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Purposeful Parenting

Life in the NICU: 5 Tips to Survive Life as a Preemie Mom



Life in the NICU | Preemie Mom Tips | Chaos & Kiddos: Mommy's Survival Guide
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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:

Life in the NICU: 5 Tips to Survive Life as a Preemie Mom - 34 Week Premature Twins

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.”

Life in the NICU: 5 Tips to Survive Life as a Preemie Mom - 34 Week Premature Baby

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.

Life in the NICU: 5 Tips to Survive Life as a Preemie Mom - 34 Week Premature Baby Yawning

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.

Life in the NICU: 5 Tips to Survive Life as a Preemie Mom - Helpful Tips


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  1. 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.

  2. Whitney Fleming

    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!

    • Katy Blevins

      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!

  3. Savanna McCurry

    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!!

  4. Wendy

    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.

  5. Pingback: Ministering to the Mama with a Baby in NICU | The Ministry Mama

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Purposeful Parenting

How to Avoid the Epic Meltdown: Understanding Your Child’s Cues



How to Avoid the Epic Meltdown | Chaos & Kiddos: Mommy's Survival Guide
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This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please refer to my Legal Policies and Terms of Use. The opinions here are entirely my own. 
How to Avoid the Epic Meltdown: Understanding Your Child's Cues - Infographic

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.

My system certainly isn’t perfect, and my kids give new meaning to the word tantrum (I have one that goes “no bones, limp baby, immovable and impossible to catch” and one that goes “cement block that weighs a bazillion pounds and can’t be bended, lifted and/or manipulated in any fashion,” with both adding crazy decibel, ear-splitting screams to boot). At some point in the insanity, I learned to anticipate the meltdown.
My husband and I can spot a meltdown coming from a mile away. We’ll give the other that “It’s time to go. Stat. Grab the kids and sprint. NOW. Forget your shoes! Leave them! Run!” look and as the rest of the human race looks on in bewildered dismay, we quickly head for the hills before things get ugly. I think we have our exit down to about 46 seconds these days (58 if I get to grab my shoes).
On a day-to-day basis, I’ve developed a couple of tricks that stave off most meltdowns. IF I’m paying attention. This is where the understanding your child’s cues part comes in to play. You have to catch the cue before it’s too late. “Practice makes perfect” is the phrase of the day here. Or is “trial through fire” more resonant? In any event, here are my go to lifesavers:

1. Mini Baby Blanket with Attachment Loop – Cold is the enemy. Nothing brings on the whine, which brings on the frustration, which brings on the ultimate refusal to act like a normal human being like frigid weather. I was lugging around blankets to tuck the kids in to their car seats (Remember to avoid bulky coats when strapping kiddos in!) and they were getting tossed, dropped, forgotten, you name it. Then I realized my mother-in-law had given us these super cute sensory blankets with a loop that could attach to a stroller and the light bulb went off. I strapped both blankets to the side of each car seat (they are small and hang to the side if unused, so unobtrusive and the loop is short and sweet, so no wrapping around anything else) and they’re always there when I need them. The link above is one of many Etsy shops that make these small wonders, and ours are even sports themed, so the husband is happy.
2. Baby Sign Language – I admit to being one of those people that eye-rolled the idea of baby sign language when I was pregnant. Never gave it a second thought until my kids starting screaming for reasons that I couldn’t seem to identify. A friend suggested I take a jab at it, and purely out of desperation, I did, still with a bit of attitude and skepticism. And then the boys started signing back. HALLELUJAH! We did only the basics – “More, All Done, Hungry, Please, Thank You” – and that opened up whole new worlds for us in communication. Not only were they excited to sign and overjoyed that I knew what the heck was going on, but I was immensely relieved and didn’t feel like Failure Parent of the Century. Big win. I eat my humble pie proudly. I was an idiot to think this was lame.
3. Snacks at the Ready – Baby Cooler – If cold is the enemy, hunger is the Antichrist. I’d say a good 50% of the time, the boys’ tantrums stem from being hungry. We’re usually in transition to our next meal when the tank slips below E. Low fuel = channeling Satan. And the perfect timing for this special little stream of insanity was pick up from day care. The kids were tired and spent and ready for dinner. Like, 5 minutes before I got there. The first words I heard daily were “Mommy! I need my milk! Hungry!” They were whining, crying, going all sorts of Apocalyptic on me because the last thing they wanted was to be strapped into their car seats for the ride home. They wanted to be teleported straight to the dinner table. I got tired of this daily warfare, especially at the end of my own long day at work, so I started packing snacks and milk in this convenient little cooler (which as an aside, a friend gave me with the promise that it would be one of the most handy baby items I received – she was right). It gets stashed in the community kitchen at work and I grab it on my way out the door each evening. Every morning, I repack and head off knowing that I’ve crossed one tantrum off the list for that day. Yay me.Insert random cuteness here…I mean seriously, people, how can these children have meltdowns that rival the End of Days?

Photos Courtesy of Somer Anne Photography

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.

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Purposeful Parenting

How to Speak the Right Language: Understanding Your Child’s Cues



How to Speak the Right Language | Understanding Your Children's Cues
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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.

What was I doing wrong? Who were these little hellions and where were those
sweet kids from day care?
Purposeful Parenting - How to Speak the Right Language: Understanding Your Child's Cues Purposeful Parenting - How to Speak the Right Language: Understanding Your Child's Cues

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.” 

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Emily Speaks

11 Alternatives to Self Harm: Emily Speaks



Alternatives to Self Harm | Emily Speaks | Chaos & Kiddos: Mommy's Survival Guide
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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. 

11 Alternatives to Self-Harm: Emily Speaks

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. 

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