It’s hard to live in two places at the same time. That’s what it feels like when you are discharged from the hospital but your baby – that sweet little baby who has been a part of you for the past however many weeks – is still in the NICU.
I tried to prolong the time I stayed at the hospital so I could be close to my son. Our hospital offered a Nesting Program, which allowed postpartum moms with babies in the NICU the option of rooming in upon discharge if their census allowed. I jumped at the chance. It meant downgrading to a smaller, not updated room. However, it was worth it for me to be close to my baby and have access to a bed and a shower. I “nested” for a little over two weeks and then it was time for me to go home. I needed to spend more time with my firstborn and learn how to juggle the two worlds as best as I could.
Juggling meant that I needed to get organized. There were so many things I was toting back and forth to the hospital. This is my list of essential items. Hopefully my system for living in two worlds will give you some ideas for yours.
- Paperwork – insurance papers, specialist information, etc.
- Camera Bag
- Snacks and Water Bottle
- Baby Clothes and Blankets (which also meant laundry bags)
- Breast Pump and Bottles
- Medium Sized Cooler for Breast Milk
I tried to limit the number of bags I carried back and forth to the NICU. My most important bag was a medium sized tote from Thirty-One. I could easily throw in smaller items like my purse, camera, journal, snacks, and a water bottle in the side pocket. I later got a file folder insert, which made it easy for me to keep track of the insurance paperwork and information doctors were constantly handing me about my son’s condition. Plus, the insert comes out of the bag making it very easy to trade things in and out. I still use this bag for my son’s many specialist appointments. It’s so easy to just grab and go.
I left a laundry bag by his bedside. Nurses would put his dirty clothes and blankets inside. When it became full, I would take it home to wash and leave another in it’s place. Doing my son’s laundry was one of the hardest and sweetest tasks when he was in the NICU. Every time I brought a laundry bag home I couldn’t bring myself to wash it right away because that meant washing away his smell. I would grab a onesie and soak up his newborn baby smell. It was a part of him that I did get to bring home. Every time I did laundry I found myself praying that he would be home soon so he could wear the bigger clothes awaiting him in his drawers.
If you are breastfeeding, there is a whole extra set of supplies to remember. Many hospitals offer hospital grade pumps so you don’t need to carry your breast pump back and forth. I preferred a different brand pump and so I brought my own from home. I finally got smart and ended up using two pumps. One stayed at the hospital and the other at home. Bottles are another issue. Some hospitals require you to take your bottles home to wash and sterilize. Others provide bottles for you. Our NICU’s volunteers provided a special bag for dirty bottles. It made it super easy to take the bottles home and dump them in the sink to wash. You may also need to manage your frozen milk. There is often a limit on how much breast milk you can store in the NICU freezer. I was constantly bringing milk home or to a friend’s house. A nice medium sized cooler makes it easy to transport.
One of the best things I did when I was in the NICU was keep a journal. It served two purposes for me. It allowed me to write out everything I was feeling and experiencing. This was especially helpful on days when things were intense. I felt less anxious if I wrote my feelings out on paper. I reserved the first half of the journal for my emotional work. Then I flipped it over to record all of the practical medical information in the back. The journal was not only a form of therapy for me but it served as my memory. I wrote down specialist information, phone numbers, websites, resources, anything pertinent to my son that I would need to remember. For me, the journal worked better than my phone. It was a gift from a friend who had a preemie a few years earlier. I think she knew that I would need this valuable tool to keep on top of things. It became the one thing I couldn’t live without during those NICU days.
I cannot say that staying organized while you are living in two places will make your NICU or hospital experience better, but at least for me, it helped to make the things that I could control just a little easier.