Leo’s time in the NICU is something that has been burned into my brain. It’s something that you never forget. I still remember my husband + I going through the 3 minute hand washing routine every time we entered the NICU. There were ups + downs, but I try to concentrate on the ups when I think back to that time. You can’t help but to see the other babies that you pass by + wonder what their story is. Having your baby in the NICU is a tough time, but I learned a few things while my son was there.
Get involved in your baby’s care as soon as possible. This is probably the top tip I heard from other moms prior to Leo’s birth. The first time I saw Leo in his isolette I felt frozen. He was so little. The Nurse asked me if I’d like to hold him + I responded, “I’m allowed to?!” I felt afraid the whole time he was on my chest, like he might break, but he didn’t. Those little ones are stronger than they appear! I was surprised that my husband stepped in when the Nurse was getting ready to change Leo’s diaper + volunteered to do it himself. As soon as he showed interest in participating the Nurse told us that we could do all of his “CARES” if we wanted to + that it was encouraged. I was surprised, but once I heard her say that I [carefully] got up from my wheelchair + stated that I would like to be the one to change his diaper. The nurses were awesome + talked us through everything. I felt so much more comfortable having someone there to walk me through changing his diaper inside the isolette + taking his temperature under his arm. I’m so glad I did that too, because it’s all part of the bonding experience with the baby. It helped me feel like he really was mine + it let me learn more about his personality.
Don’t pressure yourself to be at the NICU 24/7. Even if you try to be there that much it’s likely that there will be a time that you can’t. Babies have procedures in the NICU + if another baby near yours has to have something done then visitors won’t be allowed in that area until it’s over. Aside from that, you just had a baby + you need to take care of yourself! Take a break from the NICU + enjoy some time with your spouse. I know it’s hard to leave your baby’s side, but babies in the NICU are in the best care possible. My husband + I would get a bite to eat together after leaving the NICU. It was nice to have that time together + it took some of the heaviness away from saying goodbye to Leo for the evening.
Socialize with the staff. It’s likely you’ll be seeing a lot of the same nurses when you visit your baby + these will be the people who primarily take care of your baby. Anytime I visited Leo in the NICU I would always talk with the Nurse that was working that shift. It’s important to be able to talk to the nurses + be able to ask them questions. There were times I felt too nervous to ask certain questions, but thankfully my husband was there + would always ask them anything that he wanted to know. It was good for us to know everything that was going on with our son + it was so beneficial to us to know which machine did what + why he needed it. This increased our comfort level big time.
Bring allowed items from home. It can really warm up the area your baby is in + make it feel like a happier place. Every NICU is different, but the Nurses who worked in Leo’s NICU made sweet little themed name pictures for the babies within their first 24 hours in the NICU. They would ask the parents if there was a specific theme they preferred (we chose lions) + would base it on that. It’s amazing how something so little made such a big difference. The one item I was sure to bring from home was a knitted octopus that a family friend made for Leo (pictured below). If you don’t already know, the knitted octopus is a popular comfort item for NICU babies because the tentacles remind them of the umbilical chord + they can hold onto them just like they would have in the womb!
Take pictures! The time spent in the NICU was often scary + overwhelming + sometimes it felt like something I didn’t want to remember. For that reason I didn’t take a ton of pictures of Leo while he was in the NICU, which is something I now regret. In the moment it seemed a little awkward to be documenting such a scary time, but I wish I had more photos to look back on so that I could see how far he has come. I also refrained from taking any videos. I have zero videos of Leo in the NICU, which is unfortunate because that means down the road there will certainly be things about it that I’ll forget + I’ll have no way to trigger those memories. So, take those pictures + record those videos! Even if you don’t think you’ll want them later it is always better to safe than sorry!
Find a support group. There’s nothing like going through something so difficult + feeling so alone through the process. There are several NICU Support groups on Facebook. I didn’t have anyone close to me who had been through something similar so it was incredibly helpful to be a part of a community on Facebook that were NICU veterans. Any questions I had were always answered with compassion + understanding. These women got me through some of the hardest times during Leo’s NICU stay.
The NICU can be a sad + intimidating place to be, but it is also full of sweet milestones + celebration. Leo was moved around the NICU a few times, but we had a special bond with his very first Nurse. My fondest memory of the NICU was the day that Leo was being discharged. After he had his last bottle they unhooked all of his monitors + that meant that he was free to roam (such a weird feeling)! We walked him down to visit our favorite Nurse + her face lit up with joy when she saw him. It was almost bittersweet to say goodbye to these amazing people who had been a part of this journey with us.