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A question I’ve heard a lot in the past few months is, “What about my child at home, while my baby is in the NICU?”
The part of many prematurity stories that is often left out, is other children in the family. A baby coming early effects a whole family, everyone loses out on the plans they had for those last few weeks or months- including any other kids. In my case, it was not just my daughter being 15 weeks early, it was my four week hospital stay before that. Then once you have a baby in the NICU? No one talks much about the children at home. The ones not in the NICU. Waiting at home for their family to be back together.
So, now I will talk about it. It affected me, my husband, and my son, and I know we aren’t the only ones. Here are some of the things we experienced:
I thought I had 9 months.
Nine months to grow a baby, nine months to bond, to feel the baby move and grow, and get everything ready.
I thought I had nine months left to spend one on one with my son before there was another baby to split my time with. A baby who would actually take more of my time at first. Nine months became five and a half months. Which was really four and a half months, because of my hospital stay.
My son and I used to spend three out of five weekdays together, and on the other two we had mornings and afternoons around daycare. He was my buddy and I felt super close to him. We had a great routine that we did every morning, daycare or not. It included breakfast and Little Einsteins. I seriously cherished that time with him, and I struggled to understand how I would possibly be able to love two as much as I loved this one. I knew it would just happen when we got there, but I just couldn’t understand how.
Because of this, I was happy to have nine full months ahead (ok, only really 7.5 by the time we found out i was pregnant) to enjoy the time we had left, just the two of us.
Just a side note here, my husband (Quinn’s father) is very much in the picture and an amazing and loving part of our family. However, this particular part of the post is focused primarily on my relationship with my son. So, when I say “just the two of us” I mean he and I without another child/sibling.
To my son, I went to the doctor one day and didnt come home for a month.
He had to adjust to a whole new schedule, with Dad taking the lead. We went from spending almost all of our time together, to having 5 or 10 minutes a day- in between my husbands schedule, my mother-in-law’s schedule and his daycare. At two and a half, a month feels like forever, and these changes are not easily understood. He did well, but we did have a little difficulty with potty training regression and uncharacteristic outbursts.
This isnt something that just affected him, either. My heart ached for him daily. I missed our time together, I hurt because our “us time” had been cut SO short. It was the beginning of November when I was admitted to the hospital and I had to all but abandon the plans for our last Christmas, “just us”. I wanted to make it special for him, and for me. My heart still hurts a little thinking about it.
None of this is to say I wasnt excited for my daughter’s existence. We wanted another baby, and we were ecstatic that it was a girl. I just wasn’t quite ready to have two kids, yet. I thought I had nine months.
On top of no longer having that time together, (the few remaining months of “just us” time)
a month is a very long time to a two year old.
We went from being super close, to my feeling actually rather distant from him. It was difficult and frustrating to try to work myself into the new routine that my husband had created for him, a routine that needed to be created with one less parent around. They adjusted to life without me, because they had too.
We then struggled after Alice was born with acclimating me to an active part of our life for Quinn, while spending enough time at the hospital with Alice. Especially when she was transferred to the hospital two hours away. She needed me, but he did too.
Where should I be, and who needs me more?
One of the very difficult parts of having a baby in the NICU when you also have children at home, is the guilt. There’s no good answer, there’s no right answer and there is certainly no one-size-fits-all answer. I will say, that I have heard regret from parents who spent too much time away from their kids at home, but not the other way around. So my answer when people ask me is always, “your child at home is adjusting too. Don’t forget about their needs, and remember they are more acutely aware of your absence.”
While it’s true that Alice needed me in the NICU, Quinn needed me too. The way Quinn would see it as a two and a half year old would be: I was in the hospital for a month for Alice, then I was spending all of my time at the hospital with Alice. At two, you don’t understand life and death situations. You just understand that someone is taking mommy’s time away from you. It’s important to keep in mind that what happens during this time, while maybe not remembered in the future, will be internalized by your baby’s siblings. We wanted to make very sure that there wouldn’t be any underlying resentment towards Alice from Quinn.
For us that meant, I would spend every other day at the hospital. Which, really worked out better for me anyway, because it kept me from burning out or starting to feel too anti-social. Emotionally I couldn’t handle being by myself for so long, and being at the hospital for that many hours, alone, is not so good for anyone either. Babies aren’t great at holding up conversation.
It’s so easy to get caught up in how your baby in the NICU is doing.
And of course, you should! It’s scary, and uncertain. You want all of your time with them, because it’s a rollercoaster, and let’s be honest…. your baby is in the hospital! That is scary.
However, just as every other part of life doesn’t stop, neither does your other child’s need for you. It’s a terrible feeling as a parent, to be torn between your children. As I said earlier, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. It is however, something that needs to be thought about, and talked about.
Did you experience these things? How did your family handle it? Please share your stories in the comments!