Two years ago today on a whim we did something that saved the joy of the holidays for me while in the NICU. To set the scene you need to understand that we were going on 2 months in the NICU and while our scariest days were seemingly behind us Virginia had failed extubation once again earlier that week. I was overcome with fear amidst the endless discussion of ventilator dependence, steroid treatment, and the risks of all the different scenarios. But for one night, with our favorite nurse on duty, all of that was put to the side. We traveled the right of passage for any new parents and took family holiday photos. It surprisingly felt totally normal to stuff our 2.5 pound 8 week old in her little stocking and take pictures. That glimpse of "normalcy" was what we needed that night. It wasn't much but it was a distraction from the intense fear and worry.
The NICU is admittedly a difficult place to be during the holidays. It is literally impossible to be with your family. You are never actually whole on days that are defined by counting your blessings and celebrating the birth of a full term baby in a manger. Everyone else is full of holiday cheer and christmas busyness, yet the relentless schedule of pumping, visiting, and NICU worrying allows for little of that and in many cases makes you resentful of all that cheer.
The NICU does not take holidays. There is spirit in the air as nurses make footprint ornaments and holiday dinners are provided, but the only way to survive the holidays in the NICU is make the best of those little moments and cherish them.
Hang a stocking off of the IV pole.
Read christmas books bedside.
Buy that baby's first christmas ornament even if it wasn't supposed to be baby's first christmas.
skype with family... its the next best thing.
connect with other families... everyone is feeling the same way.
Ugly cry to James Taylor's christmas album (or Kenny G may be more your speed)
Ring in the new year with your baby and funny hats.
There is never a "right" way to cope in the NICU and this is especially true during the holidays. Do what you need to do, one foot in front of the other. Embrace the season where it feels good and turn off the holiday music when you feel the bitterness creeping in.
Thinking of all of the NICU families in the coming weeks. I wish I knew how joyful Christmas 2012 and 2013 would be when we were in the throws of NICU Christmas 2011.
Also thinking of all those post NICU families that are still struggling to find the joy and normalcy of the holidays while navigating their way through RSV isolation. It gets better :)