Life in the NICU
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Life in the NICU

When my 10 year-old-was born 3 months early and started her 8-month NICU stay, I never imagined how different life would end up being. While most moms take their baby home before a week, we had to wait over a month just to hold her.

When my 10 year-old-was born 3 months early and started her 8-month NICU stay, I never imagined how different life would end up being. While most moms take their baby home before a week, we had to wait over a month just to hold her.

What started as a normal pregnancy quickly turned into the worst experience of my life. During her 8.5 month NICU stay, we transferred two times and ended up in three different NICUs, two Ronald McDonald houses, and met a large number of people.

The NICU is the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. It's where preemies and sick babies go when they can't go home with their parents. Life is more stressful, harder, and filled with crying and beeping. When your baby needs extra care, you may find yourself headed to a local Ronald McDonald house. The Ronald McDonald House feels like a hotel, but primarily free. They are typically located near hospitals with large NICUs with a lot of out-of-town families. During our near-year NICU stay, I learned a lot about life in the NICU.

NICUs and nurseries are very different. NICUs feel like sterile environments and don’t feel friendly. You have to wear a gown when visiting and some NICUs will only allow you to get out the baby to hold when you have a lot of time, others will allow you to get the baby out of the crib on your own.

What is different about the NICU?


The baby isn’t going to be healthy if they have to stay in the NICU. You will likely find your baby hooked to different machines and it can look scary. They may be on a ventilator, c pap, or cannula if they aren’t getting enough oxygen, which is common if you have a micro-preemie.

If you’re looking at a long-term stay, you will likely see babies come and go. Most babies are out between one and three months, typically just over 2 months. Most preemie babies will go home by their due date.

Long Term NICU Stays

If you're looking at a sicker or earlier baby, you may find that you're in it for the long haul. You will see babies come and go. You will witness the heartbreaking cry of babies born addicted and you may even hear nurses complain about lack of parental involvement with some babies.

Parent nights, which are sanity savers, will start to become somewhat depressing when you see people come and go. You may find that you have to stop going after a while and you may find yourself befriending people in similar situations to you. It's OK if you have to stop going.

You will become very familiar with your baby's medical needs. You will find that you're talking over friends and families' heads when you're telling them how your baby is doing and you will spend countless nights crying yourself to sleep. The beeping will be familiar and you will end up befriending nursing staff.

The Importance of Parent Nights

parent support group

Parent nights are held, typically weekly, for parents to meet and support. Different NICUs will have different nights and different types of events. One of the hospitals we were at did monthly craft nights and one did weekly dinners. I attended the weekly dinner until I started noticing so many come and go and it started to depress me. It felt like I would never get to make the announcement that we were leaving.

I met two other women, one of whom's baby was born on the same day as mine and the other's was older. I started spending more time with them instead of the parent nights. We were all staying in the Ronald McDonald House and were from three different states but we were also the ones dealing with sicker than average babies. When the other moms and dads I spoke with couldn't understand what we were going through, they could.

Support is the most important part of NICU life. You may find yourself lonely and depressed, especially with a long-term stay. This is especially important if you are the only person with your baby out of state.

The Ronald McDonald House

The Ronald McDonald House is similar to a hotel. You stay while your child is in a hospital away from home. Volunteers give meals, baked snacks and it starts to feel like a home away from home.

If you're alone, you will benefit from the social aspects. Instead of being like an actual hotel, everyone shares a kitchen and volunteers come to do meals. There are also some events that are planned. There are small playgrounds to allow kids to get out and play so you can also allow older siblings to meet other children. The isolation of being alone while other parents and grandparents are working can be devastating to the stress of dealing with a sick child, and everyone in the Ronald McDonald House is dealing with something similar.

a baby in the NICU

NICU life is so much more stressful than just bringing a healthy baby home. These situations break couples (or make them stronger) and show how strong you can be mentally. You will be tested time and again but your love for your baby will get you through and no matter how long your stay is, it will start to become a fuzzy memory. I don’t remember every part of the NICU stay. I do remember bits and pieces, but it does now feel like a distant memory.

Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Bethany Boggs

Bethany Boggs is a 30 something married mother of 2 kids. When she is not writing or working her day job, you can find her wrangling her 2 girls and 3 cats while sipping cold Starbucks and trying to remember why she walked into the room.

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