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5 Things This NICU Mom Wants You to Know

Editor’s note: In this guest-written article, UAB Medicine patient Laura Winston shares some insight about giving birth to a premature baby and spending an extended amount of time in UAB Medicine’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Her daughter, Margot, is now healthy and happy at home, where she recently celebrated her six-month birthday.

After several years of struggling with infertility, I gave birth at 28 weeks to a beautiful baby girl on August 4, 2016. UAB Medicine was there for me through the entire process. From conceiving through in vitro fertilization (IVF) to the 81 days we spent in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), the Women and Infants Center provided me with an incredible experience, backed by the art of science and technology.

The brilliant physicians, nurses, and staff treated me with the utmost care and compassion, guiding me through the unknown and oftentimes harrowing journey. Taken from my experience, here are five things this NICU mom wants you to know:

Emotions Are High. You don’t plan for a preemie. Our expectation was to have a “normal” pregnancy, but suddenly we were faced with uncertainty. Will my baby survive? How long will we be here? These are just a few of the questions we keep asking, though we may not get answers right away. Our emotions are all over the place. Please be patient with us. As much as we are overjoyed about bringing our baby into the world, we are also recovering from a traumatic event in our lives.

We’re in Survival Mode. We’ve just been accepted into an exclusive club of which nobody wants to be a member. It’s a boot camp of sorts, and we are trying to balance our hospital life with our home life, not to mention eating, sleeping, pumping our baby’s milk, and taking a crash course in neonatology. Our motherly instincts are kicking in, but we’re also struggling to adjust to this new world. Watching our baby survive the first days in an Isolette (incubator) with cords and tubes attached to her tiny and frail body is heartbreaking. Eventually, we come to learn that this is the best place for our baby to be. Although the future is uncertain, we are coming to terms with living day to day, and each day is a gift.

We Hear You. Our hearts are overwhelmed by the prayers, phone calls, text messages, cards, and emails. Your words of encouragement do not go unnoticed. We may seem distant or fail to respond, but please know that we appreciate every single word. Some days we are emotionally unavailable. Forgive us. Each day is a victory, but there are lots of setbacks. We are dealing with a rollercoaster of emotions. Reaching out lets us know how much you care.

We See You. When you reach out to us, we see you in our thoughts. But physically seeing you at this time may be tough. We may not be ourselves, and that’s okay, because one day we will be. We are also limiting people from contact to protect ourselves and our baby from potentially life-threatening illnesses. What is a common cold to you can bring on a devastating sickness that our baby cannot defeat. Germs are invisible, and you don’t know what you may be carrying. Please understand that we are doing everything in the best interest of our baby’s health and safety. We want you to see the baby, but this may not be the best time.

We Need You. We are coping with the devastating realization of not bringing our baby home for a while. We also are coping with not seeing family and friends while we suddenly adjust to a new life in the NICU. But you can show us you are near with your kind gestures. Want to help? Start a meal service program to bring food to the house, or offer to pick up other children from school or activities. Most of us had a routine schedule before the baby arrived that suddenly needs some tweaking. Mailing a card or leaving a small note of encouragement at the front desk works wonders. Even the simplest act can be a tremendous help to us.

Having an infant in the NICU is a stressful time. But knowing something about the process and what people are going through helps everyone. Ask questions, and don’t assume. If we don’t have the answer, there’s probably a good reason. As with any struggle, it can be challenging to find the right words. But just remember, it’s your positive presence in our lives that truly matters.

Click here to learn more about UAB Medicine’s Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.