10 Tips for Surviving the NICU as a Single Mom

Surviving the NICU as a Single Mom - shegotguts.com

Seriously, hats off to you Taylor!  I am just going to be blunt here, I am extremely dependent on John Durfee.  I am my own person, I loved having a career, I am a feminist, but I need him.  I rely on him, physically, mentally, emotionally.  He is my best friend and the main reason I was able to get through some really difficult times in the NICU.  Taylor, you are a bada$%!   When I was looking for guest bloggers during Prematurity Awareness Month, I really wanted to feature writers whose story was different than mine, who had a different perspective than my own.  I have one other preemie mama friend who is single (she adopted her niece) and often feel like she is on an island within an island.  I hope Taylor's advice can help other preemie mamas who happen to be single help navigate through some rocky waters, and also to let you know that you are not alone.  We appreciate you sharing your advice Taylor! - Stephanie

Your daughter’s lungs are at risk for failure, so she’s being sent downstairs to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

...my doctor calmly stated with a firm stare. Those aren’t exactly the first words you want to hear as soon as your baby enters the world. But there I was, bound to the hospital bed by IV bags and wires, trying helplessly to get a look at my sweet, tiny newborn baby – Grace – who was being hooked up to a CPAP machine. The sunken hole in her chest where her lungs were supposed to be filling was deep, and barely moving.

When I finally got into the NICU to see her again, I lost it completely. Hooked up to two different machines, a feeding tube in her mouth, five leads attached to her body – she was laying there alone, helplessly, without me. I must have been standing there crying hysterically for a good thirty minutes before a nurse could even approach me with a box of tissues. When I finally pulled it together (somewhat), she showed me how to open the isolette. I instantly put my finger on Grace’s tiny, soft, perfect hand – and her little fingers immediately wrapped tightly around it back.

I was officially a brand-new, single mother to a 36-week preemie. I was terrified, exhausted, overjoyed, sad, happy, confused and wondering how on earth I was ever going to make this work.

I knew that I would be going through my pregnancy – and motherhood – alone, but the moment was finally here. Grace was here. And I was the only person she had. The next 10 days in the NICU with Grace were the longest days of my entire life. Despite how hard they were, though, I can promise you this: Being there as a single mom for Grace in the NICU made my love for her grow tenfold – and it was the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had.  

If you’re a single mom to a preemie in the NICU, here are my top 10 tips for making it through – because yes, you absolutely can do it too!

1. Recruit a Designated Support Person

In situations like my own, where turning to your ex isn’t an option, you need to find your closest confidant and ask them to take on the role of your go-to support person. For me, my mother was that person – and without all of her endless love, advice and help during Grace’s stay in the NICU, I would not have been able to make it through. This support person may not be your husband or boyfriend, but they can certainly still offer the emotional support, time and love a partner would. Most importantly, they’re a second set of loving hands, eyes, and heart for your preemie.

2. Make Sure the Doctors and Nurses are Aware You’re a Single Parent

Most NICUs strongly discourage anyone but the biological parents coming in to visit the babies, to limit the amount of people who are surrounding the preemies, and reduce the amount of germs that travel through the area. So, make the NICU staff aware that you are a single parent, and let them know that your baby will be visited by a grandmother, aunt, uncle, close friend, or whoever you have designated as your support person. Not to mention, the more informed your baby’s nurses and doctors are, the more they can be of assistance to you – offering more advice, guidance and an extra set of hands if need be.

3. It’s Okay to Ask for Help

ll new moms need someone to help pick up the slack when they’ve got a newborn, but this is especially true for new moms who have preemies with health complications in the NICU. Now is not the time to be shy. Instead, be vocal. Throughout your baby’s NICU stay, keep in touch with family and friends, and let them know what you need – even if it’s something as simple as a late night dinner delivery to the hospital, or taking care of an errand back at home. Chances are, they’ll be more than happy to help. Trust me, you’ll be more than happy for the extra assistance.

4. Take Advantage of Available Resources

I was losing three months’ worth of pay during my maternity leave, but I still had bills to pay. The truth is, a lot of single moms are always going to struggle financially, especially when they don’t have a partner contributing money. And even though talking about money is usually taboo, it’s important for single moms of preemies to know that there are definitely beneficial resources offered to single mothers – whether it’s a support group, or a program that will help alleviate some financial burden for medical expenses or other necessary costs for your preemie.

5. Don’t Forget to Take Care of Your Own Health

Yes, your preemie’s health is the top priority right now. But since you’re the only parent they have to rely on, you need to treat your body right, and and make sure that you are healthy, too. Always bring snacks to much on throughout the day and night while you’re in the NICU, eat three meals a day, stay hydrated and at least try to get a little sleep whenever you can. Be as healthy as possible so that you can be the best caretaker possible.

surviving the nicu as a single mom - shegotguts.com

6. Have a Safe Ride Handy if Need Be

There were so many nights I was too tired, and could not possibly drive myself home from the NICU (I know literally every mother of a preemie in the NICU reading this can relate). Between eagerly waiting for the doctors to make their rounds, consulting with the nurses about your baby’s day-to-day health status, dealing with set backs, pumping and trying to breastfeed, navigating through countless leads and wires – each and every day in the NICU is a mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting one. On the nights where I knew I was way too tired to drive myself home, I always called or texted someone to pick me up from the NICU and drive me instead. This way, I could get a few hours of sleep and return in the morning.

7. Embrace Single Motherhood Sooner than Later

Coming to terms with the fact that you are, in fact, a single mom is the best, healthiest choice to make. Now is not the time to fight with your ex, and try to make it work – you have a preemie in the NICU who needs your undivided attention now, and if they’re not going to help you with that, you need to let it go and focus on what’s important.

8. Join a Support Group

Even though you’re surrounded by other moms who are going through the same exact thing as you in the NICU, it can be really difficult to not feel completely alone. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t heartbroken over the fact that other babies were there with their mother and fathers, while I was the only parent who was there for Grace. While we are completely entitled to our own feelings (especially in those early post-partum days filled with hormonal ups and downs), we should never lose sight of the fact that other single moms are dealing with the same exact thing. Look for an in-person single mom support group, seek out online chat rooms or follow other NICU moms’ stories on social media – they’re all amazing ways to vent, and receive great advice.

9. Keep Your Job in the Loop

As a single mother to a preemie, you have to worry about being there for your baby in the NICU – but you also have to worry about all of the finances, too. Update your employer on the status of your baby in the NICU, and provide them with information they might need about when you will be returning back to work. Since some preemies need to stay in the NICU for weeks, and even months, at a time, it is important for your boss or manager to know that you can’t predict when they will be coming home. Keep a line of communication open with your employer, and they will most likely be more generous and lenient about the time off you need to spend with your preemie.

10. Understand that You Can’t Do it All – and That’s Okay

t’s impossible to play the role of two parents all the time, and you should never make yourself feel like you need to carry all the weight on your shoulders, alone. Because the truth is, we’re never really alone. As single moms, we might not have the support of our partner, but we still have our loved ones, our families and our friends to help us remain strong for our amazing miracle babies. I wouldn’t have been able to get through the NICU without the help of my mother and everyone else who was there for me – and I feel like a stronger woman today because of it.



Please note that most of these images are not my own so please click on the image to view the source.