Surviving the NICU with a Toddler at Home

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When you have a child in the NICU (in our case twins) and a toddler at home, all sense of normalcy flies out the window, along with your sanity. Fight or flight kicks in and because you cannot flee your children (although it is at times a welcomed thought) fight takes over. You fight for your premature child/children and you fight to create routine and structure for the older sibling left at home. You fight for sleep, for comfort, for reassurance that it’s going to be ok. You fight for time with doctors, you fight with insurance companies, and you fight for a parking spot that should have your name on it because you spend so much of your time at the hospital. The fight is exhausting beyond all measure. Details of the fight will be permanently erased from your brain because your body does not get the rest it needs; however, I do have a few tips for you mama’s who are entering this arena on how to survive it and take control of it as much as possible rather than letting it get the best of you.

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Our sweet boy doing what preemie’s do best.

Get to know your child’s nurses.

In a NICU, the nurses are literally angels sent down from above to care for your children. Rest assured that when you’re not around the most precious thing in your world is getting superb care. It can be incredibly lonely and difficult to digest knowing someone else is taking care of the baby who 12 hours prior was safely growing inside your womb. I could talk about how amazing NICU nurses are for days and truly they deserve a blog post of their own. The nurses will translate doctor lingo, provide tips on how to bathe that tiny baby without dropping him, show you how to nurse or hold the bottle just right, and be a shoulder to cry on when things get tough. Nurses get it. Lean on them.

Find a schedule that works for you.

When you are constantly battling being in two different places at once, you can feel like a failure on all fronts. Suddenly your first born doesn’t have you around as much as usual. We were lucky enough to have my mom in town staying with us, so I could come and go as I needed. I determined it was best for our family for me to sleep at home and I told myself not to waste energy feeling guilty about it. I was doing my best and nobody’s best is perfect.

Our days went something like this:

6:00-10:30 AM at home with first born

10:30-5:30 at the hospital with the twins

5:30-bedtime at home with the oldest

7:00-11:30 husband at the hospital with the twins while I slept

Meeting outside the womb.

My goal was to maximize “care times” spent at the hospital. Care times happen every 3 hours and are when the nurses or parents change the baby’s diaper, check their temp and blood pressure, feed them either through a feeding tube or with a bottle/nursing, monitor their levels and hold them. You want to be around for as many of these as possible. Doctor rounds (ours happened in the morning) were also something I tried to be present for each day.

Get to know the parents of the other NICU babies.

You are all in this together. These are the people who get it. This can be tough, because sometimes their children are not doing well and your child is thriving. Or your child is struggling and their children are healthy, just growing. A smile in the hallway or exchanging pleasantries over coffee can go a long way. Don’t get frustrated if a family packs their bags and heads home before you. It’s not a race.

Side Note: They will tell you that, statistically, white females do the best in the NICU. My son caught wind of that statistic and didn’t like the “little, whimpy, white boy” stereotypes he kept hearing. He was up and out of the NICU a full week before his sister.

Take a deep breathe, recognize it is all out of your control and take care of yourself.

When things turned south and I went into premature labor with our twins at 30 weeks, I knew I was embarking on a long, difficult journey. Once the delivery was over and I found myself sitting in the NICU, listening to the stillness of growing infants interrupted by the beeping of their monitors, I reminded myself that what happens next is out of my control. Taking care of myself, getting educated about the NICU and premature babies, and how I parented my toddler through this experience were all in my control.

You need to eat, sleep, and talk about what you’re going through. Find a support group, a therapist, or a friend and talk about the ups and the downs. One of the hardest parts of this process was feeling alone. Ultimately it felt important to recognize I was doing the best I could for myself and my family. If you need to take a time out and go for a walk, do it. If you need to sneak a candy bar into the NICU (even though they don’t allow food), do it. When you’re on an airplane and the oxygen masks deploy who’s are you supposed to put on first? You cannot save your children if you do not save yourself.

If you find yourself walking this path and are in need of a listening ear, please feel free to contact me at lizfendellphotography.com. And if you’ve traveled this road, what other tips do you have for our readers on how to survive the NICU?

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Mom to a 3 ½ year old boy and 16 month old girl/boy twins, Liz Fendell is a recovering perfectionist hailing from St. Louis. Her current aspirations are showering three times a week and keeping all three of her precious munchkins alive. She survives on her ability to laugh at herself and with her nearest and dearest. Her new mantra is, “I am enough” and believes a healthy dose of humility and grace can get her through anything. And if that doesn’t work there’s always Plan B: witness protection. She exercises when she can and has recently pondered strapping her Fitbit to her 3 ½ year old son. Surely that kid is reaching 10,000 steps per day! A full time stay-at-home mom and talented lifestyle photographer {at Liz Fendell Photography}; she is passionate about capturing both the ordinary and the extraordinary moments in her clients’ lives.

3 COMMENTS

  1. […] One of the milestones that needed to be reached was that the boys could finish a full bottle of milk on their own. One of our boys was practiced and seemed ready, while the other was a little behind. They started warning us that this may mean one would be released early and I struggled to think of how we were going to navigate having one baby in the NICU and one at home. Luckily, the one ahead of schedule seemed to overhear that he might go home without his brother and slowed his progress just enough for his brother to catch up. Check out this post from my fellow contributor about what it’s like to have a kiddo at home an… […]

  2. I truly enjoyed this post, thank you! Finding a balance with a child in the NICU and one at home was one of the hardest juggling acts of my life. I felt pulled in both directions constantly and it was a grueling 101 days.

  3. Great advice, and what adorable photos!! I had to take a moment and comment, because your post reminded me of the rotation I had in nursing school in the NICU at University Hospital in Denver. I’m a CU grad, and loved going to school there!

    As for other tips to share with NICU parents… I am a NICU nurse, and the advice I recently shared with tips for surviving the NICU is here at http://preemies.about.com/od/Blog/tp/10-Things-your-NICU-Nurse-Wants-You-to-Know.htm

    – hopefully some of the advice will help your readers 🙂

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