Preparing for a NICU stay

As we prepare for the birth of our 4th child this coming April, we are also preparing for our second NICU stay. Our first time in the NICU, just over a year ago, was unexpected and overwhelming.

Today we have a sweet and healthy one-year-old (pictured below👇), who serves as a constant reminder that the suffering and struggles were totally worth it. I also came away from that NICU stay with a new understanding of how to improve the experience for me and my family, tips and tricks that I’ll be putting into practice this April:

1. Be your own (and your baby’s) advocate. This is hard when it feels like the doctors and nurses know so much more medically than you do (which they do); but the maternal instinct is also valid and if something is troubling you, SPEAK UP. For example, I was encouraged to stop breastfeeding Rosie during her hospitalization because it meant she had to be removed from treatment for 30-45 minutes at a time, as opposed to 5 minutes if the nurse bottle fed her. But—especially as a mom with PPD who has had trouble bonding with babies in the past—I stuck to my belief that breastfeeding through that time was critical to our longterm wellbeing as a family. And you know what? It turned out I did the right thing for us (we bonded beautifully), and on top of that, pulling her off her treatment for those chunks of time did not extend her hospital stay. Obviously your child’s situation/health will be different, so pulling them off treatment to nurse might not be possible: I’m not suggesting that you go completely against medical advice. Rather, what I’ve found (and what my husband, a physician, says) is that a patient who advocates for his/her needs, or has family who advocates for those needs, will almost always receive better patient care.

2. Prioritize YOUR spiritual, mental and physical wellbeing. One thing I’ve learned from being a mama to multiple small children is that self-care is critical to you being the best mama you can be. Self-care is about making time to do the things that refresh and recharge you, and for me that means:

  • Putting God first. There is no hope for peace in my life if He is not number one each and every day. This means sticking to my daily prayer/spiritual reading routines, as well as going to daily mass when possible. While in the hospital last year, I even requested that the Eucharistic minister visit me daily (which they did in both labor & delivery and the mother baby ward!).
  • Resting and sleeping as much as possible. Naps are not luxuries; naps are how I keep my PPD at bay.
  • Filling my waking hours with meaningful activities. Last year I spent my time in the hospital mindlessly surfing the internet. This did not fill me up; in fact, I’d say it drained me further. This time around I’m planning to bring some good books with me and have a line up of shows on Netflix/Amazon Prime (BBC’s new Little Women and possibly some Marie Kondo).
  • Planning ahead meals and snacks to keep me well-nourished in the hospital. While the hospital does provide a room for the “nesting” mom, they no longer provide meals for you once you are discharged. I learned last year that the hospital cafeteria is expensive and not very good, but thankfully there is a small fridge in which I can store my food. I plan to stock up on Chobani Yogurt Drinks and maybe some meats (honey baked ham anyone?), fruits and veggies. I might even make some meatballs ahead of time because I know I am going to be craving substantial, high-protein food.

3. Schedule dates with your husband. You and your spouse need each other’s support during a NICU stay, and that means being physically, mentally and emotionally present for each other. Resist the urge to switch into self-reliance survival mode, where you become ships passing in the night (my husband and I drifted into this territory too much last year). These dates may take place in the hospital–which is how they went for us last year–but are times when you can be alone just the two of you. Last year my husband would come visit me when the big kids were napping and/or in bed for the night. Sometimes we were too worn out to talk, but it was a comfort just being together. You might also consider planning some Netflix/Amazon shows for the two of you to watch, or pack a book for the two of you to read aloud together.

4. Family dinner every (possible) night. We made this a priority, and I don’t think we missed a night. Some nights this took place in my hospital nesting room, and some nights (especially when I needed fresh laundry, etc) I went home for 2 hours between Rosie’s feeds. This meal was critical quality time together; it was an anchor for everyone in our family during an otherwise turbulent time in our lives.

5. Schedule “dates” with your big kids. Last year I felt like I was drowning during our NICU stay, and one of my biggest regrets was relying too heavily on other people to support my older kids emotionally during that time. This spring I am planning to be more intentional about one-on-one quality time with my big kids while I’m nesting:

  • My (will be) 4 year old daughter: I’d love to watch A Little Princess and Annie with her, and also start reading Narnia or some Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’m also planning some simple jewelry making crafts that we can easily do in the nesting room (like making friendship beaded bracelets).
  • My (will be) 3 year old son: I’d like to start reading a new Roald Dahl book with him. He loved James and the Giant Peach, so I’m leaning towards Charlie and the Chocolate Factory after reading this review. We’ll probably do some crafts as well—including the friendship bracelets (mother/son bracelets 😊💕) and I’ve been thinking about investing in some educational manipulative activities like this Scoop-a-Bug Sorting Kit.
  • My 1 year old daughter: This is harder to plan because she’s a girl on the go and a dirty hospital is not the best place for a toddler who wants to get into everything. Hopefully, since it will be April, we’ll be able to go for walks outside and have lunch together. I’m praying about this—let me know if you have any good ideas for things to do with a toddler in the hospital!
  • And, of course, breastfeeding dates with the newborn. 😉

So this is my game plan! If you’ve had a NICU stay, what did you learn form that experience? How would you approach it differently if you had to do it again?

Vacation with babies and toddlers


VacationWe made the 9 hour (turned 13 hour) drive to the OBX with our 3 y/o, 2y/o and 6 month old with only 2 Chick-Fil-a stops, only 3 Starbucks stops, and only 2 hours of crying. I’d call that a success. We are now currently enjoying a semi-relaxing week at the beach.

I had a rough transition to baby-inclusive vacations at first: I found myself desperately longing for the days when I could sit and do nothing or browse the beach knick-knack shops at my leisure. But with three kiddos in tow, vacation is different these days. Here are a few tricks to making vacation more enjoyable for everyone that I’ve picked up along the way:

1. Set your expectations: it’s going to be messy. Like day one of vacation, we woke up to this: Yes, that is EXACTLY what you think it is 💩. One of my offspring decided it would be a fun art project to paint his bed with his poop. When we went out to dinner, two children knocked over full glasses of ice water (the baby pulled one over on my white pants, a slightly different variation of the wet t-shirt competition). And then DS proceeded to over indulge in ice cream and vomited all over his bed (and the rental houses comforter)…TWO NIGHTS IN A ROW.

2. Bring the comforts of home. We literally brought the kids cribs (DH broke them down and put them back together when we got there). Praise God for pick-up trucks! They sleep MUCH better in their own bed, and they can’t get up in the morning before we’re ready for them (read: quiet coffee time for mom and dad). We also brought black out curtains that we draped gently over the windows.

3. Screen time is okay. Especially in the car on your 7 hour drive…its better to hear Daniel Tiger on repeat than it is to hear screaming tantrums for hours on end. This is EVERYONES vacation, so let the kids indulge in a show while you indulge in some quiet rest.

4. Be prepared for a non-stop party. Vacation with littles is not some relaxing beach stay where you doze in the sun all day drinking Mike’s Hard Lemonade and reading your favorite book. It’s a PARTY. Remember when you were a kid? How cool was it to go to the pool or beach?! Or go out for ice cream, doughnuts and pizza?! Or even stay up past your bed time?! Prepare yourself to let go of YOUR expectations of vacation; prepare yourself to go with the kid flow and every second can be a party (while still caging the wild party beasts in their cribs so you can build in a few hours of adult vacationing for yourself in the morning and evening).

Cultivate JOY in the little things, so that even in the chaos that is life with small children you can build a vacation to remember (and even enjoy in the moment).

May Goals

With three kids three and under, life is crazy these days. It seems like I keep making goals that I fall short of reaching, and month after month of failing to meet goals is discouraging. When I sat down to write this post, my first thought was: “Why bother with a post about goals? You never keep them.”

But I quickly stomped out that thought. Goals are important. They keep us going, striving for something better. They help to elevate us above mediocrity, and set us on a higher path. They give us purpose and when we do achieve them, they inspire us to greater things.

So here are my May goals. To write these, I returned to my 2018 Big Picture Resolution and Big Dreams and made sure my goals were in line with those.

  1. Daily (creating a daily prayer habit):
    1. 30 minutes of mental prayer each morning.
    2. 1 rosary each day.
    3. Daily mass.
    4. Read 1 psalm and 1 chapter from the New Testament daily.
    5. Read 1 section from a soul-strengthening book daily.
    6. Wash, dry, fold and put away 1 load of laundry daily.
    7. Remember to reflect on the GOOD things I’ve done throughout the day, not just the ways I’ve fallen short.
  2. Weekly:
    1. Weekly confession.
  3. This month:
    1. Plan out homeschooling schedule for the summer (I am discerning homeschooling for our family and am going to try out basic lessons and a daily routine this summer).
    2. Organize family clothes (put away winter clothes, bring out summer clothes, and put away things that are too small, too stained, etc).

I feel like this year is taking a different direction than I envisioned, which is beautiful thing because I can see God’s hand at work in my life.  I can see Him guiding me down a path that I had never really planned for myself. (This in itself is an answered prayer as I daily pray Psalm 25:4, “Make known to me your ways, Lord; teach me your paths). God is doing just that for me and there have been a lot of exciting (very surprising) developments in 2018, mainly in amazing opportunities for me to evangelize: being invited to co-lead a Bible study next year, organizing a faith-based book group for the summer, being asked to be a Table Leader for our local MOPS chapter next year, and being able to start up a playgroup for mothers of young children from my church.

These opportunities have all been surprises to me, which just goes to show that you can set your own goals but God might have different goals in mind for you!  Keep your eyes and ears open to God’s goals for your life, because, as I’ve been discovering lately, they are the best ones. 🙂