In the words of Motherly writer Azizah Rowen, “Walking out of the hospital with a baby is a gift. Walking out with a NICU baby is a true miracle.” And behind each of those miraculous babies are incredible parents, doctors, nurses and supporters.
In honor of Neonatal Intensive Care Awareness Month, we asked the incredible members of #TeamMotherly for their most meaningful lessons + biggest pieces of advice for the NICU.
Here are a few of the messages we received:
The love, care and support is overwhelming: “My most meaningful lesson from my son's time in the NICU was gratitude. I was thankful for science and technology and modern medicine—that we lived in a time where so much is possible, and that we were lucky enough to have access to it. And thankful for the incredible doctors and nurses who cared for me son like he was their own; their knowledge and patience was invaluable.” —Jen L.
You need to take care of yourself, too: “Take it minute by minute. Just breathe. Do all the kangaroo care you are able to. Let yourself feel whatever you need to. Find supportive people that you can talk to and lean on to take care of you. Don't be afraid to speak up—you're your child's best advocate.” —Courtney M.
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed: “It takes a few days, or weeks to start realizing just how amazing [support in the NICU] is. I was afraid of changing her nappies because of how small she was and all the monitors, but don't criticize yourslef for being afraid. NICU nurses are there to step in. Like fairy godmothers, they love and care for your baby when you can’t.” —Levana T.
Express that you want to help: “Sometimes you may have to ask nurses if you can do things. They may not think to ask you if you'd like to do certain things, like give your baby a bath or change their diaper. I was so afraid to ask because I assumed with all of her lines and tubes that it wouldn't be possible, until one nurse asked me if I wanted to change her diaper and I was so excited to because I didn't think it was even an option." —Jennifer S.
Find your people: “The nurses and doctors are on your side and will become your family while you are there. We spent 135 days in the NICU with our sweet 24 weeker and have been home for four weeks now. Our nurses were her ‘parents’ when we weren't there. They laughed and cried with us, held and prayed for our baby, and they were the only ones who truly understood what we were going through!” —Rachel L.
Celebrate every achievement: “Rejoice in the little things: The first time they suck on a binky, the first time you get to hold them and love them to bits while getting tears all over them, the first time they drink from a bottle or get their gavage taken out—rejoice in those little things. Every joy and step they take is one step closer to being home.” —Melissa D.
Don’t feel guilty about getting rest: “My daughter was born at 26 weeks and was in the NICU for 98 days... I wish I would have relaxed more while she was in the NICU. The hospital was over two hours away and I also continued working part-time and I slept at the hospital three days a week. Sometimes I look back and don't know how we got through that. It's amazing how strong you can be when you have no other choice!” —Lindsay W.
Appreciate your baby’s unique journey: “Know that every 24 hours that pass, your beautiful baby has just gotten that tiny bit stronger and what may seem like the impossible today, might be possible tomorrow. Focus on where your baby is up to and no one else's, as every baby's journey is different.” —Gabrielle L.
Allow yourself to mourn missed moments: “You will grieve everything. Not being able to hold your baby for days to not being able to hear her first cry, but the life I have with her is unlike anything I could have ever imagined. The NICU team is some of the most gifted people for both babies and parents. They walked us through the journey step-by-step and took care of us as a family.” —Amber S.
Don’t fear the future: “The best piece of advice I got from a nurse is when you leave to put all the time spent in the NICU behind you. Put all the alarms and monitors behind you, all the tubes and wires behind you and all the stress and worry behind you. Pretend as if you're leaving with a healthy baby because you are. They wouldn't discharge your baby if he or she (or you!) weren't ready. It helped me let go and not worry about my babies. Beyond a reasonable amount of course!” —Erica S.
Find a safe space to open up: “Talking will help you to process your experience and keep you out of the total depression hole. Toward the fourth week of my son being in the NICU, I found myself starting to struggle, but having family and friends to hear my struggles really helped. We are not alone, so know there is strength, prayers and resources for though of us who fought and are currently fighting for our miracles.” —Sarah C.
Document your experience: “Take pictures and journal everything! How much he ate, how long he tried to nurse, how much he was able to nipple feed, his daily weight, etc. When we came home from the NICU, we had a book made of all the pictures during that time and, to this day, we love flipping through and see the transformation from day one to 21. I choke up every time I look at it and think of what a fighter our little guy is.” —Kaitlin M.
Above all, give yourself credit: It may not feel like it during every day or every moment, but you are SO strong. ?