I touched on this topic a while back in “Life Goes On, But Something Was Lost,” but I wanted to write about it a little more.
When you have a baby in the NICU long-term, it takes a while to establish a routine. At first, you’re there all the time, until life elsewhere completely falls apart. By life elsewhere falling apart, I mean there will be no food in the fridge when you come home from the hospital, you’re out of toilet paper, you’ve forgot to pay bills, and you forget how to have fun, or, at the very least, you feel guilty for having fun or for merely being busy with something else other than sitting in the hospital with your baby.
The NICU nurses tell you right away that you can’t be at the hospital all the time. You’ll go mad if you do. As weird as it feels, you need to go out for dinner, go see a movie, and spend some time at home just relaxing. In our case, it was spending time at the house making it feel more like a home…we had moved in two weeks before London arrived.
At the NICU, I got the impression that some parents didn’t heed the nurses’ advice and spent every waking minute at the NICU. And when their baby was ready to come home, they were already exhausted. Eventually, we did take the nurses’ advice. Spending time away from the hospital did keep us sane, but it also allowed us to gain back some of that time we feel we had lost, the time we would have spent anticipating the arrival of our first baby. We had a lot of that time left, 14 weeks perhaps, and then it vanished the night London was born.
As a couple, spending time together away from the hospital was essential to our ability to get through the challenges that London faced. Before she was born, I had made Valentine’s Day reservations at a place downtown we had been wanting to go to for a while. When London arrived, I assumed I’d be canceling that reservation. It seemed like everything was off the table for weeks. Thankfully, I was wrong.
We could have gone 109 days without a night out, a Sunday brunch at Cafe Bar, a trip to Little Man Ice Cream. Kate could have gone without a baby shower…or three (with pictures of actual baby present). I could have gone without a couple trips to the Bull and Bush (“The pub you’ve been practicing for.” God bless them). We could have passed on going to church Easter morning. But if we had not done all these things, we would have completely lost those 14 weeks to the NICU.
The NICU is a beast. You don’t want to give her more time than you already have to. Of course, don’t take this too far. One nurse told us about a couple who had been told that their baby was going to be discharged on Friday of that week and they objected because they were going to Vegas that weekend. There’s a sweet spot you can find. I think we eventually found it. Our hearts never left the NICU, but our minds and bodies knew they had to leave that place every once in while to keep going.