Dear NICU Mom,
How do I even start a letter like this? When I first joined this world, I have distinct memories of sitting in the blue, leather recliner in our NICU’s “outer core” anxiously googling for blog posts or articles written by other women who had been where I now sat. Women who could tell me how to get through this. I wanted insight in how they handled the constant roller coaster of two steps forward and one step back. I wanted tips on what it meant to endure the marathon that is NICU life. I ached for someone to guide me in how to survive.
And I came up rather empty.
There were some snippets I found here and there, but nothing that calmed the anxiousness and loneliness I felt inside. So perhaps this how how I start. I’m going to write to the girl who sat in your chair on March 10, 2016.
You may cry a lot. Not just today, but the next several days. Do it. You’re not going to be the first momma who’s sat behind the thin curtain holding her baby that can fit into her hand and tries desperately to stifle cries so others won’t hear her while she pleads with Jesus to save her child’s life. The nurses have heard it. You don’t have to put on a game face here. Cry when you’re back in your room and the blanket you’re holding smells like your little girl. It’s okay if these are deep soul cries–cries of sadness, cries of fear, hormones and because you’re just so tired of sitting upstairs crying quietly. This is therapeutic.
Ask someone for a dad gum checklist. Don’t sit there and wonder constantly “What do we need to accomplish to be deemed fit to leave?” ASK SOMEONE. We had precious nurses who would write daily updates on our white board with my twins’ daily weights and whether they’d had anything special done. But I needed our goals. I needed to visualize what we were working towards and get the satisfaction of crossing each milestone off my mental ‘to do’ list.
NICU Nurse: “They ate 7mL through their bottle and 16 through their OG tube.”
Suck-swallow-breath Maintain body temperature Keep heartbeats steady Nurse without OG tube for 48 hours Pass the carseat test
Be good to your nurses. If the NICU journey is a white water rafting escapade, the nurses are literally your raft. I hope you find a Mamie or a Marnie or an Emily and most definitely a Juli. People who can physically touch your babies in ways you cannot. These people convey love to your baby through touch when their frail selves can’t handle your momma love. Women who understand this is hard and answer every question in real terms you can understand and don’t make you feel stupid for asking. Buy them coffee. Call your overnight nurse and tell them you’re thankful for them. Learn about their children; their lives outside of the NICU.
Be present. I cannot tell you how many times I sat alone in the inner core. 7 babies, 2 of whom were mine, without another parent in sight. I know the room is overwhelming. I know in a place where it’s a 1:1 ratio and it’s filled with 15 other souls, it’s eerily quiet. I know there’s machines sustaining life and you haven’t a clue what they do or what’s connected to what. But show up. Every day. Ask one of these aforementioned nurses what each button is. Pay attention (they might even show you how to silence an alarm so your kangaroo time isn’t disturbed).
Make time for you. If you’re in the NICU for any amount of time (in my case, 6 weeks), don’t forget about you. When a friend offers to take you to lunch, go. I remember the first time this happened. I got up and put on WHITE pants and a teal, lace top. I fixed my hair. I wore make-up and heels. And when I walked into the NICU, everyone asked what I had planned. I felt normal for the first time in weeks, and that 72 minute lunch sustained me for days. You’re not a bad mom for taking time for you. You can’t pour from an empty cup and the NICU is a consumer of energy.
Take pictures. Document everything. Even if you’re not a writer, write out some thoughts. I had someone tell me (a fellow NICU mom from years earlier) that she wished she’d written about how she felt and things her child accomplished. You will think these memories will never fade; that you’ll never forget these emotions, but oh, sweet girl, you will. You will go home and the longest NICU days will become such a blip in your memory bank. You’ll get caught up in your child’s achievements and be so proud of how far your preemie(s) has come. You’ll be consumed in feedings, and sleep deprivation and living life, that these hard days will not seem so hard in retrospect. Capture these moments so you’ll remember how strong and brave you really are and how your story is necessary for those God will cross into your path years later.
Finally, just in case no one tells you today, you are so strong. so brave. so loved. This is what it is to be a warrior.
A fellow NICU Mom….