The NICU is a scary place. A scary place I never imagined I would step foot in when I was younger. When I found out I was having twins, I didn’t think the NICU would be part of my journey. Likewise, the NICU was an afterthought when I was admitted to the hospital for strict bed rest at 30 weeks. It wasn’t until my twin daughters were born nine weeks early that I stepped over the threshold and into the NICU. It was at this time, that I heard the incessant beeping, saw the constant hustle of nurses and began my NICU experience.
My daughters, born 3 ½ pounds each, spent six weeks in the NICU. During this time, my girls worked on breathing on their own, maintaining their body temperatures, and gaining weight – all concepts I thought babies were born knowing how to do. The most frustrating part of our time was the uphill battle of learning how to eat – better known as suck, swallow, and breathe. My little babies would often forget the breathing component and would turn blue, which is scary for any parent to witness. I couldn’t wait until the dreaded feeding tubes could permanently be removed from where they hung out of my babies’ nostrils.
Nobody prepares you for the NICU, and many woman (like me) don’t plan on this being part of their birthing experience. A time that was supposed to be so joyous, the birth of my first borns, was met with many tears and an overwhelming mix of emotions. I credit my NICU staff for keeping my babies alive while also helping my husband and I learn how to take care of not one, but two, infants.
While going through the NICU journey, I couldn’t wait to leave. But afterwards, I couldn’t wait to get back and give back to the NICU. To help parents that were currently going through the NICU experience. To help change the aspects of the NICU that were unfavorable. To help our nurses feel recognized for all the amazing work they do on a daily basis. That is why, once I felt like I was back on my feet again, I became a volunteer in the NICU.
Are you looking for ways to help your NICU? Listed below are a range of ideas to give back to your hospital’s NICU. These ideas range from inexpensive to costly and from quick, easy tasks to time consuming projects.
Ways to Support NICU Doctors and Nurses
▸ Send Updates on Your Multiples – Send your NICU family an update on your children and don’t forget to include pictures. Annually, I send an email letting the nurses and neonatologists know all the accomplishments my twins have achieved in the past year. I include a note saying that my twins couldn’t have had the success without the nurses’ help!
▸ Visit – Are you passing by the hospital? Have a few free minutes? Swing by the NICU for a brief visit, if allowed. For me, it is always nice to get a big hug from my favorite nurses and to look back on our time. I always remind my twins that this is where they got their start in life. Keep in mind that you should only visit if everyone is healthy.
▸ Holiday Gifts – A nice way to show your appreciation to your NICU staff is to bring a small holiday gift. As a tradition, every Christmas Eve, we bring the nursing staff a small token of our appreciation. I have given everything from NICU Nurse magnets, to M&Ms, and chocolate bars. Another idea to recognize the NICU staff above and beyond, is to have your favorite restaurant cater a meal for the NICU for a special event (e.g. NYE). An ideal time, would be during shift changes so most of the staff can enjoy.
▸ Volunteer – Many hospitals have volunteer programs where they are looking for an extra set of hands to fold towels, answer phones, or stock diapers and wipes.
▸ Birthday Celebrations – Every year my twin’s birthday celebration is a big deal that commemorates how far my babies have come since their early arrival. Let your NICU medical staff join in on the celebration by bringing them a treat (e.g. cupcakes, cookies, cake pops) to mark the milestone.
▸ NICU Nurse Appreciation Day – September 15 is NICU Nurse Appreciation Day. Show your nurses how much you love them! One year, I bought a large jar and wrote “NICU Nurse’s Giving Jar” on the front. I included a note which mentioned that every time the nurses helped a baby, to put a coin in the jar. (I also put in coins for everyday my daughters were in the NICU). Once the jar was full, I instructed the nurses to have a party, using the money that was inside.
Ways to Help Parents Currently in the NICU
▸ Make Holiday Signs for Isolettes – Help brighten a NICU parent’s holiday (e.g. Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, etc.) with a simple sign that can be hung on the isolette. You may want to share your NICU story to let parents know that there is a positive outcome to their journey.
▸ Donate Unused Books – Provide parents an opportunity to read to their NICU babies with a few unused board books. It is never too early to begin reading to your child and what better way to help a parent bond with their NICU baby.
▸ Become a Parent Buddy – As any NICU parent knows, you never feel more alone, helpless and scared while going through the NICU. As a parent buddy, you can share your NICU story, offer advice, and become a friend to a parent that needs a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold.
▸ Host Classes – Are you creative? Good at a task? Outgoing? Speak with your hospital or NICU about having a class for current NICU parents. This could be as simple as an adult coloring class to relax or teaching a “how to take pictures of your NICU baby”, if photography is your trade.
Ideas for NICU Fundraisers
NICUs can always use extra funds to buy new equipment, implement programs, or provide further training for their staff. Below are a handful of ways to raise funds for your NICU.
▸ Shop for a Cause – Check your local department stores to see if they offer a “shopping for a cause” event where a portion of money made on a specific day goes towards a charity. For example, the NYC department store, Lord & Taylor, sells $5 coupons in which the proceeds are put towards a charity of your choice. Another Shop for a Cause outlet is Shop with Scrip where you sell gift cards and raise money for your nonprofit organization.
▸ NICU Graduate Playdates – Find play places in your area that donate a percent of the proceeds to charity for hosting a mini event. One year, I organized a play date for NICU graduate toddlers at a local playhouse. Our children spent an hour playing with dolls, cars, and play food while the moms bonded over our shared NICU experience, all while making money for our NICU. Another idea is to schedule a get together at your local Panera Bread and they’ll donate a portion of the sales to your nonprofit.
▸ Throw a Party – Charge guests a specific amount to attend and then donate the proceeds to your NICU. Alternatively, think of parties you have during the year, such as your multiples’ birthday parties. Ask guests in lieu of gifts, to donate what they would have spent on a gift to your NICU.
Please note that your NICU may have limits on what is allowed in their unit. To volunteer, you may need medical clearance, such as proof of vaccinations. Furthermore, the NICU may also have regulations on bringing food or objects into the NICU. It is always a good idea to contact your NICU with your ideas prior to executing.
Lori Cavallario and her husband live in northern NJ with their three daughters, 4-year-old identical twins and a 11-month-old singleton. After her twins were born at 31 weeks, she became a parent/family advisor in the NICU where her daughters spent 6 weeks. Her role includes supporting and comforting families while in the NICU, becoming a parent buddy, and designing programs for NICU families. She has a background in public relations, event planning, and a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education. Now, as a stay-at-home mom, she can be found planning extravagant themed birthday parties – (check out Twinvite Designs), making Pinterest recipes, and teaching her twincesses how to do crafts.