So one of my friends just had her beautiful babies at a very early age (under 28 weeks), and I was writing her a note because she had NICU questions. And it dawned on me – there are more than just her out there starting out their NICU journey, and it feels like a foreign country. There are different lights and sounds. It’s a whole new language (it takes months, years, to stop using acronyms and assuming people know what words like CPAP, bilirubin, MFM, O2 sat, and such mean!). It’s a sterile environment, every sneeze has people turning their heads wondering what you have. It’s a cold environment. It’s largely devoid of fun or lights or color as they try to keep as little stimulation out of the room as possible so the babies can sleep and eat and grow. So here goes…
Hey there *****, I know you’ve gotten tons of good advice about the NICU, but I just wanted to say if you have questions to let me know. Sometimes with the micro-preemies the nurses get mother-lion on them because while you are the mom and want to love on and care for your babies they worry that if something goes wrong it’ll be on them. There is always *something* you can help with, though, whether it’s just bringing a clean blanket over, holding them up while the bedding is changed, or bringing a clean hat from home so they have a part of you with them. If a nurse doesn’t seem to be friendly/want to talk to you, find a head nurse and talk to them. Tell them you want to be a part of the care. Once they get more stable, they will wait for you to get there to do feeds if you’re only a few minutes late, and eventually it’d get to the point where I’d walk in, smile, and they’d tell me who had been changed/temp taken/etc, and I’d finish on the other babies.
It truly is just becoming a part of the care team. I think the nurses get used to parents who don’t come in regularly. Seriously, one of my nurses said they would have to call a mom to remind her to bring in the pumped milk and she never stayed, just dropped it off. Or about parents that had to be called because the baby was ready to go home and they hadn’t been there recently to realize it. So many people handle the stress differently. For me, being there as much as possible and being a part of it was critical. I got a place at Fischer house (kinda like Ronald McDonald house but for military) nearby since we lived an hour away and practically lived in the NICU sitting in a rocker just staring at the babies. For others, they can only come for bits at a time because it’s too emotionally draining. We had those days too where we dragged ourselves away to go to dinner or a movie just to feel a little more normal, and as hard as it was, it really helped the feeling.
NO matter your level of medical knowledge, or lack thereof, you are a part of the care team and the most vital part of it. Even if a nurse is loving and caring and holds the babies, the feeling of mama’s skin and smell does more than you can imagine. Even just your voice through the incubator when you’re not allowed to touch them. Every little bit you can makes a world of difference, and if you show the nurses you’re there and want to learn, they will be grateful and gracious and if they’re not? Get a new nurse. Most hospitals let you have a list of nurses you don’t want on your service, and they will honor that.
Hugs, love, and strength to you mama. It was so hard when they were on different sides of the NICU for a while and I had to pick who to sit by. Who to love on. Who would be the favorite that day. Val needed the most support for a while and it was so hard knowing that she needed that, but that by giving her that I wasn’t holding the others. It will never be easy, but it will become easier, more manageable, and while one baby is having a harder day and needs you more, don’t feel guilty – they’ll take turns and it’ll balance out in the end.