51, 53, 55—the number of days each of our triplets spent in the NICU. Just 1 day shy of 8 weeks total. This was remarkable, considering they’d been born at 28 weeks, 4 days. Even more remarkable was that they were simply “growers and feeders.” With the exception of a few worrisome medical issues early on, we didn’t experience nearly the NICU roller coaster we’d prepared ourselves for.
That said, we did experience the NICU in all its glory. Our first parental act was to authorize blood transfusions mere hours after delivery. We were restricted from holding our babies until they were almost 1 week old. We handled our babies around bili lights, CPAP machines, nasal cannulas, nasogastric tubes, and apnea monitors. We split time between two levels of the NICU when two of our babies advanced but one didn’t. We agonized over whether we were spending too little time at the NICU and cried when we got sick and couldn’t visit. Our NICU experience wasn’t as dire as it could have been, but it still put us through the wringer.
If we learned anything from our 7 weeks in the NICU, it was the 5 tips outlined below. We impart them to you in the hopes that they help you breathe easier as you embark on the NICU’s road less traveled.
Tip #1: Tour the NICU Before You Deliver
There are so many things you do to prepare for bringing home your little bundles of joy. Touring the NICU should be toward the top of that seemingly endless list.
Picture it: You’re plodding your way into the NICU for your first visit after having delivered three (or more!) babies via emergency C-section several months early. You’re an exhausted, emotional wreck who’s equal parts excited and terrified to see your newborns. Wouldn’t it be better to have walked the halls and seen the sights before now than to never have set foot inside the doors at all? The air wouldn’t seem so cold and sterile and the quiet ding and hiss of the machines so daunting.
A NICU tour won’t prepare you for the NICU roller coaster, but it’ll take some of the shock off the sticker price. You’ll poke your head into the various sections and eyeball the equipment. Doctors will smile and nod their heads as they pass, and nurses will wave and offer quick words of encouragement. You’ll sit down with the NICU case manager to discuss the ins and outs of the NICU and answer any questions you may have (Sign up for our mailing list to receive our recommended list of questions!). A NICU tour will allay some of your fears and help you breathe a little easier about what happens “after.”
Delivery with multiples seems to be a crapshoot, so don’t wait too long to get your tour in. We took ours around the 20-week mark.
Tip #2: Establish a NICU Care Team Early
This is something we wish we’d done much sooner than we did. In fact, I get a little jealous every time I see a fellow triplet mama post a picture of a visit with their NICU nurses. I wish we had that lasting relationship that seems to bring both parties such joy.
We didn’t establish a care team until our babies were in the step-down unit of our NICU. By that point, our babies required much less support—and by extension, so did we. Additionally, many of the nurses we’d grown to like during our stay were unavailable because they’d accepted other care team invitations. We ended up with just two of our eight requests. Having that additional personalized support would have been a help and comfort during those times when the roller coaster of the NICU really took its toll.
A separate, but related, word of advice: do NOT be afraid to request that a certain nurse be removed from your babies’ rotation. Channel your inner capital B or A, and put up a stink if you have to. This is a critical time in your family’s life, and you don’t need the added stress of knowing that someone you feel uncomfortable around is handling your babies for 12 hours.
We did this with one nurse. She was brusque to the point of rudeness, made us feel like we were in the way during our visit, and practically pulled out every wire attached to James when transferring him to me for kangaroo care. I put in a phone call to our case manager as we walked out the NICU doors, and we never saw her again.
Tip #3: Keep a NICU Journal
It doesn’t have to be profound. It doesn’t have to be in prose. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be in words. But journaling in some fashion or another might help you work through the NICU roller coaster.
I’m a writer who once journaled quite extensively to work through what was going on in my life. But my NICU journal contains no thoughts of my own. It holds simple notes on the babies’ daily progress. I started it at the recommendation of a fellow triplet mama who said it might help me keep track of the who, what, when, where, why, and how that was whirling in my brain. This journal from Project Sweet Peas is fairly similar to the one I kept in a pregnancy journal I was gifted at my baby shower.
Although my journaling took the form of bullet points rather than prose, it gave me power. It made me feel like I was doing something in a situation where there was very little I could do. This slowed down the busyness in my brain and gave me a sense of peace that helped me process the information thrown at me and work through what I felt toward it.
Tip #4: Create NICU Connections Early
This really starts outside the NICU.
Ask your doctor about any local moms of multiples groups (MOMs). If they don’t know of any, hop onto Multiples of America and search for a local club.
Social media is also a great way to connect with other MOMs—locally, regionally, and internationally. In addition to being a member of my local MOMs group, I’m part of a Facebook group for triplets born the same year mine were as well as a group for triplets who live in my home state. Even Chris is connected; he’s part of a Facebook group for dads of triplets.
The support these groups will offer is tremendous. Local groups may organize meal trains and NICU care baskets as well as provide tips and tricks for navigating your particular NICU. They may also be able to connect you with other parents in the NICU with you. Online groups can provide much-needed moral support, advice, and reassurance—at all hours of the day and night. Find your tribe early, and stick to them like white on rice. Their support will extend long beyond the NICU.
Connecting with other parents in the NICU can be a great boon. While your NICU situations may be different (singleton vs multiples, feeder/grower vs micropreemie, etc.), the fact remains that you’re both in the NICU experiencing the same worry, fear, and helplessness. The parents you meet might be just seasonal friends, but this is a season of life you don’t want to walk through alone.
Tip #5: Check the Guilt at the NICU Doors
In “Are You My Mother?”, I wrote this about the NICU: “The mommy guilt starts early when your babies are in the NICU.”
You feel guilty about your babies being in the NICU. I should have done X, Y, or Z differently. Even though you know prematurity is a hallmark of a multiples birth.
You feel guilty about the medical issues your babies are facing. What did I do to cause this? Even though you know the condition is a result of your baby’s prematurity.
You feel guilty that you aren’t living at the NICU. I should be where my babies are. Even though you know it’s not possible, between work and the rest of the adulting you must do. You feel guilty that you’re living at the NICU. The rest of my family needs me, too. Even though you know this is where you’re needed most.
You might even feel guilty that you “brought the NICU on” your babies. I should have inserted only one embryo. Even though you know you’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Whatever you have guilt over, check it at the NICU doors. Unless you did something to intentionally endanger your situation, your babies aren’t in the NICU because of something you did. They’re in the NICU because they’re multiples, and the NICU is part of life with multiples—whether it be for just a few short hours or for almost an entire year. Put your energy toward being present and doing what you can do. Then put your trust in the very capable hands of your babies’ medical team. Being in the NICU is the best thing for your babies right now.
And strange as it may sound, your babies being in the NICU is the very best thing for you right now. When they come home, life will morph into a level of craziness that will make you feel like you’re living out a dream that comes only when you’ve eaten too much ice cream right before bed. There will be little sleeping, little eating, little personal hygiening, little adulting, and no you time. Use the time your babies are in the NICU to take care of you and yours, shower, and sleep. Cuz you won’t be doing much of that when your babies first come home!
The NICU journey will be one of the wildest rides of your life. But with these tips in your back pocket, you should be able to breathe a little easier as you navigate through your journey.