You and your family have been waiting to hear the words “your baby is ready to go home,” from the moment you found out your child was going to have to spend time in the NICU. It’s all you have dreamed about, hoped for, wished and wanted. Now that time has come.
Hooray! You’re elated, you’re ecstatic. Next thing you know, sweat beads begin to form around your neck, and you start to feel like you can’t breathe. Panic sets in. You start having the same questions you had when you first began this journey, “what if…?” And you question yourself, “Am I ready to take my child home? Can I do this?”
YES, you can!
I remember being terrified when taking my daughter home from the NICU. I was accustomed to having 24-hour care for my daughter by the best doctors and nurses with state-of-the-art technology at the ready. Now that we were being discharged, the idea that my husband and I would be completely responsible for her was absolutely frightening.
All parents get nervous bringing their baby home for the first time, but for preemie parents, there are additional challenges. Pediatrician well-visits are typical when a child comes home from the hospital. Chances are, upon discharge, you will spend a great deal of time at follow-up specialist appointments.
These doctors appointments, while scary and clinical, are there to help. How fortunate are we that we live in a time and place where specialists exist? How wonderful is it that they can detect issues earlier so we can tackle them head on? I will be the first to admit I didn’t always feel this way. It took time, energy, effort and a lot of self-reflection to overcome my feelings of inadequacy, doubt and trepidation.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of bringing your child home is always feeling anxious. Is my baby breathing? How do the doctors know the Brady episodes that occurred in the NICU won’t happen once we get home? How is it that the doctors think my husband and I are well equipped to deal with any situation that might arise? How can I shake this overwhelming feeling of doom? Will the other shoe drop, and if so, when? Why do I feel unsupported when friends and family tell me to just “let go” and enjoy being a mother?
I am here to tell you that those hyper acute feelings of worry are completely normal.
It makes perfect sense to feel hyper vigilant, watchful and scared even though your child is now “home.”
What others fail to realize and, I mean all those who have not had any personal experience with a NICU, is that your journey and your feelings do not end now that your child is home. In fact, one could argue it is at this precise time that your nerves are at their highest level.
With that being said, while you are extremely anxious, it's imperative to both validate those feelings and learn how to channel that energy into caring for your child. Make lemonade, not lemons. Yes, it is easier said than done, but know this, just like Nike, you will “do it”.
How to “just do it” you ask? I wish I could wave a magic wand and make all your worries go away, but I can’t do that. If there is something you are medically concerned about, trust your instincts as a parent, and call the pediatrician to get help. Otherwise, understand it will take time to feel comfortable being at home.
There is no timetable. It is different for everyone. Once you process and accept your emotions, it becomes more possible to embrace this special time with your child. Try not to let the overwhelming thoughts of what could go wrong weigh you down. Remember this, the doctors and nurses would not have discharged your baby if they did not feel he or she was ready.
Babies bring love and joy to all homes, even the homes of preemie babies. I’d argue that preemie babies bring even more love and celebration to their homes than full term babies.
Yes, preemie families typically will have more exhaustion, more difficulties and more obstacles to overcome than regular families. However, with these hurdles, comes a greater appreciation for life and a larger understanding of unconditional love for your little. It just means, like everything else, we, like our child, might have to work at it a little harder.