Sunday, November 24, 2013

Life post-NICU

As amazing as it was to be OUT of the NICU - it was also the start of  "normal" parenthood. If you were like us, we had heart rate/oxygen monitors for the first month at home. It was hardly a "normal" experience. However we treasured every moment we could (even tired ones) at home.

I learned to:

Rely on others for help - for Meals. Shower breaks. Coffee dates. Family & friends are your cheerleaders - let them be!

Cut yourself some slack - I cried the first time I cut Gavin's finger when trimming his nails. Things like that happen. Parenthood is one giant trial & error experience. I can't tell you how many different bottles we tried, how many diapers we tested, and how many routines we tried (and failed) at. Just go with the flow, baby will tell you if they need something.

Speak up - You are now the advocate for your baby. If it is cold & flu season, don't feel ashamed to ask people to stay away if they are sick. Preemies are extremely susceptible to all kinds of viruses, and their immune systems are just not as tough as full-term babies. Sanitize - sanitize - sanitize!

Talk about it - Now that you are in the world of "normal" parenthood, connect with other moms to find out any tips they have. You will have days where you question your choice to be a mom - you will be lacking sleep and patience. If you have someone you can talk to - DO IT! You will soon realize that all moms go through the emotions, frustrations, and self-doubt moments. You aren't alone!

Soak it all up - This may be an obvious one, but soak up all of the time you spend with your little one. Whether it is watching them sleep, cuddling on the couch, or giving them their first bath at home. Make time to take it all in. Before you know it - they will be one, and you won't know where the year has gone!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Helping Families in the NICU

Although we were on the receiving end of the support, we found a number of things very helpful during our stay in the NICU.

Pray. I never knew the power of prayer, until we were in desperate need of it. I always knew that the Lord answers prayers, but when prayer is ALL you have - when you are dependent on the Lord for your babies life - the power of prayer comes alive in a whole new way! I personally will never look at prayer the same.

Visit. Knowing what to say is a challenge that many people face when their loved ones are facing difficulties. Please don't let the lack of words keep you away. If you are allowed, and if the family has an open schedule, GO to the hospital. We treasured each visitor that we got in the NICU. The love and support that is conveyed in a face-to-face meeting is unmatched by any other form of communication.

Listen. Everyone has advice for new parents, whether they are healthy or in the NICU. Some of the most treasured conversations were when no advice was given. Sometimes no words were said at all. One of the darkest nights, I called my sister and cried over the phone - no words - just uncontrollable sobs. She cried with me from 100s of miles away, and it felt like she was on the bed right beside me.

Forgive. The days in the NICU are stressful on everyone. Please have mercy and patience with NICU parents. They may not want to talk, they may be crabby, distracted, only focused on their NICU life, or just want be alone. Don't take it personally. Be there unconditionally - ready to help when the parents are ready.

Hugs. The kind that make you feel so safe and loved that you forget about all your troubles. Hugs meant so much to me. There is something about hugging that speaks volumes - without words.

Don't shy away. Typically when a newborn baby arrives, people can't wait to get their hands on them. To snuggle them, kiss them, and check out their tiny feet and hands. In the NICU, however that is not always possible. It is an intimidating environment, and it can be hard to see the little babies hooked up to machines. When the babies are so tiny that touching them isn't possible, just talking to them is enough. If you can touch them, and the parents are okay with it - go for it!!! It made my heart sore when guests would reach out and lay a hand on our sweet boy's tummy.
My cousin, who is in the medical field, found where Gavin's heartbeat was, placed a finger on that spot and had me do the same. When I could feel his heartbeat I began to feel connected to the little boy I couldn't hold. One of Jason's aunts came to visit and spent the whole time talking to Gavin - checking everything out around him. Oh how it blessed my heart to see people connecting with my son, even if holding him wasn't a possibility.

Pitch in. Since our son was the first born, we were fortunate to be able to devote all of our time to him. Talking with other NICU mommies with other children at home, they treasured when friends and family would watch their kids so they could be with the newest member to their family. If the baby was a preemie, most likely there are a lot of things that didn't get done in the home. Offer to help set up the nursery, do laundry, or run errands for things they need.

Meals. Another great way to help - FOOD! Our family would bring us meals in the NICU almost every day. It was a wonderful break from cafeteria food. If the parents are at home with the rest of their family, there is a phenomenal website that our church used called Take Them A Meal. It is an easy way to set up meal deliveries to families.

When in doubt - a hug followed by "I am here for you" will do wonders for a weary mom or dad.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Surviving the NICU

God - Rely on Him daily. Go to Him in prayer - and let others pray for you. No request is ever too small or to big for God. He saw your baby in the womb and knew each step you would take in the NICU. Let Him be the source of your strength.

Focus on Truth - When faced with an uncertain future, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the what-if's and the possible outcomes. For us, there were many potential issues that the Drs had to warn us about. I became overwhelmed and defeated when I looked at the what-ifs. My dad encouraged me to look at the truth...the actual - right now - TRUTH. Looking at the positives that were happening daily, was what helped get is through "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things." Philippians 4:8

Family - Whether your family is near or far, ask for support. Our family was so great at providing words of encouragement, meals, hugs, and even moments of laughter.

Be involved - For us, helping with "cares" was a vital part of making our connection to our son. "Cares" were as simple as temperature checks, changing diapers, or using a Q-Tip to swab the mouth with breast milk. The nurses also suggested that we read to our baby, even when he was heavily sedated. It wasn't a huge action, but it made a HUGE impact in our ability to connect with our son. If allowed, sit in on the Doctor's rounds - even if you don't understand all of the medical terms, it will help to be better informed.

Accept help - At first, we were reluctant to accept help from those offering it. The reason was denial. We didn't want to accept help, because that meant also accepting the reality of our circumstances. However, as we let people bring us snacks, visit us in the hospital, and run errands for us, we felt more connected to "normal".

Take time for yourself - If you aren't taking time to take care of yourself, it will have an affect on caring for your little one. As hard as it is to get "rest", you need to do it. We ran ourselves ragged and tried to be there at every waking moment, only to find ourselves completely exhausted at the end of the day. Your body can't keep up with an exhausting schedule forever, so take time to rest. Even if it means having a friend come to the hospital for some coffee, or running a few errands out of the hospital. Note: mental rest is just as important as physical rest.

Get to know the NICU staff - They are your cheerleaders, and the caregivers to your baby. Get to know their names, and ask questions. We absolutely loved our nurses, especially our phenomenal primary nurses. They were able to answer questions and if they didn't have the answers they would make note of our concerns, and ask the Dr. for us.

Become familiar with your surroundings - the beeps, dings, and buzzing sounds that accompany the NICU can be very cumbersome. It is helpful to know what they stand for, so when they go off you know what they mean.

Celebrate - It sounds strange, but don't forget to celebrate your newest little family member. I didn't know how to respond to people congratulating us. On the one hand, we just had a baby - but on the other hand, or baby was very sick and in the hospital. I wish I could have celebrated him more, and treated his birth more like I would have had he been healthy and full-term.