Coping With Separation From Your Baby

And so you struggle between these two worlds -- home and the NICU. As the numbness wears off, you may begin to feel obsessed with your baby. This obsession can seem odd since your infant is confined to the hospital and not completely under your care. But although your little one isn't home with you, your obsession is a natural expression of your devotion. Your heart is exactly where it should be -- with your baby.

I got in the car and cried all the way home. My husband tried to console me, but all I could think of was that I had just left my only son in the hands of strangers and he was less than one day old. We got home, and I greeted my two daughters with little enthusiasm, even though I hadn't been home with them in almost a month. all I could think of was getting Ricky home with us. It consumed my every moment, even the few that I slept. ~~Jenny

Tips for Coping with Separation from Your Baby

To cope with being separated from your baby, try any of the following ideas that feel right to you:

•Acknowledge your baby's birth in ways that comfort you. It may help to decorate the nursery; shop for baby clothes, toys, or supplies; or start a photo album or baby book.

•Send out birth announcements. Notify people of your baby's birth, sharing whatever details you choose in order to let them know that this is neither easy nor routine for you. This process also gives you a chance to welcome and show your love for your newborn.

•Write down your observations about your baby: preferences, features, resemblances, expressions.

•Learn more about your baby's delivery. Talk with your partner. Ask the attending nurses and doctors about the details. It may also help to ask why things were done the way they were. This information helps you reclaim memories, satisfies your need to know, and fills in the gaps of your story.

•Tell those who want to listen about the delivery and your baby. Telling your story over and over can be tremendously therapeutic. You can also write your story in a keepsake journal or baby book.

•Place breast pads or a cotton shirt you've slept in for several nights in your baby's incubator. Your scent may be a comforting reminder of your presence to your baby.

•Ask the nurse if you can have something with your baby's scent on it to take home with you. Smelling this item may help you feel close to your baby.

•Record yourself reading a story or poem, singing, or talking, and leave the tape in the NICU with your baby so it can be played at low volume when your baby is fussy.

•Spend as much time as you can or want with your baby. Don't let others discourage you or urge you to take breaks or to "get away" if you want to stay. Also, don't let others make you feel guilty if you do want to take time away.

•Take photographs of your baby and look at them regularly. It is especially important to keep updating the photos as your baby's appearance and condition change.

•Write notes to your baby about your thoughts, wishes, and devotion.

•Write notes "from" your baby to post at the bedside, to remind caregivers about special needs, sensitivities, or preferences.

•Post notes at your baby's besides to remind caregivers to wait for you to arrive if you plan to be there for feedings, care giving, or tests.

•Ask your baby's primary nurse to write short notes to you "from" your baby, reporting on his or her condition and new developments from your preemie's perspective. (For more on "baby diaries," see chapter 8.)

•Don't underestimate the power of breast milk. If you can do it, pumping can make you feel that you are doing something motherly. Even if your baby isn't ready for breast milk yet, pumping and storing the milk is a way to bank on the future.

•If you decide not to breast-feed or if milk production is not possible or too stressful for you, tell others not to second-guess you. You can give gentle hints, such as, "I really value the friends I have who can accept this without trying to change my mind, scold me, or lecture me about how to relax."

•Buy a special piece of jewelry or other commemorative object to represent your baby's presence in your family.