Nothing can ever prepare you for life in the NICU. Even if you know ahead of time, it is still a total roller coaster of emotions. You find yourself celebrating things you otherwise would have taken for granted or would never have had to think about — your baby feeding from a bottle instead of a feeding tube, graduating from an incubator to a bassinet, passing a car seat test.
My NICU experience was truly a baptism by fire into motherhood. My son was born six weeks early, in a completely unexpected scenario following a very laid back first two trimesters. He was in the hospital for a month. During that time, I barely slept, I worried and agonized over everything, and, most of all, I felt lonely and isolated.
Living the NICU mom life felt like being on a deserted island a lot of the time. It felt like a punch in the gut every time I saw other parents getting to leave the hospital with their babies right away, while my baby was so tiny and fragile and I had to navigate this new territory. Even after my son was discharged, the anxiety didn’t fade. I was eventually able to find a support group for parents of current or recent NICU babies, and that really helped me. But I wish I had known about the group while I was experiencing the realities of parenting in the NICU.
Being a NICU parent has forever changed me. Knowing what the experience entails and the emotions that go along with it, I try to help others who are in the thick of it. One way has been by donating to charities that support families impacted by a stay in the NICU.
Project Sweet Peas is one of my favorite nonprofit organizations that supports families of fragile infants and those affected by pregnancy and infant loss. They offer food and fuel assistance for families with lengthy NICU stays, journaling workshops for grieving parents, and a range of other programs for families. I have donated and done fundraising 5Ks for them. They have chapters all throughout the country, and you can donate to specific areas and hospitals.
This year, I am supporting another fundraiser Project Sweet Peas is having by “adopting” a NICU parent for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. These holidays are important milestones for parents, and having a child in the NICU during that time can be very stressful. Every $20 donation provides two NICU parents with a care package that includes items like a journal, crib cards, milestone cards, and other goodies that moms and dads need during a difficult time.
No parent should have to spend Mother’s Day or Fathers Day in a hospital with a fragile infant, so giving them a little reminder that they have support can make a big difference.