When my husband and I found out we were expecting our first child, we wrapped up the ultrasound picture and gave it to my mother as an early birthday present. We were due just one day before her birthday. However, instead of the two of them sharing a birthday, my daughter was born seven weeks early, just ten days before my husband’s birthday.
My husband’s birthday was more or less a complete disaster. I spent the day battling my first clogged duct. The lactation consultant had me pumping around the clock and I missed out on spending the day with my daughter. I was defeated and exhausted. I spent the first half of my husband’s birthday dinner in tears and the second half in our RV pumping. Looking back, I wish I had handled things differently because his birthday could have been a nice break from our current reality.
I learned a lot that day and came up with my top three tips for celebrating a holiday in the NICU:
1. Change your expectations. Holidays bring with them a certain amount of pressure. When your child is in the hospital, your life is already under an extreme amount of pressure. Do your family and yourself a break, and cut yourself some slack. In fact, use this as an opportunity to remember what is really important on holidays. It isn’t the gifts or the parties that really count. Also, try not to push any expectations on your baby. I remember thinking that she might come home on my husband’s birthday. When that wasn’t going to happen, I hoped she would finish all of her bottles for his birthday. In reality, I was setting myself up for more disappointment. My precious daughter had no idea it was her daddy’s birthday, otherwise I’m sure she would have cooperated.
2. Be clear about arrangements for other family members. It is a holiday; your family will want to see you. Be upfront about the time and place. If possible, try and plan something near the hospital. Although most of your family won’t be able to visit your little one, it will allow you to be close for feedings and other things.
3. Create a special memory. Even though things will be very different, that doesn’t mean they can’t be special. The highlight of our day was finding out the restaurant we were eating at was celebrating their birthday as well. They were giving away ice cream sundaes for just a few cents! Although we weren’t able to include our daughter, it is a story that we will tell her many times. I’m sure we will even take her to that same restaurant to celebrate one day!
When your child is in the NICU you feel like you should get a pass on real life. Bills should stop coming, jobs should be put on hold and holidays should be skipped. Of course none of that happens and life has to keep moving. Do your best to take these opportunities to remember that life is out there and it is waiting for you and your precious new addition. Hang in there.