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.
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.
How to Speak the Right Language: Understanding Your Child’s Cues
Every day I pick up my children from day care to hear “They are such great kids! They had a blast today and are some of the best listeners we’ve ever had. They’re so well-behaved!” Yay, Mama win! And then we go home and they act like total demon-infested, hell-raising psychos and won’t listen to a word I say. Weekends can be brutal and I sometimes find myself praising Jesus that I decided to keep working and not stay-at-home.
sweet kids from day care?
Best Thing I Ever Did: I went to pick the kids up one day and they were enjoying themselves, so I decided to just sit and watch for a bit and let them play. Funny thing happened. I started listening to how the day care teachers communicated with my children and how they responded. And the light bulb went off. I don’t know how to speak the language my kids understand.
I started listening harder. And then I came back the next day and did it again. Now, every time I drop off or pick up, I listen. How are they talking to my kids? What are they saying? How are the kids responding? And then I mimick it at home.
Major win!!! My kids are starting to see an extension of their daily routine back into the home and it’s making sense. I say certain words they’re used to hearing and like magic, they listen. Not every time (which I suspect also happens at day care), but the majority of time. Major improvement. We are starting to speak the same language.
Sometimes I forget (or refuse to admit) that I am not my children’s primary care provider. For those of us that work outside the home, most often our kids spend the majority of their time somewhere other than with us. Sometimes, being reminded of that hurts. A lot. But truth is, they develop routines, cues and references that we’re not familiar with. We need to learn the language they are used to hearing every day so that we can communicate our needs in a way they understand. I need to speak my children’s language.
Phrase Adjustments that Worked for Me:
- “Walk away please” instead of “No!” or “Don’t Touch!”
- “Are you using your listening ears?” instead of “Listen to me!”
- “I’m going to go to work for awhile, but Mommies always come back!” instead of “Say bye to Mommy. I have to go to work.”
11 Alternatives to Self Harm: Emily Speaks
If you’re just connecting with the Emily Speaks series, be sure to check out her first post, Cyber Bullying and Self-Harm, to catch up. Today, Emily will be sharing 11 alternatives to self harm to help those hurting to make healthier choices to cope with emotional struggles.
I know it can be hard not to self-harm if you’re being bullied, but you need to try to think of other ways to deal with the pain. Cutting leaves angry scars on your body. You should try to deal with your hurt in other ways. Here are 11 good examples that will hopefully help you out a little bit.
1. Try talking to somebody about what’s going on so that you can get it out of your system.
2. Go outside where nobody is around and just scream as loud as you can for as long as you want.
3. Take a rubber band and keep it on your wrist so whenever you feel like cutting you can just take that rubber band and snap it on your wrist (softly – not to where it harms you).
4. Get an old teddy bear or stuffed animal that you don’t want and take your anger out on that.
5. Go on a jog or go out and ride your bike or long board or whatever you have and just ride around to calm yourself down.
6. Go hang out with your friend(s) and get your mind off things that would make you want to cut or do anything else to harm yourself.
7. Sleep it out and take a long nap and see how you’re feeling when you wake up.
8. Go hang out with your family and just relax.
9. Listen to some music.
10. Read a book.
11. Get an art journal and draw out your feelings. You can paint, draw pictures, even just scribble hard.
These are some of the ways that I stop myself from cutting, because I do still think about it when things get rough. When that happens, I try to do these instead and it helps. It does! You need to do anything that would take your mind off of any bad thoughts you are having and make you want to hurt yourself. This might not be the best list of ideas, but if you take a chance and try them out, they might end up working for you. You’re not only helping yourself, but you’re helping everyone else around you by making a better choice to not self-harm.