Life in the NICU: 5 Tips to Survive Life as a Preemie Mom
We were very blessed to have a brief 14 day NICU stay when the boys were born at 34 weeks. With the exception of a few breathing issues and the suck/swallow learning curve, our visit was relatively peaceful and just grow time. That didn’t make it any less painful or difficult on us to go home without our babies every day or to travel back and forth to the hospital 3 times daily for visits while I was recovering from a c-section. It was one of the most difficult two weeks of my life and I know so many people now who had much longer stays with many more obstacles to overcome. We’re all part of a special club and while this list is certainly not the end-all, be-all and there are countless more (feel free to add yours in the comments section!), here are a few simple tips to help cope with the reality of life in the NICU as a preemie mom:
1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sometimes life moves at rapid pace in the NICU and the room is spinning, and sometimes it feels like it is crawling and you’re counting down the days until discharge or even passing a major milestone that means one step closer to health. In those moments when decisions are made quickly and actions are taken (especially while you may have been away), do not be afraid to ask any and every question. In those endless moments that drag and you’re contemplating life long term while you stare at the monitors and the clock, ask any and every question. ASK. A good NICU nurse anticipates this desperate need for control and intimate understanding of every detail of your little one’s life and should welcome and encourage you to use your voice. The very best nurses will answer your questions before you even ask.
2. It’s ok to be scared. There are going to be so many highs and lows during your stay. The NICU is a virtual non-stop emotional roller coaster. I made the mistake of trying to act like I had it all together, played super strong for my boys and never shed a tear over the experience. That was far too much of a burden to share alone. It’s ok, vital even, to experience the emotions, to seek comfort from loved ones, even from the staff. It’s ok to be honest that this is the hardest thing you’ve ever experienced and you’re scared you’re not up for the task. Don’t be afraid to befriend the families you see coming and going each day, who have little ones beside yours in the NICU. You need all the support you can get, especially from people “in the know.”
3. Accept that you did nothing wrong. It’s hard as a mother to not feel guilty and that we somehow are responsible for why are child(ren) are in the NICU. You want to ask yourself every question, wonder where you went wrong, what you could have done better. This guilt is not only unfair, it’s unhealthy. I struggled with wondering if I had been too active, if my anxiety had contributed to an early delivery. Did I do too much? Did I miss the cues and not listen to my body? Very quickly, I was reminded by the NICU nurses that I was the very best mom for my children and that micro-managing the past was pointless and invalid. Life happens.
4. Remember that your partner is hurting too. We spend so much time carrying our children inside of us, it’s very easy to forget that this experience is equally scary and painful for our children’s father. As mothers, we have this intimate connection that sometimes makes our world almost egocentric. I made a very big mistake by isolating my husband on his own island to cope with the challenge of babies in the NICU while I “braved MY journey” alone. It was heartbreaking for him to see his children there, just like it was for me. Cling to each other, support each other, love each other. Acknowledge that you are both hurting and share the burden together. This is happening to the both of you.
5. Take advantage of the time available to properly rest up and heal. While far from any parent’s ideal situation, the reality is that you have a rare opportunity when your child(ren) are in the NICU to get a full night’s sleep. As hard as it feels to be home or elsewhere without them, you can get yourself back to your best self faster if you make the best of a bad situation and work in between visits to properly care for yourself and heal. Chances are when they do come home, you’re going to need that extra energy and then some. Take the rest while you can get it.
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The 10 Best Things About Being a Working Parent
I sometimes find myself envious of the stay-at-home moms and dads who stroll up to the bus stop with a steaming mug of coffee in their loungewear or yoga pants. Once their kids step onto the bus, they have what I often perceive to be an entire day of freedom laid out in front of them to finish laundry, work out, run errands, or maybe just take a nap. Must be nice, huh?
Of course, I know stay-at-home parents don’t have it easy at all, and that “fantasy” of mine is truly that – an illusion resulting from my jealous misconceptions – but I’d be lying if I didn’t sometimes fall into the “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” pit.
When I’m feeling jealous, discouraged, or inadequate, I think about the reasons I’m a working parent and why it works best for me and my family. If you’re like me (or just human for that matter), at some point you struggle with what-ifs about the choices you’ve made and often wish you had the life of someone else. The 10 best things about being a working parent might help you refocus and put things into proper perspective. I know every parent, whether working in an office or taking care of the kids at home, could use reminders that they are not alone in the world!
And in that same vein, I find it necessary to write this disclaimer: The list below in no way is meant to give the impression that working parents are better than those that stay at home. This list is meant to highlight the reasons that working parents should give themselves a break and focus on gratitude instead of envy.
It goes without saying that spending the day with your kids can be wonderful. A rainy Saturday afternoon spent baking cookies, coloring, etc. is a great way to get to know your kids and spend some quality time cuddling. Extend that rainy day to a rainy week, however, and you may start to crave some adult interaction (and a straight jacket or two).
When you are a working parent, you frequently get the adult interaction you crave. Psychologists recommend that stay-at-home parents get involved with other adults in their situation to ensure that they get enough adult conversation to feel connected to the outside world. As a working parent, you have that connection with your peers every day.
It is fabulous to spend the day with your kids, but at some point, every mom or dad needs to connect with another like-minded person on a more intellectual level.
The cost of daycare can be overwhelming (sending twins to day care is the equivalent of an extra mortgage payment!), so many people believe that staying home with the kids versus paying for child care generally equals out when it comes to finances. And it often does!
Depending on your profession and your personal circumstances, your salary may generate more income than you will save in child care costs (like it does in my situation). In addition to your salary, you need to factor in health care, retirement benefits, and other employment perks (like flextime or gym memberships, which are becoming increasingly popular). Having a steady income is a luxury many families don’t have when mom or dad stays at home.
Staying in the Game
The general economy is slowly improving, but for awhile, unemployment was at an all-time high and the job market was extremely competitive. Unfortunately, especially for women, re-entering the workforce after a period of unemployment made it even more difficult to land a job.
While ideally every parent could jump back into the workforce after taking time to raise children if they chose to take time away, it doesn’t necessarily work that way. As a working parent, you keep your foot in the door and your resume active to better take advantage of future opportunities.
Setting an Example
Children who grow up with working parents quickly adapt by learning responsibility, self-sufficiency, time management, and the value of hard work. That is not the only way for children to learn those lessons, and stay-at-home parents are equally focused on instilling strong character traits in their children; it just so happens to put you on the fast track when you work outside the home.
Of course your children ARE the center of your existence, but you also crave a life outside of them and necessity may dictate it if you need to work to help support your family financially. You were a unique person with personal interests before they were born, and it can be difficult to maintain that when your role as parent is in center focus. Working outside the home can set an important example that hard work pays off, you need to earn your way to success and survival, and that you have priorities and interests that aren’t always all about them.
Taking care of children is hard work, but it’s not always mentally stimulating. Stay-at-home parents and working parents alike need to take a break and do something that turns on that extra brain power, like read the news or a book without pictures. Working parents have more opportunity to do this when they’re in the outside world, meeting the challenges of a career and leading a professionally and mentally adventurous life outside of the home every single day.
While the mental stimulation of a career can also be the root of exhaustion, stress and more than a little chaos as a working parent, it’s also one of our greatest benefits when we step outside the home each morning.
Socialization for your Kids
Your children may be in school full-time, go to a daycare, or you may be one of the lucky ones that sends them to grandma and grandpa’s house. Whatever your situation, your kids can benefit from learning to adapt to time away from the home when there are working parents in the mix. This may mean getting along with other kids at a daycare or school, or adjusting to a different style of care with a family member or home daycare provider. It fosters trust and can diminish separation anxiety, as your children develop a routine understanding that “Mommy and Daddy go to work, but Mommy and Daddy always come back.”
Developing the skills to interact in new situations, with new people of varying personalities, is an important skill for your child to develop, and life as a working family can help cultivate that confidence.
As a working parent, one of my favorite things to do is take time to volunteer at school or attend a holiday party. Because I’m not always able to do these things, when I am able to participate, my kids are absolutely over the moon with excitement. There is something extra special about being a working parent at school on an impromptu day off, and I like that I can make the time with my kids seem like a special occasion and surprise treat. As a working parent, quality not quantity is most often the name of the game, purely by default.
Stay-at-home parents of course trigger the same happiness and joy when they attend school functions with their children. It’s always a big win for any child to see that special face round the corner on their way to the classroom. And admittedly, I’m often envious that they get those special moments more frequently than I might.
Sense of Accomplishment
As I mentioned above, it is important to have a sense of identity outside of your children. This extends to accomplishing goals outside of potty training or learning milestones. While equally important, they don’t always feel as satisfying when you cross the finish line (although I certainly did my best end-zone victory dance when we finally got potty training down!).
When you complete a complex project at work, earn a raise or a promotion, or simply contribute as a valued employee with creative ideas, you’re awarded a deep sense of mental accomplishment in yourself that doesn’t necessarily depend on your parenting skills. Of course, stay-at-home parents are incredibly accomplished and break records every day too. We’re all winners!
Working parents spend their few free hours chauffeuring kids to and from school, piano lessons, soccer practice, make school lunches, plan birthday parties, etc. on top of a busy workload, deadlines and a full day at the office/store. Working parents often need to become master planners, and become adept at organizing and prioritizing. Survival of the fittest rings true, with working parents channeling every resource to keep energy and focus front and center. The challenges working parents face logistically often cultivates a deeply rooted talent for accomplishing a lot with very little.
Every day I talk to working parents like me and stay-at-home parents in my community, and I always learn something new. I’m thankful that my job allows me to see both sides of the coin of parenting, and I have a greater appreciation for the time I do spend with my children.
Being a parent is never easy. Focus on the best things about being a working parent and remember that every parent, whether the stay-at-home mom in yoga pants or the corporate executive dropping her son off at daycare, is doing their best. We’re all parents. That is our bond. Our personal journeys are our own. For me, working outside the home is a necessity, mentally and financially. But that doesn’t make me any better, any smarter or any more capable that a parent who chooses to stay at home. Remember, we’re all in this together!
Ready, Set, Date Night! Five Must-Haves When the Babysitter Comes Over
You’re free! It’s date night! (Shhh…I’m dating!!!) Make sure you have a stress-free time out of the house by preparing for the babysitter.
Most of us don’t have a live-in nanny to help care for the children, cook the meals, and wash the dishes. If you do…good for you (just kidding, I don’t mean that). If you’re like me and you have to depend on babysitters to watch your kids when you need a date night, girl’s day out, even if it’s just to get groceries, you need to do a little planning beforehand. And if you’re like me and have crazy twin toddlers, you need to do a lot of planning.
Depending on the age of your children, the age of your babysitter, and how long you’ll be gone, what you need before the babysitter comes over will change. Generally, however, there are five “must-haves” before the doorbell rings and you are released from parental duties for a glorious period of time (Did I tell you I’m dating?!).
Unfortunately, I never seem to have food in the house. I always have the staples like water, bread, and wine…I mean, fruit…but I don’t usually have the ingredients to put a quick dinner together or fulfill whatever craving my twins (like homemade chocolate chip waffles). There is nothing worse, though, than having a babysitter come to your home and not be able to offer her (or him) something to eat. Well, there is one thing worse: leaving the babysitter with your hungry kids and no food to offer. Make sure you have easy-to-make meals and healthy snacks on-hand to feed the kids. Even if you do not need a babysitter during a major mealtime, make sure you have a little something something to offer both the babysitter and your children. And always remind your babysitter about any food allergies.
Spare key or garage code
When I first started babysitting I brought the toddler I was watching outside to play. I didn’t realize that the doorknob lock was engaged and once the door shut, we were locked out of the house. I had to knock on the neighbor’s door and he used a credit card to “break in.”
The point of the story is even if you don’t expect your babysitter to go anywhere with the kids, make sure the babysitter has a spare key or the code to your garage or any other information needed in case a random, unplanned-for activity leaves the babysitter and your child with no way to get back into the house. I have two neighbors with spare keys that are willing and able to help whenever needed.
You don’t need to micromanage your kids’ activites, but providing a general timeline will help your babysitter and your children feel more secure. For example, suggesting that the kids play a board game after you leave and then have a snack will give your kids a better sense of direction for the time you are away and will help your babysitter avoid the “I’m bored” whine immediately after you walk out the door. Make sure your babysitter knows where games, toys, and other activities are located. Help your babysitter follow your normal routine for everyone’s benefit.
First aid and emergency supplies, along with contact information
This is a no-brainer, although I have to admit that I don’t necessarily think to tell babysitters where to find the band-aids as I’m heading out for date night. It is important that your babysitter knows where to find basic first-aid supplies, however, so if the unthinkable happens, your babysitter will be prepared. Also, make sure your babysitter has a way to contact you in case of emergency. Not every home has a landline – my kids don’t even know what one is – and you can’t just assume that your babysitter has a cell phone. Make sure your sitter has a way to contact you and 911, if necessary.
Maybe bedtime is a breeze for your kids. I’ll admit, now that the boys are a bit older, bedtime is a lot easier than it used to be. That being said, bedtime can still be tricky business. Make bedtime easier by having pajamas laid out beforehand. Brief the babysitter on any out-of-the-ordinary bedtime routines. Of course your kids always brush their teeth thoroughly for two minutes before bed every night (can you hear the sarcasm?), but make sure your babysitter knows about specific books your child likes to read, whether the hall light should be kept on with the bedroom door open wide, slightly cracked, or shut tight, and whether your kids still like to be tucked in. Even older kids can have a tough time with bedtimes, so make sure your babysitter is fully prepared to make the process easier on everyone.
As a parent, you need to take time for yourself. Plan a creative date night, visit a friend, or just get your hair cut – just make sure you have what you need when the babysitter arrives to ensure that you can think as little as possible about what is going on at home while you are away. A little extra prep goes a long way when it comes to peace of mind and making the most of your “quiet time.”
How to Avoid the Epic Meltdown: Understanding Your Child’s Cues
Duh, duh, duh….the dreaded meltdown. With one kid, this can bring the strongest mommy to her knees. With multiples, well…the word “epic” takes on a completely new meaning. In the worst possible way.
Moral of the story? A little organization and forethought can go a long way. Considering WHY my kids were throwing tantrums and then exploring what I could do to prevent them before they started has saved me a million tears. Like I said, it’s not a perfect system. But every little bit helps.
Emily, Our house now a home
July 24, 2014 at 11:42 am
#2 and #3 speak so much to me. My son was 7 weeks premature. I had my daughter at home who was 21 months old at the time. I was trying so hard to be strong, keep it all together. I did not ask for help, I did not let on I was not coping. I wanted to be supermom because in my head I thought that was the only way to be. But being present and allowing emotions would have made me no less strong. And #3 was rough, I was in the hospital for two weeks prior to my water finally breaking. I was on major drugs to stop contractions and I felt my body had failed me. It was my one job to bring a healthy, full term baby here and I felt I failed at it, to his detriment. But he is a healthy, active, bright and sweet 4 year old now who adores hearing the story on how he was so excited to meet us he could not wait. He came into the world the same way he is now, on his terms, stubborn, adoring the attention, and so, so strong. I only hope parents going through this are able to cope, perhaps find this and take it to heart while they are going through their rough times.
August 20, 2014 at 12:13 am
I would add two things: don’t be scared of all the wires, buzzers and stuff. It looks intimidating, but you can still get a lot of skin and cuddle time even with all the gadgets. And, utilize the NICU nurses. They are amazing and such a source of support! Great article. My stay was a decade ago, but I remember so much of it!
September 1, 2014 at 8:12 am
So true Whitney. Everything looks so fragile! But that skin to skin and cuddle time is key, so working past that fear is important. Thank you for sharing!
September 30, 2014 at 9:57 am
Great tips!! We were in the NICU for 9 days and it seemed like the longest days of my life! I did get rest, thank goodness and everything turned out fine, but it was scary!!
October 16, 2014 at 4:25 pm
I am currently going to see my micro preemie everyday. She was born at 23 weeks, and has come a long way. She is now 37 weeks, and I feel more desperate the closer I come to her coming home.