Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Pollyanna's Guide to Surviving NICU

Some time ago I wrote this post for Leanna at Diary of a Premmy Mum. I learnt to play the glad game as a child. I could always find the positive in everything.

It may seem odd, but sometimes a little denial and optimism is a good thing. There are downsides, I do think it made my post traumatic stress disorder worse when it dawned on me just how close we came to having a less than optimal outcome. Sometimes consultants didn't take me seriously as they thought I was dippy, rather than just, well, glad.

On day 5 when we were given "the talk" every NICU parent dreads, the "this baby may not be coming home talk and a time will come when we need to discuss how far we go with treatment", I kept smiling and singing. The consultant was concerned and bemused. "You do not understand, your baby is very sick". I smiled and said, "You don't understand, right now, I have a baby, and he's mine and I am going to be glad that I have him, and it's your job to sort him out."

So here are my Pollyanna tips to surviving NICU
  1. Stay in the here and now. Don't borrow trouble or think too far ahead. Just enjoy the moment. Find something in the moment to enjoy.
  2. Plan your day. Take in your favourite children's book to read to your baby. Choose a song to sing, print out the lyrics. Ask if you can play some music to your baby. Find something enjoyable to do whilst sitting by your baby's cotside.
  3. Share a smile or a kind word. By the time we left hospital all the cleaners, porters, ward clerks and healthcare assistants knew me. Working in a hospital is hard and often thankless. Give a bit of praise and recognition, and make someone else feel glad too.
  4. Every day is a new day. If you've had a bad day, own it, cry if you need to, but leave it behind. Tomorrow is a chance to make a fresh start.
  5. Support another parent. Sometimes on my really bad days I'd notice that other parents were doing it tough too. 30 minutes out for a coffee in the cafeteria can sometimes really help.
  6. Retain your interests. I found sometimes that even I ran out of glad. I would embroider Joseph's tiny clothes, or make a gift for another baby, or look at my honeymoon photos on my ipod. Sometimes in utter desperation I'd go to the WRVS cafe and buy a mars bar and a Closer magazine.
  7. Eat happy foods. My happy foods are fruit salad, poached salmon, nice salad. Eating healthily in NICU is a massive challenge, but take time to eat food that will support you. If the only thing you can manage are smoothies and yoghurt that's ok. I found I craved vitamin D. Trust your body.
  8. Find people to enhance your gladness. I used Facebook a lot. I found my friend Hiba to be my glad person. She always knew just what to say to make me look at things differently and to keep my spirits up. The other people I used were the chaplains. I found them just amazingly supportive and would never have got through without their support.
  9. Don't be afraid to take time out. People who haven't had a baby in NICU might think it strange or even cruel if you take a day away, but sometimes it's necessary. I had one day where I got my hair done, had some beauty treatments, and then went out for dinner with Corey. I still went to NICU in the morning, but had a day to myself. It was very necessary. Sometimes you need to take time out.
  10. Enjoy your baby. Let go of your ideals, and enjoy the here and now. I found that really challenging at first, I felt utterly cheated of what I considered "normal". I felt guilty and angry and one hundred other things on top. But quickly I learnt my baby's cues, what made him happy, and just learnt to enjoy him.
There is a lot of support out there. Bliss of course, is there, with our family support team, and volunteers, people who have walked your path and will help you to keep going. There is informal support all around. I found NICU to be a very lonely experience, and I had to reach out, I had to ask people to help me.

Being Pollyanna really helped me through, and now I can look on a lot of our experiences with fondness.

And I am glad.

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