As if just having a baby in the NICU weren’t difficult enough, you may also have to deal with the added guilt and stress of how to include your other children in their new sibling’s life.
My three boys were ages 7, 5 and 3 when my micro preemie was born at just 23 weeks. My daughter, Joy, spent 121 days in the NICU, and each day of those four months included challenges on how to involve her brothers in her life and how to divide my time between home and the NICU.
Here are my five suggestions for connecting siblings to babies in the NICU:
1. Try to take at least two days a week to spend extended time with your other children.
You may not think this is a way to help you connect your children to their sibling, but it can help them feel important and not neglected and resentful. It will be very hard to stay away from the NICU at first, and you will feel terribly guilty about it every time you leave, but you must do it. Maybe you can take them to the movies, have a picnic or even just do some of the “regular” things you did before you delivered your baby. On occasion, you can visit your baby at night while your other kids are sleeping. They need this, but so do you. My 23-weeker spent the summer in the NICU. I put my boys in camp three days a week so I could go to the NICU during the day. I only visited the NICU in the evenings on the other two days. It was so hard but worth it.
2. Buy some white onesies or baby t-shirts and decorate them.
This was one of my boys’ favorite things to do for Joy. I went to the craft store and bought puffy paint and fabric markers after getting preemie undershirts My 5- and 7-year-olds wrote silly things like, “My brothers are the best” or “I have cute brothers.” And my 3-year-old just drew lines and circles, but it didn’t matter. We had a great time, and they got to make something for their sister and were involved. Then make sure you have the nurses dress your baby in the outfits on the days you bring the kids to visit.
3. Try to spend some time each night or each morning telling your other children about their baby brother or sister.
Mention how much weight they gained or what equipment was removed that day. Maybe they won’t understand the medical jargon — do any of us, really? — but they will hopefully feel like they are involved and are getting to know their new sibling.
4. Bring your other kids to see their sibling in the NICU, but keep it short.
I suggest bringing your other children to visit their sibling in the NICU. I believe they need to see the baby is real and connect with him or her.
Yes, you will be nervous that they are bringing in germs into the NICU, but most NICUs will have children examined by a doctor before they enter. Yes, you will be nervous about them making too much noise or disturbing their sibling or others. And they probably will, so that’s why these are short visits! Yes, you will be nervous that it may scare your child to see their sibling hooked up to machinery, but it might not if you explain what they do — in their terms. So bring them in to visit and make it a short one. This way they are less likely to get bored during a short visit, they can connect with their sibling and you can take your first picture of your “whole” family together.
5. Decorate the sides of the isolette and the walls around the crib with pictures.
Hang photos of your family and pictures that your other children colored all around. Not only will your children love to see their artwork hanging up when they visit, but the decorations will make you smile during those difficult moments and setbacks that can come.
Follow this journey on Micropreemie.net.