Leaving Baby at the NICU
A parents’ survival guide for when a preemie needs intensive care
Prepare For Ups And Downs — For Both Of You
Overwhelming love, fear, anger, detachment, and helplessness are just some of the emotions you’ll probably feel feel, warns Tesler Stein, co-author of Parenting Your Premature Baby and Child: The Emotional Journey. "But perhaps the most basic feeling is powerlessness," she says. "You couldn't stop this from happening and you can't make it better. I would look at my girls on the ventilators and think, Oh, if only I could breathe for you."
It's important to avoid blaming yourself. "I spend a lot of time telling new mothers that they didn't cause this," says Ellen Bifano, M.D., a clinical professor of pediatrics at the State University of New York at Syracuse and an attending neonatologist at Crouse Hospital, also in Syracuse.
Although most parents will face long days when their baby is rarely alert (preemies in the NICU spend lots of time sleeping) and days when they may receive news of medical setbacks, there will likely be better times, too, and those are the ones to savor. "Think about your baby's homecoming," Dr. Slagle advises.
Take Care Of Yourself — And Each Other
You'll weather the days in the neonatal nursery a lot better if you spend some time away from it. "A nonstop bedside vigil is exhausting," says Dr. Slagle. "At home, you wouldn't sit at a newborn's bassinet 24 hours a day. Every new parent needs downtime."
Good advice, but it can be hard to follow. Three days before my daughter came home, I was en route to my hair salon and feeling like a terrible mother, an imposter: How could I be so vain while my newborn was still in the hospital? But that haircut was one of the best things I could have done for myself. "Look to your nurse to give you cues about the ideal times for you and your spouse to take a break," says Zaichkin. "It's okay to enjoy yourselves by taking a walk or going to a movie or dinner."
Getting enough rest will help keep your spirits up too. "The more tired I became, the more depressed I felt," says Cork. Unlike most parents of newborns, you can actually look forward to uninterrupted sleep while your baby is in the NICU. It's a thin silver lining, but you may as well take advantage of this small gift.