I’ve been trying to write this entry for weeks now. I’ve already talked about mental and emotional survival, but physical survival is also important. I’m short on time and brain power, so instead of trying to weave an eloquent cheer flag, I’ve decided to throw up bullet points in hopes that some other NICU parents appreciate the quick words as they sit in their own uncomfy isolette-side chair.
- Get to know your nurses. Seeing them as real people will help you trust them, plus talking to them about more than the babies will help you decompress and pass time.
- Spend as much time as you can and want in the NICU. Some people do well with less time in the unit. Others, like me, do best with as much time as possible. As long as you’re healthy – in body and mind – listen to your instincts.
- Learn about your babies as much as possible. Ask questions about their care. Watch to see how they act. Watch how they sleep. It is possible to bond through the isolette, but it takes a lot of patience and vigilance.
- Get your kangaroo on. Kangaroo care, that is. It’s good for you, and it’s good for baby. Breathe in that baby smell and revel in the tiny life of which you’re in charge.
- Accept free food. I don’t care if you hate meatloaf. If someone gives you free meatloaf, eat it and be thankful you can eat without thinking or doing anything more than chewing.
- Dress comfortably when in the unit. Don’t worry about impressing anyone with your stylish threads or even offending anyone with your ratty sweatpants. You can focus better if you’re comfortable. You can maneuver through wires if you’re comfortable. You can sit for more hours than you expected when the shit hits the fan and doctors and nurses are dancing around your baby, trying to figure out the unknown problem.
- Carry with you some thick hand cream. Frequent washing and sanitizing is brutal. Your hands will thank me.
- If the NICU has your cell phone number as your contact number, program a different ring for their number. Otherwise, you’ll have a heart attack each time Curious Family Member calls. Reserve those heart attacks for actual NICU calls.
- When the NICU does call, sit down and center yourself before answering. You don’t want to hear bad news while holding a sharp kitchen knife. The extra 30 seconds before answering is worth it.
- Bring your electronics into the unit. I can’t tell you how many times my iPod touch saved my sanity. From Angry Birds to streaming Netflix, the mindless activities helped pass the hours I spent in the unit. I always had one eye on three monitors, but having that other eye elsewhere saved me from completely losing my mind.
Readers, if you’ve survived the NICU, please feel free to add any of your own tips in the comments. I’m seven weeks out from our stay, and the sleep deprivation and sweet, healthy babies have clouded some of my memory. I’m sure I’m forgetting some vital advice.
If you’re in the NICU now, know you aren’t alone. I wish I could tell you we all survive, that we all find that elusive light at the end of the tunnel, but we all know that isn’t true. Take care of yourself and focus on the possibility of survival.
Sometimes that’s all you need.