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by Natalie Estelle
My micro preemie rainbow child was born at 25 weeks and three days, and she is why we spent nine weeks in the NICU. For my husband and I, it felt like forever. But with many NICU parent-to-parent conversations, our time was truly a blessing. Multiple visits per day, multiple middle-of-the-night, early morning phone calls inquiring about how many bradys she had through the night, and trying my hardest to pump multiple times a day — this was an experience I will never forget.
While going through those times, I didn’t know if I was coming or going. I had a great job that provided me the time to visit during my lunch break, and the commute there and back was almost an hour. My lunch break was only 30 minutes, and I was truly grateful to get as much time with my daughter as I could with her being in the NICU.
My experience with the NICU was a rollercoaster. Most days were positive. I made sure everyone knew who I was and wanted the staff to know a little bit about my husband and me. We were our child’s advocates, and I consistently took notes and asked questions regularly.
Within the nine weeks we spent at the hospital, I personally went through changes. Self-care is needed first and foremost because without taking care of yourself, you cannot take care of your baby. There were five self-care acts that had the most powerful impact for me that I would like to share.
Schedule a hair appointment (post-COVID)
I know I felt my BEST once I got a chance to go to the hairdresser. In most of our cases, we had our baby early and didn’t have time to prepare ourselves for the birth of the baby.
Exercise (walking and/or yoga)
Once you have approval from your doctor, incorporate the basics into your everyday routine. Go for a walk outside or on a treadmill (if it’s winter), even if it is for 15 or 30 minutes. Fresh air and consistent movement will aid your overall being.
Schedule your day (sleeping, drinking water, pumping, calling the NICU)
I made sure to get as much rest as I could because once the baby came home, rest would be few and far between. Drinking water was extremely important for hydration, of course, and to assist with pumping. Every time I went to visit my daughter, I would bring whatever milk I had. Unfortunately I struggled with pumping and had to use donor milk. That was a difficult decision for us to make, but we knew how important breast milk was, especially for NICU babies.
When calling the NICU, have scheduled and non-scheduled times. The scheduled times are to help you keep track of everything when you’re not there. Keep notes as you chat with the NICU nurse on duty so you can follow up when you arrive. The unscheduled calls for those times to make sure the nurses are on their jobs. There were times when we would leave and ask who had her for the overnight shift. Our dream is to have the perfect nurses each night, but there were times when we had a nurse or two that we didn’t really trust, meaning we would see him/her with other babies and didn’t like what we saw (they were on the phone for long periods of time or they took too long to respond when the baby was having a brady). This is when we would call sporadically. There were times I would wake up in the middle of the night and just call. I kept my notebook readily available to keep notes from my check-in calls and in-person visits. And remember, if you have a concern about your baby’s care, don’t be afraid to speak to the nurse supervisor.
Journal and take lots of notes
Everyday, twice a day, I would take my purse-sized notebook with me to the NICU. After entering the NICU and carefully washing my hands, wrist and forearms, I would greet the staff and eagerly walk into my daughter’s room to see her. I would immediately check her stats on a paper that the nurses kept next to her isolette. I would basically copy the notes (how many bradys she had since my husband and I were there the night before) and ask questions about how she did overnight. During my mid-day visit there were a few times that the neonatologist would mention that there were some procedures and tests that she may need. I would write those down in my notes and research them while there and text it to my husband as well (he is a novice researcher) for him to read up on the suggestions. I would write new NICU vocabulary words and their meanings in the journal so I knew what the nurses, respiratory therapists and doctors were talking about. The journal helped me be in the know and it helped me to keep up with everything they had to do to keep my daughter on track.
Build NICU relationships
Relationships are important in all areas, but who would think it is important in the NICU? As I previously mentioned, I made it a point for everyone on staff in the NICU to know my husband and me, and I wanted to know them as well. This is important so we all feel comfortable about various inquiries and to get to know the wonderful staff taking care of our precious daughter. Our daughter will be turning six this year, and I still check in with the neonatologist and some of the nurses that took care of her. We also try to participate in the annual NICU reunion and see some of the other babies who were there with our daughter and the other staff.
A few of the most important relationships I had were the relationships I fostered with the other NICU moms and families. We all have gone through similar situations. Our babies are in the NICU spending multiple weeks, months, some up to a year. We see each other in the halls, at the sink washing our hands and through meet-ups. It is great to chat and sometimes have a shoulder to cry on when it comes to our preemies. These long lasting relationships have turned into friendships, and I appreciate them and their words of wisdom, love and support.
These are a few of self-care tips that helped me get through my time at the NICU. My experience helped me pen 52 Self-Care Tips for NICU Moms. This is the first of a series of self-care NICU books. I am currently working with my husband now on the second book in the series from the perspective of fathers. Be on the lookout for the my new Instagram page @selfcare4nicufamilies for more tips, stories, NICU Gift suggestions and more.
About Natalie Estelle
Natalie Estelle has experience with being the mother of a micro preemie. Giving birth to her baby girl nine months after she had a stillbirth still amazes her till this day. Due to the trials and tribulations, ups and downs, and then having a full-term baby just a year and two days after her micro preemie was born, a nonprofit organization began, The NICU Parent Project, formerly Preemie Moms Rock. This organization provides words of encouragement, therapeutic art and healthy food to Baltimore-area parents who currently have babies in the NICU. For more information, visit mrsnatalieestelle.com.