When your baby's in the NICU, you have more important things to worry about than a budget. Micropreemies have exceedingly long hospital stays (3 months +) and, to complicate matters, odds are fairly good that you're not super close to home. There are only so many Level III NICU's in the country, so you may be several hours from your own kitchen. Here are just a few tips to keep in mind. While this is information I gleaned from my micropreemie experience, most of it could be applied to anyone coping with having a loved one hospitalized...
1. If you're far from home and it's your child who's hospitalized, see if there's a Ronald McDonald House with room for you. These Houses are amazing places. If you are so blessed, take advantage of all the meals that are available to you. When we stayed there, at least four dinners and two breakfasts a week were provided by different churches, schools, clubs, businesses, or families who stepped up to help. This was hearty, healthy, hot food-- the kind you need to fuel you when you're on an emotional roller coaster.
2. Find out if there's a kitchen available to you. On nights when we weren't fortunate enough to have someone bring in a hot meal, I cooked our meals in the kitchen at the RMH. Had we not been blessed to have a room at the House, we would have used to family kitchen at the hospital which was always stocked with basics like flour, canned vegetables, spices, milk, etc.
3. Talk to a social worker. In some cases, meal vouchers are available. Some hospitals also offer special programs- the hospital where our daughter stayed provided free breakfast, lunch, and dinner DELIVERED to nursing mothers who did not want to leave their babies' bedsides. I simply called down to the cafeteria and a volunteer would inform me when my meal had arrived. If my husband wanted to eat with me, there was a nominal fee that was far less than what he would have had to pay for fast food (e.g. eggs, bacon, toast, fruit, and coffee for two dollars).
4. Accept any and all offers of help. Do not be afraid to tell friends and family what you REALLY need. If what you need is for them to deliver a bag of sandwiches and bottled water, speak up. Most people truly want to be helpful and don't know the best way.
5. And finally, give back. This is not really relevant so much while you're contending with the extended hospitalization, but I urge you to find ways to give back once you're safely at home. Our family makes every effort to provide food whenever there's a cry for help. We try very hard to stop by the NICU and network with families who are struggling to provide them with resources. I have a current, updated list of what our local RMH desperately needs tacked to my refrigerator and a box always in progress to deliver the next time we're down there. I'm anxious to organize a dinner at the RMH (though I haven't done so yet).
Above all, hang in there. I would be remiss in not telling you that we, despite being known for our strong handle on finances, busted our budget during that stay. We racked up credit card debt and, in the end, had to rely on some savings to dig us out. It didn't devastate us. We recovered pretty quickly. I do believe that this type of situation is evidence for why having emergency funds is important. But, in the meantime, take care of yourself. Take care of your baby. And just hold on as best you can.