Accepting help in the NICU is tough. My son, Brooks, was born at 29 weeks after a month-long hospital stay on bedrest because of PPROM I developed at 25 weeks. There was so much help I needed from the time I was hospitalized. I was almost completely helpless, it felt, for quite some time.
Fast forward four weeks to my emergency c-section. I was thrown into what I like to explain as a world I never really knew existed. That world is the NICU. The place where you experience some of your most amazing and scariest moments, unknowns and what ifs. This world will change your life in many ways, but is also different for each person. No doubt, it can change your outlook as it invokes a passion and strength you may not have known you had in you. You can be tough as nails, but the truth is, you still need help. That help can come in various forms.
I hated needing help. I’d much prefer to be the one helping someone else. While I was on hospital bedrest and wild eyed on a magnesium drip, my pastor reminded me that I should accept help from others when possible. It was help to me, and it was also a blessing to them to help someone else. It wasn’t very significant at the time, since I was trying to keep my child alive. Now I understand it, and his words are forever in the back of my mind. Let them help. Any tiny bit of help! If they have offered, chances are they mean it and really do want to help you. There are so many things that are out of your control in this journey, but accepting help is still making progress.
The help from the nurses was the first thing I can recall after Brooks’s birth. They wheeled my bed into the NICU so I could see my son for the first time. That was a simple but profound help to me: to make me feel “normal” at a time that was so far from it. Someone to let me vent or cry. After a traumatic event, we sometimes relive our stories over and over. Maybe its an attempt to absorb it, to work through guilt or grief. Whatever it is, I recognized that many people were helping me by letting me talk about it. I talked about the series of events all the time. The details and moments, the whys, hows and what ifs. The kitten cry sounds he made as they pulled him out, those moments of concern in NICU, the amazing victories, the firsts you otherwise take for granted. I texted other NICU moms and realized they had many of the same feelings as I did. It was strangely comforting and such a help.
There is an element of physical help you need as your body recovers and you push yourself beyond what most advise. Let someone drive you or meet you at the hospital. They could sit with you in silence or wait in the waiting room. Someone you know has your back. Your sister might drive as you are pumping down the road, or your mom may help you get up as you scream in c-section pain. Let the neighbors watch your children at home for a few hours while you visit the NICU or do something small for yourself. Don’t try to be a superhero all the time. Save your strength as you’ll need it for the long haul and after the NICU.
Your mental health needs to be a priority too. Everyone experiences things differently. Maybe you are like me and you want to talk and hash out every little detail. Maybe you are drowning in your sadness and shock as you withdraw. It’s okay to feel all those things and to seek further help if you are feeling overwhelmed or stuck. Reach out to a friend, family member, social worker, counselor or doctor. Don’t ever feel embarrassed.
I remember the sweetest church ladies offering to bring me dinners. That sounded wonderful and was so sweet, but all I could think about was how do I fit this in? I didn’t even know when I would be home, and I really didn’t have time to worry about having a clean house during drop off. I couldn’t put on my best face or entertain anyone when I was so overwhelmed. My cousin generously made us an online fundraiser. The guilt and emotion that comes with financial help is a whole other story. Just accept it and help the next person when you are able. That’s what makes the world go ’round.
I now help run a NICU Parent Club, and our mottos are “Better Together” and “Helping is Healing.” It’s so true! When you find another family or mother you can connect with in this journey, another person who gets it, even just a little bit, it’s like the light comes on and you can be real. You can be comfortable in your grief, anxiety, awkwardness, through complaints and praises and accomplishments. They just get that crazy rollercoaster that is NICU and the after world. It is so much better together. There are people within your community, mothers sitting beside you in the NICU, a father riding the elevator every night with you and groups of thousands on social media from around the world wanting to help you. It makes their trauma have a purpose. Their struggles now have value and meaning to some degree. The loss of their baby and the experience that ensues could now, in some odd way, comfort a mother dealing with the same grief and loss. I could tell you a million unexpected stories about how NICU touches your whole life. So accept the help and offer it to the next person when you are able!
About Ashley S. Crabtree
Ashley S. Crabtree is an advocate, wife and mother of one full term son, Lucas, who is now ten, and Brooks, now three, born at 29 weeks after PPROM at 25 weeks. Brooks spent 69 days in the NICU after 30 days of hospital bedrest. He continues to battle a feeding disorder but is an otherwise healthy, handsome boy. Ashley has a B.S. in Sociology and a passion to help others. She started the NICU Parent Club Facebook page and private group, which strives to serve families before, during and after their NICU stay. The NICU Parent Club supports families through social media and two local hospitals in Georgia.