Our 24-weeker first came from the NICU mid-flu and RSV season in 2008. We struggled to explain to people why we had to be so cautious and remain in isolation. We’ve spent 10 winters indoors with pneumonia, RSV, and hiding from epic outbreaks. Here’s what I learned:
Isolation: Keep your home clean and germ-free
1. Think like a spa hostess. NICU parents often argue with friends and families about germ exposure. We tried the frantic lectures. Zoey’s Dad and I joked about rigging a bucket of sanitizer over the door for visitors. Then I remembered working at an upscale spa. We made sure people washed up before enjoying skin treatments and meals. We wiped everything down and constantly cleaned. Yet we never said anything about germs. It was always “for your comfort.” Look around your home with that in mind.
- Invite people to take off their shoes when they enter your home.
- Leave extra slippers and non-skid socks at the entrance.
- Show them where to “wash off the day’s stress.”
- Give guests an opportunity to use fantastic soap or sanitizer: “You HAVE to smell this soap, it’s like washing your hands in a bakery!”
- I still roll up washcloths and towels.
- Offer guests a clean blanket to lay over their clothes before holding your baby.
- Add touches of calm, such as nature photography with your family, or anything you find relaxing.
It’s all for the sake of removing and preventing the spread of germs. It’s just a nicer way to go about it.
2. Take in some houseplants. (A moment of silence for the house plants who didn’t survive my previous care.) Indoor air quality is not something you think about until you have a preemie with lung issues. I went to NASA’s website for their findings about plants and pollution. That’s how I ended up with “Charlie,” our Sansevieria plant and “Chrissy” the Christmas cactus. We live in a cold climate with dim lighting, so these plants were perfect for indoors. Ask a friendly gardener for a cutting of their plants, or a local garden club for advice. The sansevieria, aloe, and peace lily, and bamboo palm are all known to reduce toxic chemicals and impurities. Plus, they add to that whole spa-like feel to your home!
Let others help
3. Make the most of delivery services. When our washer broke, we found a dry cleaner who offered laundry pickup and drop off by the pound. I used Amazon Subscribe & Save for baby items. The discounts on diapers and wipes were worth it! Aside from pizza delivery, we use HelloFresh and Blue Apron meal prep kits, which you can often try for free or discounted rates, and you can skip whenever you want. Blue Apron is the way Zoey’s dad learned how to cook, step by step, and I can easily adapt HelloFresh to be dairy free.
Delivery services are a luxury, but worth the trade in fuel, crowds, and sliding into piles of snow. I’ve crunched the numbers, and meal delivery is similar to what we would spend on groceries. Except it’s fun. It beat our food rut and winter blahs.
3. Be a good neighbor. Let your neighbors know your basic struggles, and treat them with kindness too. When our new neighbors found out that Zoey was finally home, we explained that she needed home care nursing and medical equipment. They made a plan to keep our driveway and walkway snow free, and refused payment! In turn, when I baked, I would make extra to give to them, or sent hot cocoa. They borrowed sleds and toys for the kids, extra shovels. When Zoey was older, she and I finally got to help. Gratitude and helpfulness is contagious.
4. Stay in Touch. Before social media and texting was mainstream, we had to figure out ways to keep in touch. One year we taped signs in our window to let people know how we were doing. We were inside for months and couldn’t have visitors, so it was a fun way to let people “in.” In later years I had Zoey use window markers to practice printing and drawing, which amused the mailman and others. We have family in different states, so we agreed to have our kids start “pen pals.” Zoey and her cousins love getting notes, artwork, and stickers from each other. Social media is great, but so is old-fashioned paper.
These days families can easily stay in touch via Facebook, texting, and other social media platforms. Take advantage of them!
Embrace the situation
5. School or Daycare absences? Learn something together! School germs hit my preemie hard. It was fun to learn together. Our interests guiding our lessons. Our overactive brains love the spontaneous learning that comes from researching online, asking each other questions, and conducting kitchen experiments. Whatever you’re going through, there’s a lesson in it. Learning happens everywhere, all the time! It’s not confined to school.
7. Go out during “off peak” hours. Not working full time meant I could go places off schedule. I assumed these places were always filled with people, but no! At 10 A.M. our mall is deserted. At 1 P.M. the grocery store is empty. From 2-4 P.M. the parks are child free. Days of the week matter too. Now there are even crowd calculators on google to help you out!
8. Slow down. Illness makes us pause from our regular fast-paced lives. It makes us take inventory on what we are doing, and if our choices are healthy. I tend to look at things I haven’t tried before when I’m stumped. I put off my to do list, or pair it down.
9. Be prepared. Illness is going to happen, no matter how much preventing you do. Our home used to look like a NICU pod when Zoey was on a ventilator. I still have a paired-down version: stethoscope, otoscope, pulseox, thermometer, nebulizer, chest percussor, saline. We have a specific course of action to follow when she gets sick. Over time, I learned how to manage her symptoms at home with a quick visit to our family doctor or urgent care.
Before you leave the hospital, find out what your illness plans should be, and write it down. If you’re already home, update your plan with the doctors. It will help you feel more decisive about whether to see a doctor or stay home.
10. Get creative. Last winter when Zoey, her dad, grandma, and I all ended up with RSV, our Christmas plans changed from a nice big family gathering to a “small Christmas” and New Year’s. We still wanted to enjoy the holidays, but we felt miserable and exhausted. We made soups, baked a small turkey, and made only our favorites. We built LEGOs and watched holiday specials, and napped a lot. It was honestly so relaxing that we decided to have a small Christmas again this year! It took the stress out of worrying who was going to show up sick or traveling in bad weather.
You can focus on the limits of a situation or see the good around it. We’ve learned to make our own fun and to adapt. Had I not slowed down that Christmas, I never would have spent time planning a Disney World vacation. We would have been too busy running around. Instead, we had time to talk about the best and worst of the year and what we wanted to do next. When you stay in, different opportunities come around. It can be an unexpectedly nice “stay-cation.”