What about NICU Grandparents?

I never really gave it much thought, and it makes me feel horrible to say, but I never really took into consideration what our parents went through when we were in the NICU. What must they have been feeling? How were they coping with everything that was going on? What did they think was happening or going to happen? It took me five years to finally think about my parents, our daughter’s grandparents, and what they went through during our NICU stay. It was not just us who were effected by our NICU experience, grandparents go through it as well. They go through separate NICU experiences both with having a grandchild in the NICU and with having their own children being NICU parents. NICU grandparents not only have to witness their sons and daughters go through the emotional roller coaster that is life in the NICU, but they are also on that ride. They deal with a lot of the same emotions and experiences that NICU parents go through, but sometimes there is not as much support or information for NICU grandparents as there are for NICU parents.

I recently had a conversation with a fellow NICU dad about NICU grandparents. During that conversation, for the first time, I thought about what my parents must have gone through. I finally thought about it, almost five years out of the NICU! I guess we were so wrapped up in our own world. We were just trying to cope with the roller coaster ride that is life in the NICU. We could not allow our minds to stray from being focused on our baby and our situation. We were too busy trying to take care of ourselves and didn’t have the luxury of thinking about anyone or anything else. You already have blinders on or tunnel vision when you are a NICU parent, focused on getting that baby healthy and home. I guess for me now, 5 years later, I can finally reflect.

I can’t imagine what it was like, as a parent, to watch your child go through the NICU experience. It had to be heartbreaking. When I think of my daughters going through the joys of getting pregnant and having a baby, only to have that dream crushed and have them thrown into having a baby in the NICU. I can’t even imagine it. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, much less my child. It must have been a helpless feeling for our parents to have seen us go through our 67 day NICU stay. We were riding the NICU roller coaster, closed off to the world. The people we did have the most contact with were the NICU staff, our NICU family. Next on that list was our parents. They were helping us take care of our oldest daughter, things at home, or anything else we needed

As I am writing this, it has donned on me that there is a category that I have never considered, NICU Grandparents. I think this is a title that is definitely earned. It was an emotional roller coaster for our parents as well, not knowing the outcome of our NICU stay. We were at least getting our information first hand, from the doctors. Our parents were getting information from us, and even then it was what we wanted them to know. We sometimes would filter what we wanted others to know. Like days where a test was going to be done and the results were either going to mean everything would be fine for now, or things were going to take a completely different direction. Sometimes there is a fine line when dealing with someone who is going through something as stressful as being in the NICU. You have to choose your words carefully. You really don’t know how that person is feeling at that moment or what that day was like for them. We saw this with my parents. Sometimes they caught us on good days, sometimes they caught us on bad days, sometimes they would be ignored because we just didn’t want to see or talk to anyone that day.

Grandparents are known for wanting to spoil those grand babies. Nicu Grandparents don’t get that opportunity for a while. Their focus gets rerouted to simpler things, like when will they get to hold the baby. My wife held our daughter first. I finally got to hold her after eleven days of being in the NICU. It would be weeks later before anyone else would hold her. I know it was tough for our parents. We were never asked if they could hold the baby. I’m sure they wanted to, but saw everything that we were dealing with and just thought it was better to wait. Not to mention our baby was extremely tiny and was connected to several machines, making holding her for the first time a little scary and nerve-racking.  Everything was put on pause while we were in the NICU. There was no baby shower, we had barely registered the day before the baby was born. Our parents would always ask us what we needed or what they could get us for the baby and we would always tell them that we didn’t know. We didn’t know how long we were going to be in the NICU, so we didn’t know what we needed first or when. Our baby was born at 27 weeks and weighed 2 lbs. 5 ounces. We didn’t know if she was going to be able to use regular baby size things. There was no point of us getting anything until we were leaving the NICU. So the spoiling would have to wait.

Things would not be so normal even after we were able to bring our baby home. I would tell my parents to forget what they knew about taking care of a baby because it is completely different than taking care of a preemie. The way we would feed her, hold her, touch her, among other things, were all different from a full term baby who has just come home from the hospital. I have since found out that our baby’s grandparents were overly cautious when they were around her after she had come home, just as we were. They did not want anything to happen to her or do anything that might cause her to have to go back to the hospital.

I interviewed my parents to see what our NICU experience was like for them. I was surprised to find that many of the things they felt and experienced were similar to those of NICU parents. Another big surprise was finding out how it would have helped if they had information specifically for NICU grandparents. Something that would have explained what they may experience, feel, or even see during their grandchildren’s NICU stay. A baby in the NICU may not look like what we are used to seeing, especially when they only weigh 2 lbs 5 ounces. The biggest thing I have taken away from talking to them, was their feeling of helplessness. They all shared a feeling of heartache, of not be able to do anything to change our situation. They could not imagine what it was like for us to go through what we did. They were crushed to witness their children go through a far from normal childbirth, and to have our baby spend 67 days in the NICU. Almost five years later and the emotions are still very much there for them, just as they are for us.

So hats off to all of the NICU Grandparents! Thank you for all that you do and have gone through with us. A special “Thank You” to our daughter’s grandparents! Thank you guys for EVERYTHING!



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