How We're Working Together to Balance Life at Home with Life in the NICU

This week Emmy hits 35 weeks adjusted and this past Friday she turned two weeks old. We don't have a specific date for when she will be released yet, but Joe and I are hoping to be home by this time next week. We've been very blessed with a feisty girl who seems just as eager to get home as we are. Being born at just over 32 weeks gestation meant that Emmy could have been in for a two month stay, up until her due date. After her first day in the Special Care Nursery (a step down from the NICU, for babies who don't need as intensive of care), the nurses estimated that we would be here for about a month. Emmy has made so many great steps toward going home, and is currently working on achieving the last goal on her list before they'll let us do that. If we can make it home before her three week birthday, she'll have proven everyone wrong.

For me, the hardest part of having a preemie hasn't been the fact that she is in the NICU. The hardest thing for me those first few days was trying to find a good balance between life at home with Bensen, life in the hospital with Emmy, time with Joe and time spent taking care of myself. There were many tears shed and a lot of guilt while I tried to find that perfect schedule that would allow me to take care of each of the most important people in my life. It still takes a lot of planning and intentionality on a day to day basis to make things work, but for now, we've settled into a really good routine that works for everyone based on our current situation.

Related: Why I Miss Our Time in the NICU

How we're balancing life in the hospital with life at home while still making time for our marriage.

4 Ways to Balance Life with a NICU Baby

Get out of the hospital!

This would be my biggest suggestion for any parent with a child in the hospital, no matter their age. As soon as I was discharged from post-partum recovery, I made a goal to get out of the hospital once a day for at least 30 minutes. I knew that for my own mental health, I needed that little escape, no matter how long Emmy's hospital stay was going to be. For us, getting out of the hospital has been relatively easy because Emmy has not been relying on me constantly as a source of food, she needed to stay on the lights and in her isolette for the first week and couldn't be held too often plus we have a toddler at home who needed our love and attention. Every time we leave Emmy's room we know that she is in great hands and will sleep while we're gone so she won't miss us too much. 

If your child in the hospital is older, it may not be as easy to leave because they are aware when you do and are relying on you as a source of comfort and entertainment. You may be able to find other family members or close friends who can come and stay with your little one a couple of times a week while you get out and do anything that does not involve your hospital stay. You and your spouse may also take turns spending time with your child while the other goes home to be with the other kids or to do something for them. If one of you is working through the hospital stay, that spouse most likely joins the other at the hospital after work each day. This would be a perfect time for the parent who has been with the child throughout the day to get out for a bit while the working parent has some alone time to bond with the child.

Related: 10 Ways to Connect with Your Spouse in 10 Minutes or Less

nicu parents

Take time for yourself

Right now I am being pulled in a million directions and am constantly on the go. Because I know that it's important for me to stay rested, I spend an hour or so every afternoon, in my room at the hospital by myself. Some days I take a nap, I'll watch a movie, sit and blog, work on a personal project, or make a bunch of phone calls and cross things off of my to do list that is constantly growing. The time that you take for yourself can go hand in hand with your escape from the hospital as well. Now that the weather is getting cooler, I want to start leaving to go for a short walk every afternoon to enjoy my favorite fall weather.

Making time for yourself is important and will help you be the best wife and mom possible. If you neglect yourself, you will get more exhausted than you already might be and as awful as it sounds, you may start to dread the time that you spend with your family. It doesn't have to be a long amount of time and you don't have to do anything elaborate. Sometimes it's just nice to take an extra long shower and shave your legs, go get a fresh haircut, or even run to the grocery store by yourself. Whatever it is, try to set aside time for your own thing every few days. You'll be a lot happier if you do! 

Related: Why You Might Want to Text Your Spouse More Often

mom of a nicu baby

Make date night a priority

I'll be honest, I think weekly date night is easier right now than it will be once we get home. Bensen is with family every day until Joe picks him up for bed and we have the most qualified (and most expensive) caregivers for Emmy. Our date nights are shorter and we have to put them on pause in the middle so Joe can pick Bensen up and put him to bed and I can feed Emmy and help with her night time cares, but we still make them happen. Now more than ever, when our quality time together is rare, date night is extra important!

Our first Friday in the hospital was the weekend that I'd planned a surprise overnight date for Joe (I cancelled it while I was in labor and was a little disappointed), so we simplified it and went to one of our favorite restaurants near the hospital for dinner. I got all dressed up, did my hair and makeup and we escaped together. Those two hours that we were away together were just what we needed and I didn't even know it. We were able to connect in a fun way, not over the serious conversations that we'd been having for a week, and feel like life was semi-normal. My mom had Bensen for the night so Joe was able to stay and help with Emmy's cares and then we went home and watched a movie together.

This past weekend's date night was simple but one that we'd been planning and looking forward to for an entire week. When Joe got to the hospital on Friday, we ordered pizza to be delivered a couple of hours later and then went to hang out with Emmy until it arrived. When our pizza arrived, we headed back to our room and had a picnic in bed while we watched an episode of Psych. We were going to finish our date after I got home, but Joe fell asleep while I was pumping, so that didn't happen. I've already got some tentative plans in the work for this coming weekend, if we are still here in the hospital.

Related: Why Your Spouse Needs at Least 8 Touches a Day

Date Night Out

Spend time alone together daily

Like I mentioned above, with a toddler at home and a baby in the hospital, our quality time is extremely limited. Joe is at work all day while I split my time between both of our kids. When Joe gets off work, he comes down to the hospital for a few hours but he spends the majority of that time with Emmy because that's the only time he really has to see her. Around 7pm, he leaves to get Bensen in bed while I stay for a bit longer to feed Emmy. By the time I get home, it's late and we're both exhausted. With our schedule, we have to be intentional with the time that we do have together and we have to make a conscious effort to make time for each other.

While Joe is holding Emmy every afternoon, I make it a point to be in there with them so that we can talk about the day, life and other things. Every night, we eat dinner together, and because we have to leave the nursery to eat, it's a great opportunity for quality time. There's a room across the hall for families to gather and we'll usually pull two chairs up next to each other and eat in there. When I leave the hospital each night, it's dark and I have to walk to my car in the empty parking garage, so I call Joe while I do that and talk more before he gets too tired and calls it quits for the day. Scheduling and planning our weekly date nights are another way that we find that time to spend together working on our relationship with each other.

NICU baby

Spend time together as a family

Bensen gets time alone with both Joe and I each day, but until Emmy comes home, there isn't a time every day that we're all together as a family. He's too young to visit Emmy in her room, so having time together as a whole family isn't possible, but we try to plan something weekly that lets Bensen spend time with both of his parents at once. Planning some family activities has been a lot of fun and I look forward to hanging out with my favorite guys, watching them have fun together and bond.

Last Monday, we took Bensen to the zoo for the first time. It was a plan that I'd had for the day before Emmy came early and I decided that we should stick to it. Because it was a holiday, the zoo was busy and by the end, both Bensen and I were exhausted, but I'm glad that we went. Our families have been more than willing to bring Bensen down to the hospital to see us during the week, and I brought blocks and books to put in my room so that he has something to do while he is here. One night we met my family at a local park so that we could eat dinner with Bensen and hang out for a little bit. It takes a lot of planning and being intentional, just like with our marriage, but the extra effort is worth it.

Related: Family Date Night is Important Too - Ideas for Family Fun

family outing ideas

Do what's best for your family

The first day that I left the hospital, a lot of people were asking me how I could leave my baby in the NICU. It was hard leaving her at first, even though I knew she was in very capable hands, but like I've told people every day since then, I leave the hospital for my own healthy and to help Bensen have some normalcy during this crazy time. If it were our first child, it might be a different story, but I wouldn't have the balance that I do because having Bensen at home has in a way forced me to leave Emmy's room and get out of the hospital.

My mornings are filled with a lot of fun Bensen time and I'll also clean the house a bit so that the chaos doesn't get too out of control. If someone could explain to me how a family that is rarely home, especially for meals, dirties enough dishes to run a load every single day, I'd like to know how that works. My afternoons are filled with snuggles, feedings, pumping and resting in my room. After Joe gets off work, I hang out with him and Emmy and we eat dinner together. Then Joe gets in his Bensen time while I stay to feed Emmy again. After cares, I go home for the night, watch an episode of something with Joe and go to sleep in my own bed so that I'm rested and ready to start the whole process over again the next day.

Related: Four Tips for Simple Yet Meaningful Mother/Child Bonding

Quality toddler time
time with baby in the nicu

Some days I wish that I could spend my entire day at the hospital snuggling and feeding Emmy and other days I hate to leave Bensen and wish that I could stay home and play with him all day. A lot of nights I wish that we were at home so that putting both kids to bed only took half an hour of time away from mine and Joe's time together, rather than feeling like it takes our entire night. My daily routine is definitely not my ideal, but that balance is just what my family needs right now because our situation isn't ideal, but we are working to make the best of the things that we can't control.