On Saturday, I talked about weekends in the NICU and how to take advantage of them. Holidays are very similar in that they just keep on coming and it's business as usual at the hospital. Often, the nurses do little things that help to make it more special and festive. At our children's hospital, they had seasonal name tags on each module door with the babies' names. We came home with a santa hat, a snowflake, a heart, a shamrock, and an Easter egg. That gives you an idea of our journey...
Celebrating holidays with a child in the NICU is not without its challenges. Traditions must change by necessity. The Thanksgiving feast may need to be celebrated with turkey sandwiches and cranberry juice in the family lounge. Christmas trees may shrink from eight feet to two. The 4th of July cookout may become take-out burgers and cokes. Nonetheless, try very hard to acknowledge the holidays.
Our Christmas looked like this: C. was only one day old, still fighting to hang in there in the NICU, and I was recovering from my emergency C-section as my body fought to replenish the three units of blood that I lost. My ever-obliging hubby had made the long trek home the evening before to schlep our presents and a miniature tree to my hospital room. Christmas Eve night, we exchanged our gifts and opened those from my long-distance family, including those labeled "Baby S." because she shouldn't have been in the world yet! I choked back tears as I opened the Old Navy maternity jeans I had requested. The next day, my husband's family arrived with my ten-month old son and he opened his Santa gifts. He also snuggled next to me on my hospital bed as I sang Christmas carols to him. After that, we all made the journey to the NICU to see our baby daughter. Was it a typical Christmas? Not even close. Was it ideal? Not really. But was it memorable and special? You better believe it. Here are the three things that were evident in our Christmas celebration:
When New Year's crept up a week later, we dined at the Ronald McDonald house and cheered as a sweet junior high aged girl slowly dropped a glittery ball of foil down from a balcony. Who needs Times Square?
January brought about our son's first birthday. We hosted a penguin-themed party at an aunt's home who lived far closer to the hospital than we did. I was a nervous wreck and called the NICU several times, but C. had a happy, uneventful day. It was vital that we not forget our older child as we worried over our daughter's health. Watching our big, healthy boy smash his first cake was some of the best therapy we could have received.
On Valentine's Day, my husband and I checked in on our daughter, got our son tucked in for the night, then shared a quiet glass of wine and reflected on how thankful we were for the love and bond we shared... despite it all.
On St. Patrick's Day, we asked the nurses for a bright, emerald green bow to stick on our baby girl's fuzzy little head. That was the day she hit 5 lb! Big, big day...
And for Easter? Well, I'm happy to say that for Easter, we were home. We were able to have an Easter egg hunt in our own yard with all the cousins. C. wore a fancy-pants taffeta preemie dress (still too big for her) and frilly little socks. But had we not been released yet, you can bet we would have hid eggs all around our room at the Ronald McDonald house and let our then one-year old crawl all over on the hunt!
My point in all these reflections?
I just want to encourage those of you who are currently facing long days and weeks and months in the NICU to celebrate in small ways. Today is Labor Day-- pick up some burgers to go and some flag napkins and have yourselves a mini-feast. As the first day of Fall rolls around, consider cutting out some bright paper leaves to hang around your baby's isolette or crib (check on your hospital's policy). I'll post some fun celebration ideas as other occasions roll around.
Make some memories. Share some moments. Trust me when I tell you this... these are the holidays you'll never forget. Do your best to make them happy memories.