I won’t lie, being a NICU parent was hard. I cried a lot. It was also surprisingly rewarding. The longer your baby is in the hospital, the harder it gets. My son, Theo, a 27-weeker, spent over 200 days in the hospital, 120 of them in the NICU. Even though he seemed healthy, Theo still required too much oxygen support to go home and we had to watch countless babies (many born after him) pack up and head home with their families. It was frustrating, but my husband and I made the most out of a lousy situation by expanding our emotional support team and doing self care.
We befriended the nurses
When you spend your days by your baby’s side in the NICU you become familiar with the nurses on rotation. At the University of Washington Medical Center, where we were, we had several primary nurses who cared for Theo. The longer we stayed, the more we bonded with Christina, Josie, and Lisa (and the more they bonded with Theo). They were easy to talk to and understood what we were going through as a family. On New Year’s Eve we brought in sparkling apple cider for the night shift nurses, and on Theo’s due date we bought cupcakes for the staff.
When we were discharged I wrote all of his primary nurses and his residents a note of gratitude for keeping him alive. It felt like it was the least I could do.Once we were discharged, we gifted them all coffee cards (and chocolate), and they came to visit Theo at the local children’s hospital we were transferred to. Theo’s former nurses attended his first birthday and we still meet up for coffee and park playdates.
We befriended other NICU parents
We were lucky to have a room next to another 27-weeker named, M, who was born just a few days before Theo. His parents were going through a lot of the same triumphs and setbacks we were. We began having lunch in the parent break room, sitting in the hall to talk, and sharing uplifting messages on Facebook. On more than one occasion we had to cry on one another’s shoulder.
M was discharged long before Theo was, but once Theo was finally healthy enough come home, we made arrangements for a playdate. Now our boys are active, healthy toddlers and we still keep in touch. It’s comforting to have someone on your side who has also been through the NICU trenches and understands your fear of germs (and shares your pain for pumping).
We kept a journal/ scrapbook
Even on the most heartbreaking days, I kept a journal of Theo’s NICU time. I wrote him letters after his first blood transfusion, PDA ligation, his pneumonia and as he graduated from being intubated to a CPAP to a low flow nasal cannula. My husband wrote to him about his hopes and dreams. I kept track of measurements and weight gain and how it felt to hold him. I stopped keeping a journal for Theo once he got home because there was too much to do with an active baby, but journaling in the NICU helped me pass the time and work through my grief.
It is easy to have on blinders when you’re practically living in the NICU, but we strived to stay positive and gracious. Your NICU days won’t last forever but the relationships you establish there might.