It’s hard to believe that it has been nine years since our NICU experience.
On the one hand it feels like it was just yesterday; I still have dreams that have the NICU machines beeping in my ear and if I breathe really deeply I can still smell the scent of the hospital hand soap that I used to constantly wash my hands.
The memories of our NICU experience have never left me. They are buried deeply inside, close to my heart. They stay with me to remind me of how strong we all are. Those memories have found their place in my memory and they fit so perfectly right close to my heart.
Though the memories are a part of our lives forever, time has healed. There was a time when I couldn’t speak about our story without shedding tears. There was a time when anger consumed my being; anger over the fact that my baby was sick, anger at those around me for not understanding my pain.
If you would have asked me back then what you could have done to help me I wouldn’t have had an answer. I didn’t know what I needed.
Now that I’m nine years out I can tell you that the biggest thing that I needed was to know that I wasn’t alone.
I needed people.
I needed people to listen, to cry with me, to bring me a coffee and to just sit by my side.
I needed to feel like I wasn’t alone.
If you have a family member or friend who has a baby in the NICU it’s hard to know how to help. You may be afraid to cross boundaries or worried that you’ll say something you should say. Often friends and family are at a loss as to what to do so they just stay away.
There are ways you can help.
Check in with your friend. Make a phone call to let them know you’re thinking of them. Pay them a visit in the hospital. Just let them know you’re thinking of them.
Celebrate their new baby. Sometimes it feels awkward to celebrate when their baby is in the hospital but they have had a baby. Though the experience is different it’s still an exciting moment for a family. Congratulate them on their new baby. Send a card. Buy a special gift. Make a donation to the hospital in the new baby’s name. There are so many ways that you can celebrate this new miracle.
Put together a NICU care package.
A NICU care package that help families feel less alone. It’s really just a way to acknowledge their experience.
There are so many items that you can include in a NICU care package. When putting together a NICU care package think about items that will help both baby and parents.
Gift cards: Coffee gift cards are great as most hospitals will have a coffee shop on site and nice hot cups of coffee or tea often help parents survive the long days sitting beside an isolette. Gift cards for gas stations, as many parents have to drive to and from the hospital every day, or drug stores are also good ideas.
Journals: Writing is what saved me from my depression and anxiety after our NICU experience. Unfortunately it took me a couple of years to realize just how much I needed to express my feelings. I often wonder if I would have had a journal with me while I spent day after day sitting quietly beside my baby if that would have helped me heal earlier.
Diapers/Wipes: While hospitals typically provide the diapers for babies in the NICU, knowing that you’re covered once you get home is such a load off. You don’t have to worry about stocking up on items you may not have even had the chance to get before the baby arrived. Many NICU babies are smaller so the smaller sizes are usually a good idea. Huggies has a diaper size specifically designed for preemies or smaller babies, from 1 – 5 pounds. Although our baby wasn’t a preemie the preemie sized diapers were perfect for his tiny frame. They are fragrance and lotion free which is perfect for their sensitive skin. The umbilical cord cut-out that is available in the preemie and newborn sizes was perfectly shaped so as not to irritate their healing cords.
Blankets: Skin to skin is so powerful for both babies and parents and even more so when babies are in hospital. It’s not always possible for parents to hold their babies when they are in the NICU but hospitals encourage skin to skin whenever it’s feasible. Huggies is a big supporter of skin to skin care and their No Baby Unhugged initiative promotes skin to skin contact and hugging of babies. Having a baby blanket that isn’t a hospital blanket can help parents feel a little more at home even though they are in a NICU.
Hand cream: When you have a new baby you are constantly washing your hands but to have a baby in the NICU means extra handwashing in scalding hot water that often leaves your hands dry and cracked. My hands hurt for months even after we were released from the hospital. A soothing hand lotion can help alleviate the pain that can come along with excessive handwashing.
Camera/photo album: With the exception of the photos we have immediately after my son’s birth, we do not have one photo of him for the entire first week of his life. It is one of my biggest regrets. I didn’t want to take pictures of him so tiny and bruised after hours of surgery. I thought that I wouldn’t want to remember those moments because they brought me such immense pain. But the truth is I wish I could go back now and show him just how far he has come. I wish I had a proof of how tiny he was or how terrible he looked after surgery. I wish I had something to show him that he is one of the strongest kids I know. Parents often forget to take photos of their baby. A polaroid camera and film will allow parents to take photos and print them out right away using them to decorate around their babies isolette, documenting how they are growing and getting stronger every day. It will also allow them to keep the photos or give them to people who come to visit.
Huggies is a well aware of the power of a hug and is a proud supporter of hospital NICU’s and their baby hugging programs. Huggies has generously donated all of these items to me to give to a family that is currently in the NICU.
My hope is that by sending a family currently experiencing the NICU a care package containing these items they will know that they aren’t alone in their pain. There are people out there who are thinking of them, standing with them in their pain.
September is NICU awareness month and I hope to be able to provide any support I can to a fellow NICU family. I hope they hear my message and know that they aren’t alone.