A helpful toolkit for NICU parents
In my last post, I encouraged parents dealing with postpartum NICU trauma to share their stories with each other, friends, family or a therapist. Thinking further about the NICU experience and talking with parents, I realized when you have a child or children in the NICU you are simply surviving. NICU parents are in limbo between the NICU, home and even, your own hospital room. I thought it was important to create a toolkit for NICU parents in order to encourage steps to healing whether or not you bring your baby home.
Acknowledged fully, you survived a crisis. By crisis, I mean you planned on slowly getting to know your baby and recovering. Instead, you were thrust into a medical model of caring for your newborn. Your baby might have mild, medium or severe medical issues. You had to put your needs aside to take care of the baby. Eating, sleeping, resting, recouping and socializing are not easily accessible options in the NICU environment.
When we are working on surviving, it is hard to think about our own emotional needs and emotional development. Leaving the NICU, you need direction and support in new ways. You have to learn to live without the support or intrusion of the hospital. You need to move from simply surviving the medical structure to creating your new relational and family structure with your baby/babies. Or you may also be grieving the loss of your baby/babies.
The following is a toolkit I have been considering and wanted to provide to aid NICU parents who often leave the NICU feeling isolated. Searching the Internet, I found a similar comprehensive toolkit was not readily available for both parents with a child who survived the NICU and those who passed away.
Toolkit for postpartum NICU parents who take their baby home:
- Slow down and get to know your baby outside of the pressures of a hospital and get to know your family outside of doctors, nurses and hospital florescent lights.
- Take it easy on yourself.
- Get help in therapy whether group, family, couple, or individual.
- Talk, talk, talk, talk whether in therapy, at home, with family, with friends.
- Allow yourself to accept what you are feeling right now and don’t try to block the feeling.
- Reject the label of “strong” that so many attribute to parents dealing with children in the NICU. You can be angry, sad, upset, scared, confused and a wide range of other emotions beyond strong.
- Allow yourself to grieve for the early days missed with your baby and accept the all the stages of grief
- Allow your body to heal and take it easy. Even if you were able to go to the NICU daily after delivery, allow yourself the two weeks of healing time you lost.
- Hold the baby as much and as often as you like.
- Don’t worry about the developmental milestones until you want to.
- Connect as a couple by talking about your unique experiences in the NICU, which is an imperative process to aid you coming together as parents.
- Identify and discover yourself as a parent outside of the hospital
Toolkit for Postpartum parents with babies who passed away either in or after NICU stay:
- Allow yourself to grieve and know there is no set formula for the grieving process.
- This is a journey: you will survive. However, you will also need a lot during this time so don’t forget to both keep asking and keep talking
- Don’t go it alone: talk to a therapist, doctors, nurses, partner, patient advocate, mother, father, friends. Also find other parents that have gone through this
- Be kind to yourself and allow your body to heal
- Connect as a couple and family and know grief might look different for everyone
- Talk about your baby as you knew and know them
- Know that sometimes there are no words, but allow yourself the comfort of being with others silently
- Create a ritual for yourself, partner, family and baby
- Allow yourself to not know what you need and let others lead for you. But if you do know what you need, don’t be afraid to tell the people around you.
- Seek out therapy when the time feels right. Whether in the moment or months later, it could help.