Finding a Balance Between NICU and Home
Finding a balance between NICU and home is hard. Nothing outside the NICU seems to matter as much as the battle that is going on inside. But there are things outside the NICU that still need your attention.
It’s time to learn how to find a balance between your need to be with your baby in the NICU and the responsibilities you still have at home and/or work.
Let people help you
People want to help, but they often don’t know what to do. There are not going to be many times in your life when you will need the help as much as you need it now. So when people come to you and say, “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do,” take them up on their offers. Ask them to walk your dog, cook a meal, pick up your groceries or take your spot in the carpool. Asking for help is hard, but learning how to accept help will make things a lot easier.
Simplify your finances and your life
A NICU stay can have a real impact on your finances. You may need to take time away from work. Not to mention the hidden costs of a NICU stay: gas to and from the hospital, parking permits, food. Then there’s the question of how much your baby’s care is going to cost you.
Know that there are resources available to help you and your family. If you need help navigating insurance – or the lack of it – there are people who can assist you. Start with your NICU social worker.
In addition to all the new costs, you still have to manage everyday household expenses. Take advantage of direct deposit. Set up automatic payments on your regular bills. Load up the children’s lunch account at school. And if you can, keep your gas tank full and some cash handy. Being prepared will lower your stress level.
“It’s okay to just to do the essentials, especially when your child is in the NICU,” says Blaine Carr, PhD, licensed psychologist and father of a 35-weeker. “Focus on the things that really matter – regular meals, keeping a roof over your family’s head, finding time to sleep and rest, the travel schedule to the NICU, breast milk pumping, and communicating with friends and family.”
Choose a spokesperson
It can be physically and emotionally exhausting to try and keep everyone informed and share the same news over and over again – especially when there has been a setback.
Pick someone you trust to become the family spokesperson. Keep them informed and ask them to take charge of updating everyone else. Some families use social media, email, or group chats to stay in touch.
It’s so hard to leave your child’s bedside. While spending time by the bedside matters, being in the NICU every available hour of your day may not be the best thing for you or your baby. Take time to eat well, exercise, and get some sleep. Find quiet times and places to be alone and regroup. Allow yourself and your loved ones “NICU-free time,” where you talk about things other than your baby’s medical needs. Rest assured that even when you’re not in the NICU, your presence is felt. And you can always call if you need updates.
Be with your family
No matter where you are – at the NICU or at home – you’re going to feel like you are neglecting someone. Keeping a normal routine isn’t always realistic, especially if you have other children, but it can help. Siblings need reassurance. Tell them that even though things are hard right now, you are still thinking of them and they can count on you. Let them know that you are not the only one who cares for them. Friends and family can provide comfort and diversion while you are away.
Be with your partner
Prioritizing time with your partner is essential. Find a few moments to be together, even if it’s just a quick snack between pumping sessions. Above all, be patient with one another.
You and your partner are in this together, despite how difficult it is. You’re each going to have bad days, and they will sometimes be the same day. Be mindful of that and be compassionate with each other.
Find your strengths and set your limits
Being in the NICU will teach you to set limits and boundaries. That said, be prepared. People may judge you and say hurtful things. They might think you are being overly protective or you’re not being careful enough. They will question what you do and how you do it. Find the strength to set boundaries and speak up for yourself and your family.
Repeat this handy phrase, “Thanks for caring and for the advice. These are hard decisions, and we’ve given them a lot of thought. I’m sure you can appreciate that and honor our decision.”
Love each other
Don’t forget to celebrate! You have a beautiful new baby. Get to know each other. Love each other. And we look forward to seeing you on the other side of those NICU doors!