Monday was NICU Awareness Day. Its a day I never would have known about if my life hadn’t played out the way it has. NICU is a cute sounding name for a place no parent wants their babies to go. Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I don’t know about you but before having my kids “intensive care” always made me think of old people or trauma patients. It never made me think of babies. Even after my Godson had to spend time in the NICU it never really sank in until The Twins were born. Maybe it can’t unless you’ve been there. If you don’t know our story, I encourage you to take a look at my post One Year Ago Today. Since I’ve already told that part, here’s some useful knowledge.
Did you know that premature birth and it’s complications are the largest contributors to infant deaths in the US and across the globe?
It’s pretty insane that even with the modern technology we have, this is still such a huge issue. While we don’t know the causes of premature birth in all cases, organizations like the March of Dimes are doing research to find out what’s causing these problems and how to fix them. You can take a look at their website here to find out where your state ranks in terms of preterm births. My state unfortunately gets a failing grade but I have faith that we’ll improve thanks to the efforts of Doctors and Nurses and researchers in our area. Because of the support and comfort that we received from the March of Dimes while we were in the NICU I will be a lifetime supporter of the organization.
In honor of NICU Awareness Day (a couple days late because I’m never on time) here are 5 Things I Learned In The NICU:
1) NICU Staff are the best around: The men and women who help to care for your babies become like family. They are there in the trenches with you caring for your baby and in some cases, fighting for their lives right along side them. They show care and love to each and every family and baby. They help new parents to celebrate milestones and cheer when babies get to go home just as loud as the parents do. Our nurses made it possible for us to have amazing moments like finding out that the twins were identical.
2) Just because a baby is in the NICU, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show excitement about them being born: Looking back, our days in the NICU were so crazy. They were often lonely but the highlights in between times when I could hold the girls were when I had visitors. Many friends and family chose not to visit. For some people seeing a baby hooked up to wires is scary. That’s understandable. Especially when the baby is so tiny. It’s okay to still be excited even though it’s scary. It’s okay to ask if you can visit. Don’t be offended when you can’t hold the baby but do be there to hug the parents and celebrate this new tiny human with them. Obviously there are circumstances where you shouldn’t visit. Don’t go if you even have an inkling that you could be sick. Use your judgement. Just sending a message to the parents encouraging them and saying how happy you are that their baby is here goes such a long way.
3) The NICU isn’t necessarily a sad place: While there is sadness there, there are also moments of beautiful, unspeakable joy. When I look back on that time I remember the friendships made, the kindness shown to my family by others, and the special moments with my sweet girls. NICU families get to celebrate milestones that regular families usually don’t even think about. Your baby finished all of their bottles in 24 hours? Party time! They got to put on their first outfit? Tears of Joy! They maintained their body temperature without the help of machines? Woohoo!! The celebrations keep you hopeful. They keep you sane. Our NICU team gave us little milestone cards for the girls’ baby books. They said things like “Daddy held me for the first time today!” and, my personal favorite, “I’m going home today!” When you see other babies go home you’re jealous but so happy for those parents too.
4) There are ways you can help NICU babies and their families: You don’t have to know someone in the NICU to help out. One way you can help is by donating to organizations like the March of Dimes but there are other ways too. Some hospitals have blood banks specifically for their NICU. If you are a Mom who is nursing that has milk to spare, some states allow you to donate breast milk. It’s not unusual for the Mommy of a premature baby to have trouble producing milk. While formula is great, breast milk is pretty awesome for passing on immunities as well as providing nutrients. If you like to sew, quilt, crochet, and/or knit you can make clothes and hats for babies in the NICU. One local organization that I love is Heartstrings and Angel Wings. They provided us with the very first outfits that The Twins were able to wear.
5) For NICU families, coming home can be a scary adjustment: Bringing home a new baby is scary for most families, but bringing home an early or formerly sick baby can be especially scary. In the NICH you spend days and days with a round the clock team of people helping you with your baby. They have monitors so you know if they’re getting enough oxygen. Suddenly it’s time to take your sweet baby home and it’s easy to feel completely overwhelmed. Here’s where you come in. If you have a friend or family member who’s had a baby in the NICU please stay patient and supportive. Offer to cook some meals or wash some laundry. Maybe take their older kids to see a movie. They have just experienced a crazy time and are having to cope with that while they adjust to being a parent to a new tiny human. It’s a lot to handle.
So many people have different experiences in the NICU. We were incredibly blessed to be able to bring our babies home healthy and happy. Hug your babies tight and often. And if you know a NICU Doctor or Nurse give them a hug too because they’re awesome.