the moment we drove away from the NICU with three occupied car seats (honestly, I didn't let go of that breath for a long time after that). Trust is something that's normally earned, but with premature birth, trust becomes an instant requirement.
Nick Hall, the founder of Graham's Foundationand a fellow NICU parent, has provided tips for new parents who are facing time in the NICU after a premature birth.
So Where Do You Fit In?
Hall starts off by explaining how you're an important member of your child's or children's NICU team. As you spend more time in the unit, talk with your nurses, therapists, doctors and other staffers about more than health and care. Getting to know the staff will show you that they care, that they aren't just about business and moving babies in and out. Knowing that they care will ease your mind and help you find your comfort zone. You'll be at your strongest when you aren't intimidated, and your preemie needs you to be strong.
Find Balance in Knowing the Right Amount for You
Being thrown into NICU life is overwhelming, but I agree with the old adage, "Knowledge is power." As your preemie's parent and guardian, you will be asked to make decisions from the moment you first meet. You can't make decisions without knowing your choices, so be informed. Maybe you don't need to know that your baby's hematocrit is low because neonates before a certain gestation don't rapidly create enough red blood cells to replenish the frequent blood tests preemies need, causing your baby to struggle and need more intervention with breathing and heart rate. Maybe you just want to know that your preemie is struggling with more apnea/bradycardia/desaturation events because he or she needs a transfusion. There's a difference between thirsting for the reason behind every tick and tock and knowing simple cause and effect. My bottom line is know enough to keep you comfortable, but know something.
Emotional Roller Coasters
While I don't think it's possible to simply let go of guilt, the reality is that the emotions of a NICU parent are vast and various. I don't think it's possible to squelch guilt if that's what you're feeling, but that useless, dangerous emotion is best shelved until later. Use your emotions and brain power during your time in the NICU for forward thinking as often as you can and take time to talk with friends, a religious figure or your doctor when you have some down time. A surprise outlet I found were our NICU nurses -- many of them were former NICU mothers themselves, and their combined experiences as NICU mothers and nurses was a priceless resource.