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On this episode, we discuss taking care of your children while you have babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
Psychologist Dr Monique Robinson has some tips to help normalise the situation as much as possible.
Joanne Beedie shares her heartbreaking story of grieving for her baby boy who died inutero while watching her surviving twin fight for his life in the NICU.
And, Senior Social Worker Clare Dimer explains the pressures facing families in this situation.
Psychologist Dr Monique Robinson tells us that when you’re going through your NICU journey you will need support, however, asking for help doesn’t come easily to some people and it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and not completely in control.
The Reality of NICU
Even if you knew leading up to the birth your babies were going to come early, there can often be a sense of this isn’t what I was expecting. This is not what I signed up for, this is not what I imagined having twins would be.
“As much as it sounds like it’s just a revision of plans, for many women that total change in expectations, and the change in the plans for the future, and where they thought they were going to be at what time is really difficult.”
~Psychologist Dr Monique Robinson~
Dr Robinson says it’s normal to feel overwhelmed and to accept that this is your reality for a while. And, that it’s going to be really tough, really tough.
“But, if you’re finding that suddenly getting out of bed in the morning isn’t coming that easy to you, that’s when you need to ask for support,”
“It might not be until the babies are 3-months old that suddenly you feel 100% in control and committed to it, and that’s okay.”
~Psychologist Dr Monique Robinson~
You might remember on Episode Nine, we heard from Joanne Beedie who gave birth to her twins at 27-weeks’ gestation, sadly one of her boys had passed away inutero at 21-weeks’ gestation due to twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome.
She says coming to terms with the loss of her baby, having another baby in the NICU fighting for his life, and a toddler at home was a lot to cope with and the guilt was crippling.
“I think if it wasn’t for the fact that my husband’s and my parents flew in from Scotland to help us, I’m really not sure how we would have done it,” says Joanne.
Joanne says for her son Archie, he knew mummy had a baby in her tummy and then suddenly mummy went to the hospital and didn’t come back, and then there was no baby, but mummy’s tummy had gone.
“I remember the feelings of guilt, Archie he was only two-and-a-quarter when Lewis was born so he hadn’t even fully comprehended that he was going to have brothers,”
“I would try and spend between 8-and-3 in the hospital with Lewis and then I would try and get home and have time with Archie and have his dinner with him, get him to bed, and go back to the hospital for evening cares,” recalls Joanne.
Like most parents who have babies in the NICU and other children to care for at home, Joanne says you can’t be in two places at once, but that’s exactly what you want to be able to do.
“The pressure of trying to juggle the two of them, it was just guilt,” says Joanne.
Archie had his own NICU journey. And, Joanne says she’s sure he’ll have his own memories of it.
“The best memories, I have from the NICU was the day Lewis came home and Archie got to meet him, of all places in the waiting area,”
“The best memories, I have from the NICU was the day Lewis came home and Archie got to meet him of all places in the waiting area. He just looked at him and said, ‘my baby, my baby’.”
Senior NICU Social Worker at King Edward Memorial Hospital Clare Dimer says there are many social implications that come with having babies in the NICU and other siblings to care for at home. She says the biggest pressure is children under five.
“It’s a huge stress for families when they have other children at home, and they’re trying to navigate and negotiate with lots of different people and lots of different caregivers,”
“That’s a real struggle for families with multiples in the nursery, particularly around non-school aged children,” explains Clare.
Clare says 90 percent of parents’ stress levels when they have babies in the NICU and other children at home is worrying about who is taking care of their children.
“The children at home can regress in behaviours, they can start bedwetting again because they realise something has happened,”
“Mummy might be at the hospital for a long time and is not coming home, they start to get some attachment anxiety about mum going away and then not coming back,” Clare explains.
“When friends and family ask can I do anything for you, say yes. If they ask what can they do, ask them to have your kids on a regular day each week so there’s something stable in place.”
~Senior Social Worker, Clare Dimer~
Self-care is extremely important when you have babies in the NICU. Leaving your babies’ side is often the last thing you'll feel like doing, however, it’s not only beneficial to you but also for your family unit.
Clare says you should look after yourself by:
- Eating healthy.
- Identifying the main stressors and talking to someone about them.
- Take time away from the NICU daily.
- Scheduling a regular time to spend with other children.
“Taking time out of the day for 15-20 minutes can release endorphins that make you feel good and a bit more relaxed,” says Clare.
“With more care and better self-care, there can be big improvements for mum and baby,”
“And, Dads need self-care too,”
Asking for Help
Each family is different and they have their own individual stressors whether it’s financial, social, family relationship issues, substance abuse, domestic violence, everyone needs support when they’re on a NICU journey.
When you’re feeling lost, confused, or overwhelmed, Clare suggests asking hospital staff questions like:
Who is in the hospital who can help or support me?
Is there a psychologist I can talk to?
How can I get help after I’ve taken my babies home?
If this is your reality right now, please ask for help and take comfort in hearing the stories of others who have been there before you!
Self-care is extremely important for both mums and dads when they have babies in the NICU and other children at home.
Having someone stable who can stay with the other children will help reduce some of the adverse behaviours of the other children.
Ninety percent of parents’ stress levels, when they have babies in the NICU and other children at home, is worrying about who is taking care of their children.
When you have babies in the NICU, you will need support. When it’s offered, accept help.
Thank you for listening to Season One Episode Ten of Double Happiness Multiplied.
Coming up on the next episode, we talk about breastfeeding.
Lactation Consultant Judy Adams, who is also a twin mum, gives advice about breastfeeding multiples and also shares her story of the pressure she felt to exclusively breastfeed her boys.
Twin mum Rebecca Perrie and mum of Quadruplets Jannelle Snaddon also joins us to talk about supplementing with formula.
And, I’ll share my journey with breastfeeding.
Until next time…
I wish you Double Happiness Multiplied.
Double Happiness Multiplied - What you need to know about having Twins, Triplets, & Quads book:
Double Happiness Multiplied
Helping Little Hands
Australian Multiple Birth Association
Perth & Districts Multiple Birth Association
Multiples of America
Twins & Multiple Births Association
The Multiple Births Foundation
Irish Multiple Births Association
Multiple Births Canada
International Council of Multiple Birth Organisations (ICOMBO)
South African Multiple Birth Association
Podcast music by:
Catherine Ashley Harpist