In addition to November being Prematurity Awareness Month, it’s National Family Caregivers Month. These two themes go together well. Caring for a premature baby can take a huge toll on parents and families. The focus is on the baby (naturally) which can be a round-the-clock roller coaster ride. But, who cares for the parents and other children?
Recently I attended a meeting for parents of special needs children. The common theme that day was coping. Parent after parent talked about the impact that one child can have on an entire family. When medical issues are present, as they are with a preemie, it is understood that everything else stops while you care for and make serious decisions related to your baby. If you have other children, they take a temporary back seat to your sick baby. Everyone pitches in to do what they must do to survive the crisis of a NICU stay.
Once the baby is home, the crisis may seem like it is over, but often it is only the start of a new journey – one with visits to more specialists than you knew existed, appointments for speech, physical, occupational and/or respiratory therapy, a schedule of home exercises, and navigating the early intervention system. Thankfully, these interventions exist to help your baby, but it is clear that this new schedule can resemble a second full-time job.
If a parent is alone in this process (without a partner), it can be all the more daunting. Without a second set of eyes to read insurance forms, or a second set of hands to change a diaper when you are desperate for a shower, it can feel overwhelming.
What can you do?
This month is a good time to remember to reach out and ask for help. Friends often want to take a bit of the burden off of you, but simply don’t know how they can be helpful. Be specific with them. If you need grocery shopping done, send out a group text to your buddies and ask if anyone could swing by the grocery store to pick up a few items for you.
Try to set aside a couple of hours each week, on a regular basis, when you know you will have a respite. It could mean that your spouse takes care of the baby while you go take a walk or join a friend for coffee. Or, your parent or grandparent could take over for a bit so you and your spouse could watch a movie together. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time – but just knowing it is scheduled gives you something tangible to look forward to, which helps to keep you going and lift your spirits.
In other blog posts, I share ways parents can take the stress off. See this post for a list of survival tips, and this post for how to care for the brothers and sisters of your special needs child. They need special TLC!
Be sure to check out the Caregivers Action Network’s helpful tips for families as well as their useful caregiver toolkit.
If you are like me and have trouble relaxing, see “Stop. Rest. Relax…Repeat.” It may just inspire you to break the go-go-go-all-the-time pace and find ways to relax. Believe me – once you grab those precious moments to refuel, you will be glad you did. Your body and mind will thank you, and so will your family.
Do you have tips for coping? Please share.
View other posts in our Delays and Disabilities series, and send your questions to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.