Each year as Christmas gets closer and closer I start to worry. I worry about the many families in hospitals across the country and the world that are going to celebrate the holidays in the hospital instead of at home. As a person who loves family time and family traditions at the holidays I am burdened by the thought of anyone facing the holidays in the hospital – suddenly a time of year that is suppose to be cheerful and celebratory is disappointing and bleak.
For the wonderful families that NICU Helping Hands serves every day in the NICU and on antepartum units in our hospitals, this time of year is an even bigger reminder of what they are missing…family celebrations, s’mores by the fire pit, Christmas carolers at the front door, a bedtime story with older children at home, driving through neighborhoods to see light displays…the list of traditions that families celebrate during the holiday season goes on and on. Yet, in an instant all of these beloved traditions are a painful reminder that their family is not complete and together because a mother is on hospital bed rest or a fragile infant is struggling to survive in the NICU. This journey is already difficult on families, but add the holidays to the mix and you have the perfect recipe for disappointment, sadness, anger, frustration and a whole host of other negative emotions during the “happiest time of the year”. Anticipation is replaced by dread, joy with sadness, and hope with depression. Choosing the perfect tree, wrapping the gifts, and planning a wonderful meal no longer seems to matter because the family isn’t complete and at home together as planned.
Whether faced in December with the early days of an antepartum stay, the first days of a NICU experience or the long final days in the NICU trying to get “Ho Ho Home for the Holidays” nothing is the way it is suppose to be. Parents find themselves disappointed more so than normal, and sad and depressed because they cannot participate in the festivities of the season in the way they have done in the past. Dreams of a child’s first Christmas at home go from “visions of sugar plums” to days spent listening to ventilators in the NICU and the less than festive feeling they have each time the doctor says “Can we talk?”
Already concerned about the month of December for our families, I was asked this past week by our Program Facilitator what to tell a family when they say they are feeling “angry, frustrated or disappointed because of the holiday season”. Her job is to support the families and encourage them during this difficult time. Natalie is mom to three beautiful young children, two who were micro-preemie twins. She spent the holidays in the NICU herself and remembers vividly the disappointment of being in the hospital instead of at home with her precious family. As we talked about how to comfort a family during this time I was reminded that we cannot fix this problem…there is no magic wand to wave and change the course, speed up the process and get the family home for the holidays. Wish as we might that isn’t always possible. But what we can do is this….we can and should encourage everyone to make a memory that will be precious in the coming days and weeks. Instead of longing for what “should have been” we are called to help families create and enjoy what is possible in antepartum or the NICU during the holidays. Being in the hospital does not mean you cannot celebrate the moments or make them special…and doing so will result in feeling better, feeling more in control of your situation and in the long run being able to look back and see glimmers of happiness, laughter and joy in spite of the circumstances.
So if you are a NICU family or mom on hospital bed rest don’t let being in the hospital keep you from making that yearly family Christmas card photo. Find a wonderful photographer (many will donate their services to help with this) and ask them to take your family photo gathered around mom or baby. Your first Christmas can still be captured as a family and you will remember it for years to come. This is your family right now…capture the moment and find joy in being a family right now, today.
Can’t make the Christmas sing along at church or in your community this year? Load your iPOD with holiday music and go to the hospital and have your own holiday sing along bedside…a little soft music played for your baby with you singing to them is not only good for them but it is excellent medicine for your soul. Better yet find out if your NICU will allow carolers to come to your unit and ask those singers from church or the community chorus to serenade families and babies at the hospital. Research has shown that music is therapeutic in the hospital and this is a perfect season to make this happen. We are doing this at our local hospitals again this year – it is a favorite moment for families and hospital staff alike. Music lifts the spirits and makes even the most difficult of days seem a little brighter.
These are just two examples of making lemonade out of lemons during the holidays. Nothing is normal about being in the hospital or having a baby in the hospital during the holidays, but we can make it a little easier if we find ways to embrace the difficult and turn it around to be what we want it to be….a beautiful, holiday memory with those we love no matter where we may be or what circumstance we might find ourselves in. Every moment we have together regardless of location can be special we just have to look for ways to make it that way.
If you work with families in the antepartum or NICU at your hospital make the commitment today to do something to help them capture the holiday spirit in spite of their surroundings and circumstances – this is hard, but family-centered care calls us to do just that. If you are a family facing the days of December in the hospital, try some of the ideas we have offered and if you are still struggling we want to be here to offer help and encouragement. You are not alone and you do not have to navigate the holidays on your own. Pick up the phone and call us and we will help figure out a way for you to make some beautiful memories in spite of the circumstances so that you can find a little joy and peace this holiday season.
We wish each of you the blessings of this special season….love, joy and most importantly hope. More than anything Christmas is the season of hope eternal.
Happy Holidays to each of you.