July 2, 2014

Sending Love to the NICU

Chappers working on his tan
Since Chapman came home from the NICU, I haven't given our time there much thought; there just hasn't been an opportunity. Real life takes over, other crises pop up, months fly by and you forget he was even early. Well, maybe not forget, but you gloss over the details a bit.

So, so very tired.
Recently, though, I've gotten questions from thoughtful people wanting to help NICU families in their lives. Remembering each round of our babies' hospitalizations and reliving those anxious days makes me want to throw my arms around every parent who's there; I'm more than happy to offer any ideas I can.
Putting that new robe to good use.
It can be difficult to know what to do in a time of crisis, but I know firsthand how much those gestures mean. Here are a few things that may cheer up and provide help to families dealing with hospitalized babies:
  • Unscented hand sanitizer: After I'd "scrub up" to see Chapman in the NICU, I'd have to touch a telephone (to identify myself and get access) and several other surfaces between the door and his bassinet. I never felt clean or germ-free enough, especially in the dead of winter!
  • Unscented lotion: After all that washing and cold weather, my hands were a mess; I applied lotion on my way out of the hospital from time to time. Many preemies can't tolerate scents, so I tried not to use strong-smelling products of any kind as a courtesy for Chapman's little neighbors.
  • Jewelry pouch: We had to take off all jewelry below the elbow when we scrubbed up, and all cell phones (hello, germ-carriers!) had to be put away as well. Something pretty to hold the essentials would be practical and easy to reuse later.
  • A robe: If mom is staying in the hospital, which I was only able to do for 48 hours, she'll be padding back and forth from her room to the NICU floor, pumping in between and giving little thought to her appearance. A cute robe she can toss over herself on the way would come in very handy! Ask if she needs slippers or if you can grab her favorite flats from home, too.
  • Preemie-sized clothes: The NICU has basics babies can use, but there's a sense of home in allowing your newborn to wear his own things when he is big/strong enough to do so. Chapman was born during the "polar vortex," and he required several layers beneath his swaddle; hats and simple onesies or sleepers give parents an opportunity to dress baby (if that's possible) and have some sense of normalcy in that sterile environment.
  • Anything personalized: These babies are entirely isolated; they haven't met many of their friends or family members yet. In the cocoon of the NICU, personalized things (blankets, caps, signs) are a powerful reminder that people in the "real" world know and love you already.
  • Books: Reading to even the newest baby benefits everyone, and books are something that can be used at home after discharge. A thoughtful friend sent us this NICU scrapbook, The Littlest Peanut; I love the specific memories it captures for preemies staying in the hospital for a while.
  • Photo books: Babies attend to faces more than anything else, and showing them pictures of the ones who love them is a great idea! Mac had something like this as a baby, and it would be wonderful for families who are separated. 
  • Snacks: Pre-packaged snacks and drinks are a lifesaver! Granola bars and water bottles kept me going as I shuttled back and forth between Chapman and home. For moms who are rooming in, Kashi frozen meals or something similar might be helpful. Just ask!
  • Gift cards: For parents who are spending a lot of time away from home, gift cards for Starbucks, restaurants, hospital food courts and gas could be a lifesaver. Take a look and see what's near their hospital.
  • Your presence, but no pressure: My friends did a tremendous job each time we were in the hospital of letting me know I was in their thoughts. One text that stands out in my mind read, "I'm praying for y'all and I want you to know this won't last forever. Please don't respond." It's nice to know you're loved, but a flurry of communication can overwhelm you in a time where sleep, emotional stability and brain cells are hard to come by. Reach out, but don't expect reciprocation right away.
  • Errands: If you live nearby, roll their trash cans in and out on the appropriate day. Mow the grass. Drop off groceries or stamps and stationery. Leave a note under their door. Take an older child to the park. Offer to bring in mail, walk the dog, handle email updates to friends. Anything that takes tasks off their plate gives parents more time to care for their preemie.
Memories of Chapman's time in the NICU seem like one long day: pump, feed, drive, sleep, repeat. It's stressful and all-consuming, but thoughtful friends are always a bright spot.

Seeing this still gives me a lump in my throat.

I'm thinking of NICU and Children's Hospital moms today, as always. I'll never take for granted my messy house filled with my laughing, loud, healthy children. Our motto is, "The worst day at home beats the best day in the hospital," and it's the absolute truth.

We're busting you out soon, little buddy!

I'd love to hear your suggestions if you've been in the same boat. What helped you?

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