Decorating the Christmas tree as a family….
Lighting the Menorah…..
Baking holiday cookies…..
These are all activities that families enjoy during one of the most joyous times of the year during the month of December. But what happens when a baby is in the NICU and there are siblings at home during the holiday season?
Lola and Landry Gordon began their NICU journey during a swine flu epidemic, resulting in the unit being closed to visitors. Throughout the duration of their stay, only parents were allowed in the NICU. Our daughter, Alexis, was only able to see her brother and sister through the pictures that we took and showed her… until December 24, 2009.
Alexis Gordon is big sister to premature twins, Lola and Landry.
It has been seven years since Lola and Landry’s first Christmas was spent in the NICU, but Alexis remembers the time she spent at the hospital during their NICU stay. We are honored to share her perspective on being a NICU sibling and her advice for parents trying to balance siblings and the NICU.
It was Christmas Eve. Lola had just completed her 118th day in the NICU and my husband and I had “passed” the rooming in test. I remember adjusting Lola’s nasal cannula and snuggling in with her on a couch in the room. Outside snow had fallen overnight leaving a soft blanket of white on everything it touched. It was truly magical but my heart was aching because I knew that in just a few hours, Lola would finally be discharged, but our son would have to stay behind. He would be alone on Christmas Eve day. I could feel my heart breaking the same way it did when I realized I was going into preterm labor.
A knock on the door brought me back to the present moment and I quickly wiped the steady stream of tears. Alexis came in, smiling from ear to ear, asking if she could finally hold Lola for the first time. She had brought up books to read and presents to give. It was truly the most perfect way to be spending Christmas Eve.
Moments later one of our nurses that had spent long, countless hours fighting on the front lines during Lola and Landry’s NICU stay popped her head in the door and said she had a surprise for us. As my husband opened the door, we saw our son was in his crib! Our sweet nurse, knowing how important it was to us that our family be together for Christmas went above and beyond that morning. She worked with the NICU manager, neonatologist and respiratory therapist and was given permission to bring our son out of the unit into our room. For the next four hours we were finally together as a family of five. Alexis held her brother and sister, she read to them, we sang Christmas songs and watched the snow fall outside. It is a memory that seven years later, I truly cherish.
What do you remember about the time period when your Lola and Landry were born?
“I remember missing my parents a lot because they needed to be at the hospital all the time and always sitting in the waiting room on the weekends with my grandparents. I was also confused why I couldn’t go into the NICU to see my baby brother and sister.I would go to the hospital with my family but I was not allowed to see them or even go into the NICU.”
How old were you when they were born? “I was 7 years old.”
How did it make you feel when you were able to hold Lola and Landry for the first time?
“I was so excited and I finally felt like a big sister!”
What was the hardest thing for you during their NICU stay?
“The hardest thing for me I think was that I didn’t really get to see my parents that often because my mom was recovering from her emergency c-section and they both had to spend so much time with Lola and Landry. Also not getting to see my siblings during their NICU stay. My mom and dad would just show me pictures of their visit that day.”
Do you remember what your days were like when they were in the NICU?
“I remember on the weekends, we would go up to the hospital and sit in the waiting room all day with my grandparents because I wasn’t allowed to go in. I remember during the week staying at my best friends house a lot and her family would care for me and take me to school. I remember my mom being very sad most of the time.”
What was the hardest thing for you after they came home from the NICU?
“When they came home, they had a lot of doctors appointments and my sister was on oxygen. I went from being an only child for 7 years to barely spending time with my mom and dad. It was very difficult for me.”
Based on your experience as a NICU sibling, what advice would you give to other siblings who have babies in the NICU? What advice would you give their parents?
“I would say to other NICU siblings to try and be patient during this time. Your parents are extra stressed and doing the best they can. It will not be like this forever. To NICU parents I would say to make sure you are including the older siblings as much as possible. If siblings can’t visit, show them pictures and videos, have them write a note or color their sibling a picture to hang by their bed and let them pick out books for you to read to their baby brother/sister so they feel like they are a part of this.”
How do you think the NICU impacted you the most? What about how it impacted your parents?
“I think the NICU journey impacted me the most by making me realize that life can be really hard but with lots of family, friends and faith, you can make it through anything. The NICU impacted everything about my parents. They seemed to always be worried and scared which was not how they used to be. Over time though, they would smile more and do more. Now my mom works at two different hospitals supporting families going through their own NICU journey and I think that is AMAZING.”
The Christmas season is probably one of the most difficult times to be in the NICU. If you are in the NICU during the holidays, talk to the medical team about what your family needs. Think about special family traditions and how they can be incorporated at the bedside. Perhaps it is singing carols or reading a favorite Christmas book to your baby. Be sure to capture these moments with video or photos.
Whatever you do, celebrate the moments of being with your baby and family.