We are indeed in uncharted waters, with a virus spreading worldwide and states locking businesses down, major league sports at a halt, and about the only thing open is a grocery store. We have been asked and reminded everywhere we look to wash your hands. They have even told us to sing the Happy Birthday song to ourself to make sure we are washing long enough. At this point, I realize that much of the world is starting to go through some of the very challenges parents of preemie babies deal with the minute they enter into the new world of the NICU.
Have you been planning a big vacation, event, or celebration? Did you have your suitcase pulled out of the closet and the warm weather clothes half thrown in for that trip to warmer weather? Did you have your time off request in for the trip to see some great hockey games with your favorite teams playing back to back? How excited have you been to see your favorite singer in concert and finally everything fell into place for you to go?
And then! The words you have never heard before Covid 19, Corona Virus, stay home, quarantine, state-wide shutdowns! Don't go to work. What? For two weeks! Possibly longer! When do I get to go back? These feelings are very similar to those felt by preemie parents that all of a sudden have a pregnancy cut short and a teeny baby in a place called the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The NICU is a place many parents, family, and friends have never heard of or considered spending many hours.
1. They first learn how important it is to wash their hands; it becomes their routine when they enter the NICU. Scrub up, wash up to your elbows, and clear under those fingernails. Scrub, scrub, scrub. We now have the practice of washing our hands seared into our brains. If we didn't do it before the virus appeared, we now use sanitizer wipes on our grocery carts. We are wiping down every surface in our house regularly. Cleanliness has become much higher on our list of essential tasks. Preemie parents feel these same things when it is time to bring their fragile babies home. I am sure there isn't a home that a preemie has come home to that wasn't scrubbed from top to bottom before that release date! I think the most significant difference is we have the time, while preemie parents are often exhausted from spending time with their new baby and trying to properly prepare for their homecoming.
2. The isolation that we are all feeling right now is another reality for preemie parents. With a baby in the NICU fighting for every breath, you may barely keep up with learning all the new medical terms that the care provider is throwing at you let alone time for anything else. When preemies come home, the social distancing often continues and in some cases, also causes discourse between family members who have been waiting to visit to see the new family member. The nice thing about the virus confinement is that it everyone knows about it and is in the same boat!
3. Through experiences like this worldwide pandemic or having a premature baby, they remind us of the importance of leaning on friends and family for support. Sometimes our lives get busy, and we get on a roll that we allow to take over our lives. Then time flies by, and we haven't connected with those close friends or family members for weeks or even months. What I am trying to say is that times like this remind us what is truly important in life: Our relationships! So, if you have a friend or family member that suddenly finds themselves thrown into the world of the NICU, please read our blog post, "What can I do to Help" for suggestions on how to support them.
4. I am not sure about you, but in our house, there are a few of us that don't love being told what to do! Who is with me? Then this virus came along, and I have to stay home, I could no longer go to my favorite restaurant, and I can't even visit my grandkids. I will admit it's was difficult at first. Following rules is another thing we have in common with preemie parents. The hospital is now telling them when they can visit, who and when they can hold their baby, what milestones their baby has to reach before they can be released to go home. These stipulations all add additional stress to an already stressful time. I have been trying to adopt a mindset of “what positive outcome presents itself because of staying home?" I can get all that stuff done I have been putting off. I can video chat with the grandkids or use the Marco Polo app more! Order to go and eat at home! I think this is quite a bit harder for a preemie parent as it is very difficult not to be able to pick up your new baby and cuddle whenever you want. After all, that is one of the best memories I have of the six weeks I was home after the birth of my first baby. The hours of sitting in my lazy boy rocking and cuddling. So how does a preemie parent try to turn this into a positive? I am not entirely sure, but the few suggestions are, take it as a learning time. Sometimes the most difficult things we go through are the most significant times of growth. Finding support groups that will help you through may bring you a new group of friends. We wrote another blog post about five non-profits that are there to help preemie parents. I believe preemie parents have started several of these groups.
5. Finally, a mantra I have said over and over since the virus came to Washington State, and when we began the shut down is: "This too shall pass." Repeating this to yourself many times over and over during the day may seem a little trivial. I can somewhat agree with you; however, as someone that has lived a few years and experienced other scary moments, they have all passed. I tell the story about how my Mom thought the world was going to stop because of Y2K. She even bought a porta-potty in case the sewer system no longer worked. She never needed it, and it all passed on, and we are 20 years down the road. I wish she were here still so we could laugh together, and I could hear her voice once again. I think about her often and am glad now I have these funny stories that make me think of her. So without these crazy times, fewer great stories would be told. I certainly know that from my years of boating, I have many more stories of the things that went awry then I do of the times everything was just perfect.
In conclusion, wash your hands, practice social distancing and reach out to friends and family on that great device you have called our smartphone. If we all cooperate, we can get back to normal sooner than later! Please repeat after me, "This too shall pass." Most importantly, next time you hear of a new parent of a preemie baby, be reminded you might know a little bit of how they might be feeling and reach out with a kind word, a coffee card, a little outfit, or a shoulder to lean on. We are all in this together.