The NICU can feel overwhelming, so much so, that self care goes by the wayside. Here’s the thing about self care, we can’t take care of our baby/babies if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. This doesn’t mean we have to do it all ourselves, but it does mean that we need to have a game plan. I like to keep my self-care plan in my phone, so that on days when I feel overwhelmed, and don’t even know where to start on self care, I don’t have to think about it. I start at the top of the list and work my way down depending on how much time I’m taking.
So here are some of my tips for self-care in the NICU, I hope you practice them, and use them and let yourself be in this space even if it’s only 30 minutes.
Leave the NICU
Yes, you heard me right. This is one of the best things you can do for you and your baby, especially if you’re rooming in with them. GO! There are no rules, but you must leave the hospital and go breathe. Yes, breathe! Take a shower. I know it’s been way too long. That dry shampoo has to come out sometime. Make sure that you are getting out a few times a week (at least) to shower and feel human. And then eat. Chances are you haven’t had a full meal in a while. Go out to eat, or ask a friend (you know the one that’s always asking how she can help) to bring a meal to you. And eat slowly, not frantically like your house is on fire. Your baby will be just fine while you eat and shower.
Next, get your body moving in a way that feels good. This is a great time to go for a walk, find a local park and just sit. Are you’re feeling up for a movie, or coffee? Just find something that feels soothing, calming and preferably takes you away from chaos, loud noises and buzzing. Nature is a great place to find that kind of tranquility. Taking time for yourself will help you be a more understanding partner, and it will help take you out of fight or flight mode and allow you to be your authentic self. So go, sit and breathe. Feel the wind in your face and the sun in your hair. Your baby will be okay and your heart needs tending to also.
Make a connection
Finding connection in the NICU or with a good friend are very important to your NICU journey. My family was in the NICU just over three months. It gave me time to get to know the moms that were there for a while, as well as those that had shorter stays. Talking with other NICU moms can help you feel less isolated and alone and can bring some healing to your journey. Finding NICU support groups are a great way to make connections with other moms. You’ll find commonalities and an understanding like no one else.
In my journey, I also had a very close friend that would drive two hours to our hospital and she would just sit with me. She’d talk to me, but sometimes she’d just sit. This was one of the greatest gifts anyone could give me. She was showing up for me, saying, “I see you, you’re not alone. I’m with you in this.” Having a trusted friend or family member that you feel comfortable with to just sit with you can be incredibly good for your heart.
You are not alone, this journey is not meant to be walked alone. You are not deserving of isolation or shame. Shame can keep us from connecting. What if this is our fault, how could this happen to me? I guarantee you the mom next door is asking the same questions. Don’t be afraid of the questions, but allow them to bring understanding and friendship.
Finding fun can be one of the hardest things for families to do during the NICU. It may feel like every moment, and every decision is paramount to your baby’s health, and at the beginning that may be true. Once you hit a place where you can find some space, use it to go have fun! Guilt often takes place when you find yourself laughing and having fun, allow the guilt to come and and let it go.
Caring for your partner and yourself is not going to hurt anything — it will only help. Go on a date with your partner or out to lunch with a friend. Do something that brings you joy. Find something that makes you laugh. My husband and I got to go to the movies a couple of times. We laughed, cried and took a big deep breath before going back into the “NICU roller coaster.” It was often a great way to refresh our marriage, and allowed us to go back into the NICU bringing patience and our authentic selves. This refreshment will not only enhance your connection to your partner, but will also help you give to your baby more presently. It will allow you to make better and healthier decisions for your baby. And it will help you relax, keeping your heart open.
Write it out
Having a journal to write down anything you may be feeling can be a great way to process your birth story or an event your baby had. You may want to keep a gratitude journal and write down what you’re thankful for. A myriad of different emotions may surface, let them, listen to them, and write them out if that helps. This is the beginning of taking care of you so that you can take care of that precious little one/ones you have.
I hope you take some of these to heart and are able to create more space for you in this journey. Care for yourself in this journey. Let your inner voice be gentle. This is a journey, so ride the roller coaster, and then get off and take care of YOU! This won’t last forever I promise.
This article from The Atlantic has some helpful tips on self care. Leave your favorite methods of self care in the comments below!