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The Power Journaling in the NICU Can Give You

A Leather-Bound Journal

© BrandonSigma/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The first baby gift I ever received was a brown leather journal. A friend’s mother gave it to me so that I could document all the precious moments of my first pregnancy. I couldn’t seem to find time to write in it. We were in the process of buying our first house and moving from one state to another, and then six weeks later, I had J at 26 weeks.

What was to be a pregnancy journal became a NICU journal.

The opening pages describe J’s birth. His delivery was so unexpected that I needed a way to make my mind believe all that had happened. I had to write it down and then read it over and over again to make it even seem real.

During J’s first two days in this world, when we were at two different hospitals 30 minutes apart, I wasn’t sure I would see him again alive. Journaling was a chance to center all the swirling emotions, a place to gather my thoughts. And it was a safe space, where I could voice my darkest fears, the ones that caught in my throat before I could share them with anyone.

Once I was reunited with J, that leather-bound journal was always in my NICU bag, along with my cell phone, my camera, and my pumping equipment. Each day, I listed his weight and length in the journal, and it became evidence of his progress. Often caught in the tides of the NICU, the ups and downs of good days and bad days, I could look at the black and white numbers on the page and see his slow but steady growth.

Early in our 91-day NICU stay, I had no idea how it would all blend together, but after weeks and weeks passed, I realized that the only way I could ever keep it all straight was to write it down. It was a constant rotation of nurses, nurse practitioners, neonatologists, pediatricians, respiratory therapists, speech therapists, lactations consultants, and specialists. I was often lost in a fog of sleep-deprivation, hormones, and stress, so what began as a way to document the journey for my son transitioned into a master list of who did what with him. My husband and I also had a difficult time accessing my son’s medical records, so my journal became an alternative set of records for us. I didn’t have to ask a nurse the last time the cardiologist visited or the date of J’s upcoming eye exam, because I had those notes in my journal. It gave me a sense of autonomy in a situation where I felt so dependent.

During those months, I struggled with an inferiority complex. How could I be a good mother when I wasn’t really mothering my son? He didn’t seem to need me any more than he needed anyone else. Actually, the nurses were much better suited to caring for him than I was. I was Mrs. Butterfingers every time I tried to change a too-tiny diaper. But, journaling was like pumping breastmilk: no one else in the world could do it like I could. I was the only person who could write messages to that baby and sign them “Love, Mama.” It was a visible reminder of my importance.

After J left the NICU, I stored the journal on the top shelf of his closet. I thought about it from time to time, but for two and a half years, I couldn’t bring myself to open it. I was terrified of the emotions it would dredge up.

Then, M was born at 29 weeks in an even more dramatic fashion than I had J, and my first errand after being released from the hospital was to choose a journal for M. Her birth challenged me to conquer my fear. I wanted to ensure that I didn’t shirk her just because she was my second preemie, so I decided I had to open J’s journal to remind myself what was in it. I cried reading the words of that terrified new mother, but I was surprised to find that it wasn’t as bad as I had feared.

Reading about J’s NICU journey with more perspective, I discovered that his journal was a testament to his steady resolve, something I adore about him. He didn’t get out of the NICU as fast as other babies. He wasn’t the happiest baby or the easiest. But, he overcame each obstacle and challenge with a quiet ferocity. If he ever wonders at his own strength, I will show him his journal. In fact, it’s the parenting ace in my back pocket. One day he will say he can’t do something, and I can show him the evidence that he is capable of anything.

A journal doesn’t have to be a place to dump your emotions. It doesn’t have to be a keepsake or a record-keeper. It can be all those things or none of them. It can be whatever you want it to be, which is such a powerful tool during a time in life when you often feel stripped of power.

Summer Hill-Vinson About Summer Hill-Vinson

Summer (MS) delivered her son 14 weeks early in July 2010 as a result of preterm labor, and he was in the NICU for 3 months. She unexpectedly developed severe preeclampsia with her daughter, almost had her in another state while on vacation, and delivered her 11 weeks premature in January 2013. Both babies weighed 2.5 pounds, and they were in the same NICU for a combined 150 days. Summer, a journalism instructor, is writing a book about her family's NICU years.

Comments

  1. Hi Summer, I sure wish I had read something like this back when my baby was in the NICU. Someone had given me a journal early on and I just never bothered to use it. But I was only seeing it as something that would force me to stop and process all that had happened and I wasn’t ready for that yet. Had I thought to use the journal for something less emotional, like a record keeper, as you point out, I too would have a very important keepsake of my son’s NICU days. Hopefully, current NICU moms will read this and start their own journal a.s.a.p! Thanks for another great post 🙂

  2. Summer Hill-VinsonSummer Vinson says:

    Thanks so much, Beth!

  3. I’ve never read those journals but certainly hope a book is someday written telling your journey of those 2 precious babies!!

  4. Beautiful!
    I try to encourage new NICU families – moms AND dads – to use a journal. I think it’s great to use it in any number of ways – for tracking names and dates and procedures and diagnoses and questions, or for getting those powerful emotions out of your head and onto paper. It sounds as if you used yours for both, which is awesome. When each parent decides for themselves just how they want to use a journal, they gain some control and involvement. I love how you describe the sense of knowledge and power you gained by having your own source of records and information. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing, I will certainly point new parents here to read.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Trish. I think all of us blog on Preemie Babies 101 because we want to help those coming behind us, so I definitely hope the post helps other parents.

Trackbacks

  1. […] with two little kids can provide, so I haven’t been writing. But, my most recent piece “The Power Journaling in the NICU Can Give You” appeared today on Preemie Babies 101. It’s about my experiences journaling in the […]

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