By Jackie Scrivanich, Contributing Writer
Birth Does Not Always Go as Expected
Almost 3 years ago, I was prepping and planning for a peaceful homebirth and my plans got derailed. I had to go into the hospital for the birth due to some unforeseen circumstances. I was just shy of 37 weeks and believed everything would work out fine since baby was almost full term. My son was born and weighed 7 pounds 6 ounces, which was fantastic for being less than 37 weeks. Unfortunately, he needed help breathing. It is very common for premature babies to have underdeveloped lungs. They only need time and a little extra help. My baby ended up in the NICU for 8 days, and we were in three different hospitals during that time. We used to joke that he was a traveler and wanted to tour Ontario.
Being in the NICU for any amount of time is hard. Eight days does not sound like a lot of time, but it felt like eternity when we were living it. It was probably the most challenging thing I have ever experienced. It took a great deal of strength for me to stay positive and get through the day. NICU time is measured in hours, not days, as things can change so quickly.
Maybe you yourself have been in my position and imagined a peaceful homebirth. Maybe you envisioned having a simple birth at a birthing center. You wanted bonding time with your new little one and instead you ended up not being able to hold your baby for days. It is so challenging when your baby is in the NICU.
The NICU Experience is Indescribable
There are not even words to describe what a mother goes through emotionally during this time. I remember just wanting to go home with my baby and start my life as a mother. Instead I had to deal with doctors and machines and policies and a baby with tubes and sensors. A baby who I could not hold for days. I was unable to even attempt to breastfeed until day four.
It is an experience that you can only relate to and understand if you have been there. It was lonely. To say it was hard would be an understatement. My only hope is that I can help others stay strong if their baby is in the NICU.
How to Stay Strong When Your Baby is in the NICU?
Your partner, your friend, your family—whoever makes up your tribe. You need these people. Lean on them. Ask for help. Call in favors. These are the people you need during this time. I like to handle things alone usually, but when your baby is in the NICU it is not possible to deal with things alone.
When your baby is in the NICU it can feel like everything is happening and you are not a part of any of it. Get involved. Ask the hard questions to the doctor. Do your research and make suggestions. We had to suggest and use and S.N.S. just to get out of the NICU when we did.
Pray/Meditate/Connect to Nature
If you are religious then embrace that. Ask God for strength for you and healing for your baby. If you are not religious, connect to nature or listen to music. Anything that helps you focus and clear your mind so you can be there mentally and physically for your baby.
Quiet the negative voices that surround you, be in your family, your friends, or even yourself. Your baby needs you to stay positive and focus your energy on him or her. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the negative thoughts. Letting just one creep in can cause more and more until you are overwhelmed.
Attend Support Groups the Hospital Hosts
Usually there are support groups or a counselor you can see at the hospital. Do not be afraid to get this type of support. When your baby is in the NICU it is a lot harder than you think it will be. Having a group of other parents who are going through it at the same time can help.
Stay at the Hospital or as Close as Possible
Do your best to stay as close to your baby as you can. Your baby needs you close so he can heal and bond with you. Go home and shower, but then come back. Being there, doing all you can to support your baby, will help keep you strong.
Find Someone Who has Been There to Talk to
Talk to someone who has experienced time in the NICU. They will be able to help support you in ways that others cannot. They can give you encouragement, suggestions, and positive support.
For me, when my baby was in the NICU, I got support from friends and family as well as prayer. I also was very involved with the process of what was going on with my son in the NICU. I jumped at the chance to change a diaper, do skin to skin, and just to hold my little one.
When the day came that we were finally able to take my son home, we were so thrilled. Although we had been parents for 8 days, it felt like our journey was just now beginning. The support we had during our NICU stay helped us get through our most challenging days as parents.