Since my last post, I've had a few women reach out to me via email with questions and concerns that range from preeclampsia to NICU stays. During our 106 day stay in the NICU, I came across many things that worked for me and my family. Since these helpful tips and suggestions are fresh in my mind, I thought I would jot them down in a post; hoping that some suggestions are helpful to other NICU mommies. If you want me to elaborate on any of the tips, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org). Once again, I'm here to help.
As for the pregnancy....
~ Listen to your body. At 25 weeks, you should not have large amounts of swelling or be out of breath getting ready in the mornings for work.
~ Swelling of the eye lids or anywhere on the face? Make an OB appt. ASAP.
~ If you are placed on bed rest, let people help you. Magazines, movies, visitors, etc. make the days go faster.
~ Blogging also keeps your mind focused during bed rest.
~ If on bed rest, get specific restrictions from your doctor. Sometimes you CAN get up for a short period during the day. Don't assume "bed rest" always means on your back 24/7.
~ To lower BP, lay as much as possible on your left side and drink tons of water. Yes, I know that means more trips to the potty, but you need the fluid.
~ Hold onto your belly as much as possible. You may deliver your baby early, so she/he needs to know Momma's touch. You need to feel all flutters/movements to keep you positive and sane.
~If possible, make sure you get the steroid shots in your bum that help boost your little peanut's lungs. This could be a lifesaver.
~Don't worry about family/friends driving like bats out of hell to make it to the hospital. You need their support. While lying in the operating room, knowing I was delivering my 25 weeker, I felt comforted by all my family and friends who were anxiously sitting in the waiting room.
~ You will probably be put on Magnesium for your delivery. It can affect women very differently. I felt like I had downed a bunch of alcohol, and as things was happening in front of me, I couldn't find the strength to react to any of it; emotionally, verbally, or physically. Magnesium was kind to me during a time when I needed my emotions to shut off.
~ Use your pain pump for at least 12 hours post surgery. You just had a C-section. And if yours was an emergency like mine, they cut quickly to get the peanut out STAT.
~After you are wheeled back to your hospital room, you might think, "What the hell just happened?!" This is normal. You were pregnant 2 hours ago. Now you are not. Ask for a copy of your child's footprints and hold onto it. I slept the first night with a copy of Elise's footprints tucked into my hospital gown. Every time I pulled out the copy to look at them, it reminded me that I was now a mommy and had to remain strong for myself, and also for my little one who was getting worked on in the NICU.
~As soon as you can, make a trip to the NICU to see your baby. Ask the doctor be at the bedside so he/she can answer all your questions. Ask away momma...they have knowledge and they work for your little peanut.
~ It's perfectly normal to cry when you see your little baby and ask the doctor questions.
~ If allowed, touch your baby's tiny hands or toes. You both need to feel each other. For several days, Elise didn't react when I touched her hands, but her feet would make the slightest movements when I gently touched them.
~Find a 'healthy' schedule for how many NICU trips you make per week. I don't recommend going everyday. You will continue to have duties at home as well as a new baby in the hospital. I know you want to be close to your baby, but the NICU is an emotionally exhausting place for parents, especially in the first few weeks before you adjust to your new normal.
~If your spouse cannot go with you (and it's in the beginning of your stay), take a girlfriend with you. It is very difficult to be there alone in the beginning. Eventually, you will adjust and grow stronger so that you can make the trips solo.
~ When you can't be at your baby's bedside, call the NICU for updates as many times as you want. If you want to call every hour...do it. She/he is your baby. Those nurses work with NICU mommies all the time. Do what is best for you.
~At St. Vincent's, Elise's doctor called every afternoon with a daily update. That call was always wonderful! If your doctor does not do this on his/her own, see about requesting this.
~If you are able, start pumping milk right away. This will help you feel needed when all you can do is change a diaper and check a temperature 3x daily. The NICU will store your milk for you. You can also rent pump machines from the hospital for a monthly fee. When your child is ready, he/she will get to take your milk and LOVE it. Nothing better than Momma's milk!
~If you have any pumping/breastfeeding questions, ask your nurse to schedule an appointment with a lactation nurse. They come to the bedside and help you with whatever you need.
~A chaplain walked around the bedsides at St. V's. She offered prayers for me and Elise when I was still on bed rest. Then she came around the NICU and offered prayers at Elise's isolette. She happened to stop by Elise's corner the day we were being discharged. We both teared up just making eye contact. She, too, remembers the very first days and how scary they were for us.
~Social workers will walk around the NICU as well. At St. V's there were services available for families who needed gas, food, or lodging assistance.
~As hard as it may be, strike up conversations with other mommies around you. Having others to talk to on long days will make your NICU stays a little more comfortable. Some parents don't want to chat, and you'll be able to pick up on that vibe. Others, will come up to you and introduce themselves. Try to do the same to others.
~Once you get a nurse you really enjoy and trust, ask her to be your child's primary nurse. That means, whenever she works, she will take care of your child.
~Get to know the nurses and doctors on a personal level. Again, it will make your NICU stay a little nicer if you are able to have some 'fun' conversations.
~While in the NICU, take time to decorate your baby's corner with memorabilia from home. It's wise to make your child's corner a "home away from home," especially if you know you have a long stay ahead of you.
~If financially able, go to Hobby Lobby or a nearby craft store and buy one yard pieces of your favorite baby fleece. You can use this fleece to make your baby's isolette/crib instead of using the NICU linens. Make sure you wash everything in hypo-allergenic, unscented detergent before taking it into the NICU.
~When people buy you preemie (or even micro-preemie) outfits, wash them and take them to the NICU. Eventually, your little peanut can be dressed everyday. When your peanut's laundry bag gets full...take the laundry home and enjoy doing it (yes, I said enjoy). This is another way you will feel needed.
~If you have a long distance to drive, invest in some books on tape. Comedy radio stations also helped me. It's nice to laugh on your way home.
~If you are financially able, enjoy a dinner out every once in a while. If it had been a really rough day for us, we always splurged and got desserts. After all, "stressed" is "desserts" spelled backwards!
~Speaking of food, I know you want to diet to immediately lose the ridiculous amount of swelling and puffiness you received from the preeclampsia ugly fairy. Clear your 6 week check up before doing anything, and don't panic if the weight does not fall off right away. After being stressed and worried that my weight wasn't falling off after 2 months on Weight Watchers, my OB doctor told me that severe preeclampsia bodies can take up to a whole year to recover.
~While in the NICU take pictures. Lots of them. Your brain will block mental images over time. As your baby grows, you will forget what she looked like at 1 lb 4.5 oz. You will want pictures to look back on and say, "We got through that."
~Your NICU stay will truly resemble a roller coaster ride, as cliche as that may sound. You will have your "throw your hands up in the air- we are almost to the top of the mountain!" days and then you will have your "my stomach is in my big toe because we continue to ride down hill" days. Sometimes both 'rides' are in the same day. Those are the days you need a dessert as well as an adult beverage to wash it down.
~In the end, rejoice as often as you can, cry whenever you feel the urge, and always practice deep breathing exercises.
All emotions play critical roles in your journey.
Sending my strength to other NICU mommies---
G & J & E