It’s a challenging time having babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and even more so when you have other children at home to take care of.
When you’re going through your NICU journey you will need support, however, asking for help doesn’t come easily to some people.
It’s important to remember that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and not completely in control because you will learn to come to terms with, and even find some joy, where you are.
The Reality of NICU
Psychologist Dr Monique Robinson says that 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 isn’t what I imagined having twins would be like.
“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,”
“Some women haven’t got the nursery set up yet,”
“So, they’re sitting there thinking but where do I put the babies when they come home?” says Dr Robinson.
When you’re faced with having babies in the NICU there is a grieving for what you expected from your pregnancy and how you imagined your life to be with multiples. Everything is turned on its head like this is a grief in a way, it’s a grief for what you don’t have.
Dr Robinson says women who’ve got the support of a partner are at an advantage and it’s not just the emotional support but also the practical support that comes with day-to-day life, which doesn’t stop when you have babies in the NICU.
“I always try and encourage women to use their partner, husband, or someone else who is close to them as a gatekeeper,”
“The really important thing is that you’ve got to know when you’re getting overwhelmed.”
~Dr Monique Robinson~
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.
“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 per cent in control and committed to it, and that’s okay,” says Dr Robinson.
Joanne Beedie 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 parents and my parents flew in from Scotland to help us, I’m really not sure how we would have done it,” says Joanne.
Joanne tells us that 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. She says it was difficult creating a bond between Lewis and Archie when visitors aren’t permitted in the NICU.
“We tried to get Archie to draw pictures, and we would take in little toys and take pictures of Lewis with Archie’s toys and take them back to show Archie, and show little videos,”
“But the pressure of trying to juggle the two of them, it was just guilt,” says Joanne.
If it wasn’t for family support, Joanne admits it would have been physically impossible to spend as much time in the hospital with Lewis as they did.
“Being there for Lewis really was the best thing for him, those cuddles are just an immeasurable benefit,” says Joanne.
“Archie had his own NICU journey and 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,”
“He just looked at him and said, ‘my baby, my baby’, and he didn’t have many words at the time,”
“Trying to push my hands away he just wanted to hold Lewis on his own, and the smiles,” Joanne remembers.
Joanne and her husband Scott agree that in some ways it was Archie who got them through the loss of Logan and their NICU journey. They fondly recall his cuddles when they returned home every day from the NICU and Joanne says those cuddles were their medicine.
Babies in NICU & Siblings at Home
There are many social implications that come with having babies in the NICU and other siblings to care for at home.
Senior NICU Social Worker at King Edward Memorial Hospital Clare Dimer says the biggest pressure is with 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 per cent of parents’ stress levels when they have babies in the NICU and other children at home are 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.
Having someone stable who can stay with the other children will help reduce some of the adverse behaviours of the other children. As will accepting help from family and friends.
“If they ask what they can do, ask them to have your kids on a regular day each week so there’s something stable in place,”
“They’ll get into a routine with that person, so the fewer caregivers you can have around the other children the better, it’s not always possible but it would definitely help,” suggests Clare.
Self-care is extremely important when you have babies in the NICU. Leaving your babies’ side is often the last thing you 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:
Identify main stressors and talk to someone about them.
Take time away from the NICU daily.
Schedule a regular time to spend with your other children.
Even though you may feel like you just want to be in the nursery all the time, sometimes taking a couple of hours a week, or every couple of days, with your other children, will really settle them and make you feel a bit more settled when you’re in the NICU.
“Taking time out of the day for 15-20 minutes can release endorphins that make you feel good and a bit more relaxed,”
“So, when you get to the hospital you’re in a bit better mood as well, which improves your milk supply,” says Clare.
The benefits of skin-to-skin contact are widely documented. And, Clare admits that she sees it all the time with the babies’ level of attachment increased, which makes the mum, dad, and baby feel better, and they get home quicker because they gain weight quicker.
“With more care and better self-care, there can be big improvements for mum and baby,”
“And, Dads need self-care too,”
“Often, it’s the dads who are running the other kids around and bringing the milk in early in the morning on the way to work,” says Clare.
Asking for Help
Each family is different, and 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?
Are there any groups for dads to connect with?
If this is your reality right now, please ask for help and take comfort in hearing the stories of others who have been there too!
Until next time…
I wish you Double Happiness Multiplied.
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 per cent 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.
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