Tuesday, August 11, 2009

When Motherhood Doesn’t Go According to Plan: Tips for Coping with Your Premature Baby’s Hospitalization (Part 3 of 3)

Now that I have shared my experiences with preterm labor (Part 1) and life with a hospitalized infant (Part 2), I want to share some of the lessons we learned during Olivia’s hospital stay. I am going to be honest; no list of “tips” will make it easy to have a hospitalized child. But I hope that by sharing my experiences, I can help you to deal with some of the challenges ahead and reassure you that you are not alone.

Use the hospital resources
During the months following Olivia’s birth, the hospital seemed like a terrible place to be day after day, yet the hospital staff was a vital source of help and support for my family. The hospital appointed a social worker to assist our family, held support groups every week, and even had some small onsite apartments available for families who lived outside of the area.

Start a blog or appoint a communication liaison
Keeping friends and family informed about your baby’s status is a full-time job. I remember coming out of the hospital one evening, after a 2-hour visit, and having 15 new voicemails. Instead of spending all of your time on the phone, I suggest finding another way to provide updates to friends and family. For us, it was easiest to start a blog. We posted pictures and stories about the baby and let everyone know how we were doing. If you aren’t comfortable starting a blog, you can send out emails, texts, or just ask a friend or family member to share the latest news for you.

Find a nurse with whom you are comfortable
For the first few days of Olivia’s life, she seemed to have dozens of nurses caring for her. Although each one was qualified and very nice, getting to know a new nurse every 12 hours added to our stress. Our hospital let us choose a “primary” nurse to care for Olivia. It was reassuring to have a consistent nurse who knew us and our wishes for our child.

Pump your breast milk
When your baby is in the NICU, it is easy to feel like you don’t have any control over her care. Providing breast milk is something only you can do for your baby. In fact, it is one of the most important things you can do for her. Everyone knows that breast milk is best for babies, but it is even more important for premature and sick infants. Because premature infants don’t have time in the womb to fully develop, the unique composition of breast milk is perfect for reducing the risk of infection and other complications. Let us know if you are interested in a blog entry about pumping!

It is OK to take a break from the hospital
At first, we spent all of our time at the hospital, but being there so often started taking its toll on us. We were torn between wanting and needing to be with our daughter and needing to have some time to ourselves. It is ok, and in my opinion, important to take some time for yourself. That being said, there was never a day that we didn’t go see Olivia, but there were a few days when we stayed only for a short time.

When you have questions, ASK
Nurses and social workers are very knowledgeable, but they may not be able to answer all of your questions. Neonatologists have busy, stressful jobs and sometimes they can forget that you may need some attention. If you have questions for your baby’s doctor, write them down and bring them to the hospital. If you don’t usually see the doctor, ask the nurse to schedule an appointment for you. Talking with the doctor for just a few minutes can make you feel more informed about your baby’s health.

Contact your employer as soon as possible
Depending on your situation, you may run out of maternity leave before your baby is discharged from the hospital. While I think this is a major flaw in US labor law, this is often the case, given that maternity leave is typically only 6-8 weeks long. It is important to contact your employer before you are scheduled to return to work to inform them about your situation and explore options for making the transition easier. You may be able to modify your schedule, telecommute, or even receive donations of paid time off from other employees.

Do all that you can to care for your baby
As your baby gets older and stronger, you will be able to help care for her more and more. You can give your baby baths, change diapers, dress her, and feed her. One of my husband’s favorite things to do was (and still is) to read to Olivia. He bought her first book when she was just a few weeks old and he read to her while I held her. Although, I am sure that she enjoyed the story, just hearing his voice and being close to her mommy helped her relax. Even now, 16 months later, she loves to read books with her daddy!

Help your other children understand what is going on
Helping a young child adjust to the idea of having a new baby brother or sister can be quite a task, and this is especially difficult when the new baby is sick or isn’t coming home right away. Before talking to your older child, it is important to consider how much your child can understand and cope with. The social workers and nurses can help you determine how best to explain what is happening. There are a number of children’s books available to help children understand what is going on (try typing “premature baby” into the search section of your favorite online bookstore).

Educate yourself
There are many resources available for parents of premature infants. My favorite is the March of Dimes. They have an entire web site full of educational materials about premature birth and NICU families at http://www.marchofdimes.com/prematurity/prematurity.asp.

If I had my wish, all babies would be born healthy at term and no one would ever need to use these tips. Unfortunately, as with “Operation Baby Banuelos,” becoming a parent doesn’t always go according to plan. I found that the process of sitting down, reflecting, and writing about what we went through has been extremely therapeutic for me. I hope that you’ve found these 3 entries helpful and that you will pass them on to other families who would benefit from reading them.

Next time: Bringing home baby number 2…or 3…or 4…

1 comment:

  1. Kangaroo mother care is also an excellent option for helping preemies grow and mothers feel connected.