Three Lessons from a NICU Mom

September 03, 2016  •  2 Comments

After witnessing dozens of families journey through their NICU experiences, I am convinced that only experience can prepare a parent for it, and even that has limitations.  It's a jumble of feelings ranging from dread to elation mixed in with loads of anxiety, sleeplessness, and responsibilities outside the hospital.  It feels impossible.  

This is Emily with her NICU graduate.

Emily, NICU momEmily talks about her experience with Lauren and what she wished she had known when she started

I asked Emily what she would tell her getting-ready-for-the-NICU self.  What would she have wanted to know on the first day of her journey?

1.  I need help with this.  I cannot do everything alone.

When you're living in the hospital, it's tough to take care of things at home.  This is especially true if you have other children, animals, or adult dependents.  Accept that you unable to do all the things you did before the NICU.  Your family, friends, and coworkers want to see you healthy.  Call on them to make that happen.  When they offer to help, graciously accept the offer.

2.  No one can read my mind; I need to ask for specific support when and where I need it.

It's hard to receive the help you've decided you need when you don't tell anybody what you expect.  You know that you change the sheets on Saturdays, run two dishwasher loads a day, and have a stack of overdue library books on the dining room table.  The people who are helping you may not know that, and as difficult as it is to give directions when you are overwhelmed, your helpers need direction.  Being the director of your life outside the hospital is a great role for a family member or friend to fill - someone who can organize and coordinate food delivers, make sure the kids get to where they need to be, and put the garbage on the curb.  

Emily mentioned this communication is especially important between spouses.  It's tempting to think that the one other person in the world who is biologically driven to care for your baby would naturally understand what needs to be done.  Your view and your partner's view of the same situation are likely to be different.

3.  It's okay to let go of the things that feel important and aren't.

It is not your responsibility to tweet, post, or text updates to dozens of people.  If you have the ability to be away from work, it is not your responsibility to continue to check your emails and voice mails.  You'll deplete the energy you need to care for yourself, your family, and your baby.  Chances are nothing will rise to the level of importance of a NICU stay.  Use the time to be with your baby as much as you can while keeping yourself healthy.


Since her NICU graduation, Emily's little girl has had two surgeries and is one of the happiest young people you will meet.  She is very much loved by her mom, dad, and older brother.


So true, Rebecca. We have bought into the idea that caring for ourselves takes away from what we can do for others. In especially trying circumstances we need more for ourselves because we are giving away so much for others. It's a hard place to be.
Such good advice from someone who's been there. In the midst of all the trauma and chaos it is so easy to forget about ourselves.
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