The wild ride can be very draining on parents, who often put their needs last as they focus on helping their new baby get well. As they juggle the needs of their hospitalized baby, jobs, the household and perhaps other children, it becomes clear why NICU parents are at high risk for depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, divorce and good ‘ole burn out.
While nothing can completely take away the stress of having a NICU baby, there are things to help ease the ride:
- Take care of yourself. Simple things can add up! Stick to your normal “beauty routine,” even if it is simply taking a shower and washing your hair. Eat as healthy as possible, even if that means getting the grilled chicken instead of the hamburger at the fast food restaurant.
- Keep something normal. Enjoy a morning coffee with your partner? Keep doing that. Do you always have pizza and a movie on Friday nights with your children? As much as possible, allow that to happen.
- It’s okay to take a vacation. While your heart will never leave the NICU, it is fine for your physical body to take a break. I’m not advocating a month long trip around the continent, but a day spent at the zoo with your older children or simply hanging around the house can be rejuvenating. Just make sure you are reachable if the staff needs to get in touch with you.
- Delegate. We all have THAT friend, that MacGyver of parenting who can organize the class party in five minutes flat and convince the most reluctant parent they were meant to make the organic, dairy-free, peanut-free cupcakes. Enlist her! Make her your go-to person. Everyone will be asking, “What can we do?” Have MacGyver keep track of and organize the volunteers to clean your house, watch your children, and help cook your meals. Have the inquiring friends and family contact her for updates on your baby so you don’t have to worry about responding to e-mails.
- People will want to help you. Let them. If your friend had a baby in the hospital, would you mind cooking them a meal or watching their children? Chances are that you would love to help them out. If you wouldn’t mind, then your friends won’t either.
- Let some things go. Before my preemie was born, I made a hot breakfast for my children every morning (no joke) and cooked all their snacks from scratch. After Puddin’ Pie’s birth, I tried to do it all and found out the hard way I could not. I bought some (healthy) cereal and granola bars, deciding that the few spare moments I had with them were better spent playing games than cooking eggs. It’s okay to let some things slide.
- Own your emotions. The NICU rollercoaster is powered by strong emotions. Own them. Acknowledge them. Deal with them in a healthy manner. It is okay to cry, scream, and mourn. I remember parking the car and just crying. I was still sad when I was done, but I felt 100 percent better. If there are more black days than sunny, if you find yourself consumed by negative thoughts, anxiety, thoughts of harming yourself or others, please contact a health care professional at once. Make sure your partner and the people around you are aware of the symptoms of post-partum depression and seek help. There nothing shameful about speaking to a professional. You are not a failure if you need help. (This doesn’t just apply to women who have given birth – men and adoptive parents can have PPD also.)
- Control what you can. If you are having problems with the staff, ask to speak to a patient advocate. You can also request certain nurses or therapists work with your baby – or not. If you have questions about procedures, ask. Keep a notebook where you jot down your questions, concerns and “who said what.” This will help you keep people and events straight.
- Network. The parents of other NICU babies, especially those born at a similar gestational age or with similar health concerns, are a wonderful resource. Some of my happiest memories of the NICU took place at night, laughing with the other parents in the lounge.
Yes, the NICU is a wild rollercoaster with peaks and valleys but with some (okay, a lot!) of help, you will make it to the end.
Photo Credit: 100_0543 by ceejayoz, on Flickr
For more information on the parenting a NICU infant and emotions, please read Parenting Your Premature Baby and Child by Deborah L Davis and Mara Stein.