{Professional Insight} Returning to Work After Having a Preemie

September 29, 2016

A similar version of this post was originally published in March of 2014.

I’ve always been career driven, knowing since I was a child that I would someday be a television news anchor. Yet people often told me, “Your priorities will change once you have kids.” I didn’t believe them. I absolutely love my job, sharing the news of the day to thousands of people in Illinois. But three years ago, my life became news. I was pregnant with triplets, which is quite hard to hide on TV. Well into my second trimester, I began to face complications, landing myself on hospital bed rest. At 22 weeks and 6 days, I delivered my trio, more than 17 weeks premature. My daughter Abigail lived for only two hours. Her brother Parker lived for two months. Her identical sister, Peyton, is our lone survivor.

Parker & Peyton in the NICU. Photo courtesy of Jim Grimaldi Photography.

Parker & Peyton in the NICU. Photo courtesy of Jim Grimaldi Photography.

You never plan on having a preemie. Sure, I knew my triplet pregnancy was high risk, but I didn’t expect for my children to weigh barely a pound. I didn’t expect them to face an uphill battle, from intestinal surgery to heart complications and lung collapses. I didn’t expect to watch my son die in my arms, and I definitely didn’t expect that I would only bring one child home, not three. While my husband and I grieved over Parker and Abby, our lone survivor was proving every statistic wrong. This micro-preemie was small in size, but had a big diva personality, surprising every doctor and nurse with her will to survive. After 4 months in the Nicu, Peyton came home, complete with oxygen and a monitor. For a child born so young, it’s surprising that she didn’t face more complications.  But week by week, she jumped over every hurdle, acting like a typical baby… just petite in size.

I had been off the air since the day I landed in the hospital, back in May of 2013. As the weeks turned into months, and the calendar switched to 2014, my career began to creep back into my mind. As other preemie parents can relate, my life was on hold for so long. My days had been consumed by NICU visits: checking in with nurses on the oxygen saturation levels and whether my daughter would get her meal through a tube or try a bottle. We had been cooped up during winter, only leaving the house for doctor’s appointments and therapy. It’s enough to make you go stir crazy.

Getting ready to head back to work - a bittersweet day.

Getting ready to head back to work – a bittersweet day.

So when the new year arrived, I knew I wanted to return to my career. I faced a range of emotions, from excitement at the thought of adult interaction, to extreme guilt at the thought of leaving my lone survivor. I even heard from viewers, a few concerned that I would actually leave Peyton after everything we went through. My family had been through hell and back. How could I even think of leaving our miracle child? But truth be told, I had to. Just because my life had been  at a standstill for nearly a year, didn’t mean that the rest of the world stopped. We had a mortgage to pay and mounting medical bills. I simply could not afford to stay home. Nor did I want to. For nearly 10 months, my routine was caring for my 22 weeker; either watching her in the NICU, or spending every waking hour with her locked in our house and away from germs. Returning to work symbolized a change for the better. My sick preemie, was getting healthier. She no longer was skin and bones, no longer attached to monitors and oxygen.

My returning to work became a sign of hope for not just Peyton, but for me.

Because she was so small and premature, we promised doctors that Peyton would stay home, away from the daycare setting. That meant our only option was to hire a nanny. It was a daunting task. We knew with triplets, we would be going the nanny route. But with only one at home, it was hard to justify the money.  How was I going to  afford to pay the equivalent of college tuition, just so I could go back to work? But, there is no price tag on the safety and comfort of a child. If keeping Peyton home meant she wouldn’t get sick or land back in the hospital, it was worth it. We began searching through an online nanny service, and after several interviews, we lucked out as we found a perfect fit. I spent a few weeks getting to know the nanny and helping her transition into caring for our daughter.

Peyton watching Mommy on the news.

Peyton watching Mommy on the news.

As I left for work that first day back, I expected to be hyperventilating. After nearly 10 months of ups and downs, I was leaving my daughter in someone else’s arms. But as I drove away, I didn’t shed a tear. I was excited to get into my “new normal” – a sign that I was ready to return to my career. It wasn’t until I arrived at my television station that my eyes began to well up. The 116 days in the NICU was a distant memory. I was moving forward with life and so was my daughter.

Here are a few things you can do to prepare yourself for transitioning back into the workforce.

  • Relax: It’s much easier said than done! The calmer you are as you prepare to return to work, the easier the transition.
  • Plan Ahead: Start thinking about childcare months in advance and plan your child’s feeding schedule to accommodate your work schedule.
  • Do Your Research: Leaving your child in someone else’s care can be terrifying. Whether it’s a daycare or an in-home sitter, check references. Also, go with your gut. If you don’t have a good feeling when you meet a candidate, it’s not meant to be. We were lucky enough to find a caretaker who we instantly felt a connection with.
  • Get Organized: Establishing a routine will not only be helpful for you and your child, but also the caretaker. Write everything down, make a schedule, keep things simple, and keep important medical documents and other preemie essentials handy.
  • Make Expectations Clear: Many caretakers have experience with babies, but not all have taken care of preemies. Even if your child no longer looks like a preemie, he still is. Be sure to be upfront with your expectations on illness prevention, visitors, and activities so that your little one stays healthy.
  • Let Your Emotions Run Free: It’s OK to cry! Leaving your child after spending weeks, or months, at home is emotional. It’s OK to miss them… just know that it gets easier after a few days.