Oh, mama! I know your life is not what you thought it would be. I know this is not how you saw yourself as a mother — running to medical appointments instead of soccer practices. But your unimaginable life has made you a mother beyond compare. No one advocates for their child the way you do. You took on the world without time to think or prepare. You stepped in. You rose up. You madam, are amazing. Even if you don’t feel amazing.
Happy Mothers Day!
Happy Mothers Day to the mother who has seen her baby in a plastic box. The mother who had to ask a nurse when she could hold or touch her baby for the first time. The mother who knows what a baby needs to do to move out of an incubator and into an open crib.
Happy Mothers Day to the mother who has seen her child intubated and knows the sounds a ventilator makes. Do-do-do-doo-doot. The mother who knows the difference between a ventilator, CPAP, high flow, nasal cannulas, and room air.
Happy Mothers Day to the mother who has spent countless nights (and maybe a few holidays) in her child’s hospital room. The mother whose child has been in an ICU (NICU or PICU). The mother who has spent so many nights in a hospital room with her child that she has a preferred style of parent sleep couch.
Happy Mothers Day to the mother who has spent hours in an emergency department with her child. Injuries. Seizures. Illnesses. Episodes of respiratory distress. Gateways to admission. Really too many reasons to list.
Happy Mothers Day to the mother whose child has a lifelong chronic condition. The mother who knows another admission may just be a matter of time. The mother who always waits for the other shoe to drop.
Happy Mothers Day to the mother who has sent her child into surgery. The mother whose been in a surgery waiting room more times than she cares to count.
Happy Mothers Day to the mother who takes her child to countless therapy appointments. The mother who has been told what her child will never do. The mother who hopes her child will defy the odds. The mother who helps her child find as much independence as possible.
Happy Mothers Day to the mother who prepares for IEP meetings like she is going into battle. The mother who fights to give her child every chance.
Happy Mothers Day to the mother who knows more about her child than she ever thought she would need to know. The mother who knows how her child reacts to medications. The mother who knows her child’s recovery patterns. The mother who knows what type of cough precedes vomiting.
Happy Mothers Day to the mother who has ever felt like a home care nurse. The mother who gives multiple daily medicines. The mother who feeds her child through a tube. The mother who has oxygen tanks and/or oxygen concentrator in her home. The mother who watches her child’s monitor for apneas and bradys. The mother who can hook up IV fluids, IV antibiotics, and/or IV nutrition in her home.
Happy Mothers Day to the mother who didn’t think she could all do this. To the mother who thought she wasn’t capable of managing her child’s health. To the mother who was and is scared. To the mother who feels overwhelmed, but continues to push forward. To the mother who gives everything she has to her child(ren) so they can have a more typical childhood. To the mother who still blames herself. To the mother who wonders why. To the mother who feels like she isn’t doing enough. To the mother who feels lost to her child’s medical diagnoses.
Happy Mothers Day, warriors! I hope you feel seen, appreciated, and loved. I hope you are celebrated. I hope you take a moment to realize how amazing you are.
This topic has been in my mind for weeks. I couldn’t quite figure out how to post it without being a bitch and to be honest, I’m not actually sure I achieved that. For a while, I tried to calm down. But the rage kept building. I considered just turning this into a rant, but I never did. Maybe angry internet isn’t my thing? I also considered letting it all go and working through this as my own issue. However, I couldn’t ignore it. Not only did my mind continue to wander back here, but feeling was being expressed around me in groups from other moms like me. If nothing else, I created this blog to help me, and others like me, to feel normal about our situations. So you see, I couldn’t ignore this one.
For everyone going stir crazy and grieving the loss of normal life, this is what I want you to know.
It’s OK to be Upset
It is perfectly reasonable to not only miss your normal life, but to actually mourn it. It’s a loss to your sense of self and your sense of your place in the world. It may seem overwhelming. You likely will have more anxiety than you have before. You may start to be irritable because you have lost all control of your life. For me this manifests as becoming irrationally mad at little things I should be able to control – like whether my tablespoons and teaspoons are in separate slots in the silverware drawer.
This is normal. I know because it’s what happened when my twins were born far too early. It’s what happened when I was told my youngest son might never walk, talk, or do anything independently. It’s what happened both times I was told one of my daughters had cancer.
Everything I knew about my life and my family had been ripped out from under me. My world was rocked and I was vulnerable in a way I had never felt before. Basically a part of my reality had died suddenly, without warning. And when something ends, you grieve.
It’s All Relative
This is the point where I struggle the most. I have a hard time putting myself in other people’s shoes. I can do it, but it usually is after my knee-jerk reaction to roll my eyes. Sorry.
I keep reminding myself that worst is relative. Most people have not had their lives upended and to them, social distancing might be the worst thing in the world. I’m pretty low maintenance (bordering on hot mess express) so even in the best of times, I can’t imagine being upset about forgoing manicures, pedicures and hair salons. Seriously my roots are now chin length because that is how long it’s been since I’ve visited a hair care professional. Thankfully when I do go, my stylist knows it will be six months to two years before she sees me again, so she sticks pretty close to my natural color and a shape that doesn’t require daily styling because we both know that’s not going to happen. #topknotforlife
I do miss Target and friends. I miss seeing people in the flesh. I miss hugs.
I’m trying to remember that your life and my life are not the same and this is hard for you. I’m sorry I’m not more supportive and understanding. I’m sorry I keep saying “suck it up buttercup” when you are telling me you are having a hard time. I know this makes me a bad friend, daughter, niece, etc.
There Is A Benefit to All This
This last point is the biggest because to me, this is the thing I want to stress the most.
Yes, of course there is the benefit of safeguarding your health and the health of your family. And there is the benefit of flattening the curve so our health system can actually meet the need of the infected. But there is another benefit that you didn’t even know about. Ready?
EVERYONE IS IN THE SAME BOAT
Might not seem like much, but those things you are missing are the things everyone is missing. That concert you bought tickets for months ago. That has been rescheduled. Everyone who has tickets is missing it. The performer is missing it. So you won’t actually miss out on it. It’s not like you missed a big event that still happened and you only were able to see it from other people’s social media posts.
That trip you couldn’t take. No one else is taking that trip. Your cruise won’t sail on without you. Mickey and Minnie won’t be hugging other people’s children instead of your’s. Everything everywhere is shut down.
Birthdays and holidays, this is the year no one can celebrate together. It’s not like you will have to video call you into your daughter’s birthday so you can see her open gifts surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Those parties aren’t even an option. So you see, you aren’t really missing out.
This year will just go down as the year no one could do anything. Everyone will have these memories, just like my great-grandparents had the Great Depression, my grandparents had war rations, and my parents had gas rations (although this may have just been a thing where they lived).
It might not seem like a benefit, but from where I sit, it’s a huge benefit.
When your child lands in the hospital for a long time, you also will miss things previously planned. You’ll miss birthdays and holidays. You’ll have to cancel trips. Except the world continues to function without you.
Living in quarantine you don’t have explain to your children why they can’t play sports this year while all their friends can because you don’t have the energy to figure out how to get them to practices and games while you stay with a hospitalized child and your spouse continues to work because you don’t want to do anything that jeopardizes you family’s health insurance. You have the added advantage of no one playing anything this season.
You only have to deal with the stress of quarantining in your home. While all the streaming services drop new programming as quickly as they can to help keep you entertained. You don’t have to deal with the stress of being removed from the world, while also dealing with the stress that goes along with confronting your own child’s mortality. You aren’t spending your isolation next to a child you were told might not survive the night.
Basically, quarantine didn’t remove you from the world. You still can identify with what others are experiencing. The challenges of distance learning. The challenges of finding toilet paper and disinfectant at the store. Quarantine changed the world, not you.
Be Extra Considerate When Interacting with a Medical Mom
I know quarantine is hard, even if I am having a hard time understanding why. I’m trying to understand your plight with more compassion. However, before you tell me how hard it is to stay in your home and watch Netflix; remember this:
I have missed entire chunks of my life because of my children’s ailments.
I missed my sprinkle for my twins because they were born a few days prior and then the day before the scheduled event I was told one may not make it through the night, and if he started to decline did we just want to keep him comfortable, or did we want heroic measures.
I have lived in a hospital room for months at a time with a preschooler who wants me attached to her hip while she watches cartoons 24 hours a day because chemotherapy makes her feel like crap.
I had to video call my family to watch my 10-year-old blow out her candles and open gifts. In fact, in our family of six, the last four birthdays have been celebrated while in the hospital.
I missed school concerts because I was in the hospital with one child, while someone else was performing on stage.
Remember that I have missed a lot while the world continued to function. I’ve felt like an outsider looking in for a long time. I can’t even fully appreciate all the quarantine experiences because I have been in a hospital room for the entire quarantine period. And I just can’t understand why you think staying in your home is so hard.
I’m not alone with these thoughts. I’ve heard them echoed in closed groups from moms, who like me, have spent a lot of time in hospitals with their children and no longer feel like they are apart of the world. Try to recognize it could be worse.
Healthcare and grocery workers, I can’t begin to imagine the stress you are underbalancing duty, your ability to provide for your families, and the risk you assume every shift you work. I’m totally OK if you want me to quit my whining. I know my plight isn’t confronting this thing head on, all day every day, and watching people die. Thank you for all you do.
It’s hard to talk to someone when you don’t have a common experience. In these moments when you are trying to connect and say something comforting, people say things that are unintentionally hurtful. To help you avoid looking like a jack ass, I present to you a list of things notto say to a mother when her child is in the hospital.
Do not tell her about someone who made sure her child had a family member bedside the entire stay. Every hospital stay is different. Different families have different resources and different needs. What works for one family is not necessarily going to work for another family. And God help you if you have said this to someone who is not able to be bedside at all times. It feels like an attack on her parenting.Instead, tell her you would be happy to come to the hospital if she ever needs a break, or that you would be happy to watch her other children so she can spend time at the hospital with her child.
I have been both the mother who was there all the time, and I’ve been the mother who was doing her best to be in all the places at once, knowing she was disappointing all of her children.
Do not tell her she will sleep better if she goes home and sleeps in her own bed. Will her own bed be more comfortable that whatever she is sleeping on in the hospital? Yes! Sleep couches and sleep chairs are not ideal. Hospital furniture is made for function, not comfort. Will this mother sleep more than a few hours at home if she has left her child at the hospital? Probably not. If she goes home, her mind will still be at the hospital. She will wonder what is happening. She will wonder if her child is feeling alone and scared. She will wonder how soon her child will get help if something happens while she isn’t there.Bottom line, while her child is hospitalized, she will not sleep well regardless of where this sleep takes place. Please don’t presume to know what is best for her.
If you really want to help her sleep better, bring her an air mattress or a foam roll. You can always offer to cover an evening shift at the hospital so she can go home. But leave it entirely up to her whether she takes you up on that offer. Likely her decision to stay or go will be based on her child’s current health and her child’s age.
I would likely take you up on this offer if my 10-year-old were in the hospital. But if it’s my 3-year-old, it’s pretty safe to assume I’m not leaving. If my child is in critical condition, regardless of age, I also will not leave.
Do not tell her she needs to take care of her self. She doesn’t want to hear that she can’t fill others’ cups unless she fills her own. She doesn’t want to hear that self care is important. She knows this is important in the grand scheme of things, but leaving the hospital isn’t like skipping a PTA meeting for a bubble bath and a glass of wine. She is running on fumes, and lets face facts, she isn’t going to take a time out unless she absolutely needs it.You can offer to be there for her. You can offer to bring her some self care (nail polish, a good book, real coffee, etc). And you can always offer to be there if she wants to leave for some self care. Just let it be her decision.
For me, hospital self care has been a bottle of nail polish for a post bedtime mani-pedi. It has been walking a few blocks for real coffee while my child naps and doesn’t know I’ve been gone.
Do not give her any advice about her situation unless she asked for it. Advice from people, especially those who haven’t walked in your shoes will always come off wrong. Advice from people who have been in your shoes may or may not be helpful, but in the very least it doesn’t feel dismissive of your experience.Basically, it’s OK not to have anything to contribute to a conversation. It’s OK to admit that you don’t know what to say or how to react, and that you have no idea what you’d do in her situation.If you have gone through a similar experience with one of your children, you may offer up some insight, but you really are going to need to exercise your best judgement on whether what you are about to offer will actually help her. Probably the best approach is to offer a nugget of information to let her know you had a similar experience, but then let her come to you.
The very best thing you can do for a mother whose child has been hospitalized is to just be there, with no agenda, no expectations, and let her feel what she is feeling in the moment.
Every year, Nov. 17, is World Prematurity Day. The goal of this day is to bring awareness to preterm birth and the affects on families. So let’s talk about what it is like to deliver too soon. I won’t begin to speak for all parents of infants born too early. There are too many variables. I am just one mother. This is just my perspective.
When I gave birth to my twins at 24 weeks and 6 days, I was not prepared for the life I was about to live. Before my twins, I had given birth twice to beautiful full-term infants who tipped the scales at just under 9 pounds each—a daughter in 2009 who weighed 8 pounds, 14 ounces, and a son in 2013 who weighed 8 pounds, 15 ounces. It had never occurred to me that my third and fourth babies would be born too soon. I was cocky even when I was in preterm labor, because my previous pregnancies had gone so smoothly. Clearly, I WAS WRONG!
One of the first things I learned after my twins were born is how much everything hurts when your babies are born traumatically and whisked off to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). I’m not talking about physical pain that could accompany any delivery. I’m talking about the raw emotional pain I was in then, and continue to be in more than three years later. Labor and Delivery isn’t Set Up for Parents of Preemies
The staff working in labor and delivery aren’t prepared for micropreemie infants. That’s what my twins were. Born at 24+6 weeks, weighing 1 pound, 11 ounces and 1 pound, 15 ounces, they were emotionally hard on the staff who attended my delivery. The thing is, it was emotionally hard on me too. I’ll even go far enough to argue it was harder on me than it was on them.
There are two things I vividly remember immediately following my twins’ birth. The first was the way the labor and delivery nurses comforted the pregnant resident who delivered my twins. I had just delivered baby B. Not a sound from him could be heard. The NICU nurses who attended the delivery were focused on him and the labor and delivery nurses were focused on the resident who began crying. My babies were so small, so early, so fragile that the resident in charge of the delivery was crying. Since she was visibly pregnant, it was hard for her to witness. The nurses consoled her. They told her it would be OK. Her baby would be fine. She should take a few moments to react to the trauma she just witnessed and process the situation.
Do you want to know what didn’t happen? No one talked to me. I had just delivered not one, but two babies more than 15 weeks before my due date. I had spent the last 12 hours in labor trying to keep those babies inside my body a little longer. I had just reached the point where we thought my labor was successfully stalled when my water broke and I was rushed into a delivery suite without time for any medications. I had just been told not to deliver the placentas and had an OB-GYN elbow-deep in my uterus to retrieve said placentas so they could be sent to the lab for further examination. Did I mention there was no time for pain medication?
No one talked to me. Everyone comforted the pregnant resident who was upset by the ordeal I had just lived. But no one talked to me.
The second thing I remember so vividly is recovering from the delivery in unit’s post-anesthesia care unit. Still, no one talked to me. A nurse sat with her back to me charting. She would check my vitals, but she didn’t really talk to me.
The first 30 minutes of my recovery I was alone with a nurse in a cold, bright, white recovery room. I had no idea if the babies I had just delivered were alive, I only knew they had been taken to the NICU. After that first half hour another woman was wheeled into the recovery room. It was loud. She had just had a c-section. She sounded overwhelmed. The nurse with her reassured her that she had done great. Her husband walked into recovery just a few minutes later. You could feel their excitement about having just become parents. They talked loudly. There was laughter. A little while later, a nurse brought in a baby wrapped in a blanket. There were gasps and cheers for this perfect little being who had begun to cry. While a celebration of the start of a new life was taking place on the other side of a curtain, I remained alone. Still no one talked to me. I spent most of my time in recovery sure twin B had died, trying to convince myself his death was for the best because I wasn’t equipped to raise four children.
After I had stayed in the recovery room for the prescribed amount of time, I was taken to a postpartum room. I was alone. I don’t remember for how long. I do know I could hear the newborn babies in neighboring rooms crying. Eventually someone took me to the NICU so I could meet my twins. I’m almost positive it was my husband who took me to the NICU.
I don’t think labor and delivery nurses knew what to say to me. They didn’t know how to interact with someone in my shoes. Thankfully NICU nurses were well equipped to handle me. They explained the world of the NICU and everything that was happening. During the next six months, they talked to me and they comforted me. Everything Stings
Three years later, everything still hurts. Like grief, the pain is there, but it changes over time. The things that initially stung are now dull, but new things sting.
In the beginning it stung when people didn’t acknowledge I had just given birth. It stung when my boss had no expression of concern or wishes of congratulations. I’m sure people didn’t know what to say. It stung when I was discharged from the hospital and my babies remained, fighting for their next breath. It stung to see brand new babies and their parents being discharged home together with balloons, smiles, and well wishes from nurses. It stung when I went to my postpartum check up and my OB-GYN spent the visit trying to diagnose me with postpartum depression because I wasn’t my happy normal self, instead of hearing one of my twins had just been transferred to another hospital so he could have brain surgery. It wasn’t depression, it was worry and grief.
Today, the things that sting are the casual comments made by people who have no idea I have delivered early. It stings to hear (or read) about someone who hopes doctors take this baby early because pregnancy is “miserable.” I would prefer to vomit every day for 40 weeks and be kicked in the cervix by an elephant than to sit next to a plastic box every day for months while I have to ask to hold my baby, and some days be told no. It stings to read something that is supposed to reassure new parents but is wildly insensitive to those who have delivered early, or to those who delivered a very sick baby.
It seems, at least according to something like this, there is no greater sorrow than a deafening silence after your baby is born. That feeling of panic and desperation, not knowing if things will be OK, wondering if everything you just experienced was worth it. Bottom Line
I get that this is my issue. I don’t expect people who are uncomfortably pregnant to stop complaining. I don’t want people to stop trying to reassure others that their birthing experiences, regardless of whether it followed a desired birth plan was indeed worth it. Yes, some things still are raw for me. But I don’t think life needs to contain more trigger warnings than it already does.
Here’s what I do want. Take World Prematurity Day as an opportunity to learn something about babies who are born too soon. The March of Dimes is a great place to start. Spoiler alert: premature infants aren’t tiny versions of full term infants; they aren’t in the NICU just to get bigger. If someone you know delivers early, reach out. It’s OK to say:
I also want healthcare professionals working in labor and delivery to recognize the pain that can accompany preterm birth. Learn how to better support parents who have just delivered preterm infants. Develop a better tool to screen for postpartum depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. But most importantly, don’t ignore us just because our experiences make you uncomfortable.
When a friend calls Scratch that. I’m going to be real and honest. When your friend texts you her child is in the hospital, there will be several things running through your mind.
Oh shit! • Jesus, what happened?!? • What’s wrong? • Are you OK? • Is there anything I can do?
It’s that last question/gut response, “Is there anything I can do?” that is the hardest one for your friend to answer. Her world has most likely just been rocked. She can’t breathe. She is so focused on what is happening with her child, that she can’t think about much else. It’s completely understandable. Of course she isn’t thinking about non urgent needs when her child is having an emergency. But we all ask it.
For many, it’s a foreign concept to have a child in the hospital. For some, it’s an all too common occurrence. Lucky for you, I’m the latter, which is why this post is possible.
Before I get into the ways to help, you need to know one important thing. YOUR QUESTION WILL NEVER GET A REAL ANSWER FROM YOUR FRIEND. It’s not that your friend doesn’t need things. And it’s certainly not that your friend doesn’t think you would help. It’s going to go unanswered because she is busy processing the hospital life. Or it’s going to go unanswered because everything she can think of is too big to ask. Let’s face facts, as women we put ourselves and our needs dead last. All the time. It’s like we don’t think we are worthy of help, but that attitude is a completely different post. I’ll get back to the task at hand.
I’m going to break the best ways to help into two categories: things you can do for your friend, and things you can give your friend. Both categories are equally important. Services to Provide
Things you can do for your friend while she is in the hospital with her child. Many of these items only require your time.
First, don’t ask open ended questions about how can you help. She doesn’t want to make decisions. Coming up with ways for you to help, may only add to her stress. It’s best to offer a specific way you want to help.
Clean her house, or a portion of her house. Housework is the furthest thing from your friend’s mind right now. You can either offer to clean her whole house, a room or two, or just offer to vacuum. This is totally up to you, and this service at any level is greatly appreciated.Just be sure to assure her as much as possible that you will not judge the current state of her home. The goal of this one is to give her less stress. The last thing you want is for her to worry about cleaning before you come over to clean.
Cut her grass. Yard work, like house work, is not at the top of her priority list. This one might even go unnoticed for a little while, but it will be appreciated. Whether your friend is traveling from hospital to home and back again, or if she is staying with her child for days (or weeks) at a time, the last thing she wants is to notice her lawn resembles the Serengeti.
Feed and walk her pets. If your friend’s family includes animals, they are probably not getting the love an attention they normally receive. Tell your friend you would love to come over to feed her dog, walk him and play with him. Offer to feed her cat and clean the litter box. Stop by to sprinkle food in the fish tank. You get the idea.
Wash her laundry. This one is especially helpful if your friend is sleeping/showering at home. Or if your friend has other children at home. Daily needs don’t stop just because one child is in the hospital.
Pick up her other children. If your friend has other children at home, offer to take those kids to and from school. Offer to take the other children to a park or a movie. Arrange a play date for her kids and your kids.
Bring her a meal. This could be for the family members at home, or bring her something to eat at the hospital. Hospital food is expensive and has the habit of getting really old, really fast. Whatever you have made for dinner, save a serving in a container and drop it off to her.
Loan her the password to one of your streaming services. This is why these things come with different profiles, right?
Visit her. This one is tricky, because not everyone is up to having visitors, and your friend doesn’t want you to make a special trip to see her (you know, because she puts herself last). Hospitals can be very lonely, so visitors are a treat.
Gifts to Send/Give
Maybe you don’t live in the same city/state/region as your friend and you want to do something from afar. Maybe you and your friend only know each other through social media. Maybe you are busy with your own life. Whatever your reason, sometimes we prefer to throw money at things. So here are the things you can send to your friend whose child is in the hospital.
Gas. If your friend is doing a lot of driving back and forth to the hospital to spend time with her child, she will LOVE a gift card for gas. A gift card to a popular gas chain in her area will buy her gas of course. But it will provide her snacks, coffee, breakfast, bottles of water—whatever your friend uses to keep her going in high-stress times, they have it at the gas station.
Food. There is so much you can do with food. You can send a gift card for groceries, because if she has other children, they will need to eat too. You can send gift cards to an eatery near the hospital. Or find out what she likes and send a meal delivery service. Whatever you do in this category will not be wrong. She will need to eat.
Caffeine. Similar to No. 2, send your friend coffee, tea, soda, or whatever her caffeinated beverage of choice is. You can send gift cards to coffee shops. Or you can mail her coffee pods, boxes of tea bags, a case of soda, etc.
Money. This can be really awkward depending on your level of friendship. But you also could send gift cards to Amazon or Target. This makes the list because no matter how prepared she is for what is happening currently, there are bound to be items she forgot, or items she never knew existed that she suddenly needs. This could be money for a hands-free pump bra to make pumping breast milk for her infant easier. This could be for washable face masks to help protect her child fighting cancer from other people’s germs. This could be for a new pack of underwear because she simply did not bring extras with her and she’s afraid her significant other who is more than willing to bring her things from home will bring a pair she doesn’t want. Of if you are sending money, it could be what she uses to pay for parking at the hospital; what she pays tolls with when she drives to the hospital; or what she uses to buy breakfast, lunch, or dinner whiles she is at the hospital.
Contact the hospital where your friend’s child is staying and find out if you can purchase parking vouchers or gift cards to the hospital’s food court.
Activities. Send age appropriate activities to your friend and/or her child. This could be games to occupy their time. A gift card for Apple or Google Play so they can download new apps, or spend money on extra game lives to occupy their time. Send coloring books and crayons or colored pencils. Send crossword puzzles, word searches, jumbles, Sudoku. Anything that helps pass the time while sitting in a hospital room.
Care package. Send her some basic survival items. Lip balm, tissues, lotion, hair bands, fuzzy socks, a water bottle, a travel mug, and some snacks.
A cleaning service. The last thing in the world she has time to do is clean her house. However, when she is home, she will notice if the floors haven’t been mopped or the sinks haven’t been wiped since before her child was admitted. The last thing she wants to do is clean, and she probably doesn’t have the energy to do it anyway.
When you are expecting a child, you dream about the future and you worry about the what ifs. But the thing is, the what ifs we worry about are the common challenges kids face. What if my child isn’t walking by 1? What if my child is bullied? What if my child has an allergic reaction? We don’t tend to wonder about the less common scenarios.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. In the digital age, a BIG component of your “village” comes from online communities. Visiting parenting boards, you’ll find many (probably too many) posts asking about rashes, the normal color of poop, whether a fever is high enough to warrant a trip to the nearest hospital’s emergency department. And just like the questions, the advice will vary dramatically.
As great as parenting groups can be, and as helpful as parenting sites can be, there are some subjects that aren’t discussed often, and maybe not ever depending on the make up of your group. I for one have never seen anything ever asked or shared about what to pack if your child is going to the hospital. We talk all the time about what to pack when you deliver a child, but we don’t talk about what to bring to the hospital when your child is admitted. I would like to think this is because it’s not very common, but having stayed with my children multiple times in a dedicated children’s hospital that reports 9,000 visits a year, I can tell you children are staying in hospitals more often than we think. I want to help close the information gap. As Liam Neeson’s character in Taken said, “… I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career.”
I have logged a lot of days and nights in hospitals with my children. If you have a child who is facing a hospital admission, you have a lot on your mind and one of the things you might not be thinking about is packing for your child’s stay. So I present to you, a list I hope you find useful for your child’s hospital stay. For Your Child:
Pajamas. How much and how many will depend on your child’s age and the reason s/he is being admitted. Keep in mind, if your child is having surgery, the surgery site will be examined often by nurses, attending doctors, and surgeons. You want to keep this site easily accessible. A lot of the time, a hospital gown will be your best bet in those early days. But if your child is being admitted for a treatment, (e.g., chemotherapy) you will have more use for regular pajamas. Additionally, your child’s regular pajamas will provide a layer of comfort to the experience. I recommend pajamas with short sleeves to make it easier for nursing staff to access and assess IV sites. If your child is a tot, I also recommend bringing tops that are a size bigger than what your child normally wears. Hospital stays can mean monitoring wires. While the wires themselves aren’t terribly cumbersome, most pajamas for young children are tight fitting because it’s safer in the event of a fire. However in the hospital, a tight top + monitoring wires = toddler crop top.
Robe. Regardless of why your child is going to the hospital, a robe is always a good idea. Even if wearing pajamas from home isn’t feasible, a robe will work. IV lines can follow the arm up to the shoulder and exit from the neck of the robe—all without disconnecting and reconnecting. Additionally a robe will provide your child with warmth (hospitals are freezing year round) and a layer of privacy/modesty because hospital gowns, even when tied aren’t guaranteed to cover all butts, and they can be very thin. Added bonus, robes are easier to use as a cover than blankets when traveling in the hospital via a wheelchair.
Socks. Hospitals are cold. Period. End of story. It’s better to pack the socks and not need them than to be stuck wearing scratchy hospital-issued non slip socks. If your child has socks with grippy bottoms, that is best, but if not, just make sure your child has some shoes that are easy on and off for when it’s time to walk around the unit or to walk to the scale to be weighed.
Favorite lovie. For a really young child, this goes without saying. But for your elementary school-aged child, it might be a nice touch of comfort. The hospital can be scary, and something soft and familiar to snuggle is nice.
Going home clothes. Duh. I knew you would know this because I, unlike your 4th grader, don’t think you are dumb. This item is here to highlight that your child’s going home clothes should be compatible with your child’s recovery. For example:
Knees after surgery are bandaged quite thickly and loose athletic pants or shorts (mostly shorts) will be the easiest to pass over that spot.
Bellies, particularly after abdominal surgeries are tender, so avoid items with stiff waists or thick elastic. Pick something loose and comfortable.
Heads after surgery might be bothered by shirts passing over, so shirts that have loose necklines or ones that button all the way up are likely better choices.
Here is the meat and potatoes of my post. Why? When your child is the patient, a lot of necessities will be provided to him/her. You as the parent staying bedside will need a lot more items to make it through the stay.
Clothes. Again, hospitals are notoriously cold. I don’t care if it is 95 degrees outside, pack like it is fall. Long pants, socks, and layered tops. For me, my standard hospital attire includes leggings, tank tops, soft sweaters (especially ones with pockets), and fuzzy socks. I bring the same items in January as I do in July. The goal is to be comfortable and warm.
Slip-on shoes. You want something easy off and easy on. Flip flops, sport sandals, Crocs™, and mules are great for hospital life. So are slippers with hard soles.
Toiletries. This one should be common sense. Pack your toothbrush and deodorant in the very least. You want to pack light but it will not hurt to be prepared. Dry shampoo and cleaning cloths are always useful. In my experience, your child’s hospital will have a shower you can use. However the water won’t be super warm, the water pressure might be iffy, and the water flow may not leave your scalp feeling like it’s super clean. Additionally, if your child is transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), our you are in a small hospital, or an older hospital, that shower will be shared with other families.
Moisturizer. Hospitals are not only cold, but they are dry. Your lips and hands will thank me if you remember to pack a lip balm and a hand lotion, and your face will thank me if you pack a moisturizer.
Chargers. In this digital age of entertainment and connectivity, bring charging cords and wall cubes. You’ll be sorry if you don’t have them for in-room charging. If you do forget them, fear not, many hospitals offer charging stations. Forgetting these items just means more time away from your child to sit next to a charging station. If you have a wireless charger, it’s never a bad idea to pack a charging cord as a back up. My wireless charger has a tendency to randomly stop working while staying in the hospital.
Similarly, bring additional devices for longer stays – a laptop, a tablet, etc. It will only help you occupy your time while your child is occupied with sleep or surgery.
Travel coffee mug. If you don’t drink coffee are you even a parent? Kidding, my husband has been off coffee for a few years. I, like every meme you’ve ever seen about mothers, rely on coffee to be my all important crutch that gets me through the day, the week, the month, the year…my life. Some hospitals will have free coffee available to parents. Other hospitals will only have coffee available for purchase. In either scenario, a travel mug will only keep your coffee warmer longer. Plus they are more sturdy than paper or foam cups.
Water bottle or reusable straw cup with a lid. See the previous comment about being more sturdy than a paper or foam cup. You’ll want a cup with a lid because it will help keep germs out of your drink. And remember my comment about if your child needs to stay in the PICU? The intensive care floors may ONLY allow drinks in containers with lids.
Money. You’ll need food for yourself and whether it comes from the cafeteria, a chain inside the hospital (common in large urban hospitals) or a vending machine, you’ll be paying for it. Depending on where your hospital is located, delivery services may also be available.
For the large urban hospitals, you may also need to pay for parking. Some hospitals may validate parking for a parent staying with an admitted child, but it’s not a guarantee and multiple days add up quickly. So on this note, if you know you will stay more than a day or two, consider making arrangements to not have a car at the hospital for your entire stay.
Snacks. Depending on your child’s age and condition, you may not get too many opportunities to eat. Packing protein bars or quick snacks will make you feel like a genius. It also is helpful on the wallet too. Fewer snack trips to the gift shop, canteen, cafeteria, or vending machines.
Light reading. I recommend magazines instead of books because they are easier to pick up and put down. In the hospital people are constantly coming in and out of your child’s room. Nurses on average are coming in every two to four hours. Doctors come in and out on rounds, and depending on your child’s condition, you may have multiple services stopping in to see your child and answer your questions. So pick reading material you know will be easy for you to stop and start again.
Ear buds. This one is great if you have a young child who will fall asleep before you and who would be bothered by the sounds of TV or video streaming. Although come to think of it, earbuds are helpful if you have a preteen who watches hours upon hours of shows about kids in high school who don’t do anything you remember yourself doing at that age. Basically pack ear buds if your child will fall asleep before you, or if your child has terrible taste in TV.
Flashlight or battery powered dim light. The lights in hospital rooms are bright, really bright. If you have a child who will fall asleep before you and you would like to stay up to read, work, or maybe write a blog post; you are taking a huge risk by using the lights in the room. You will be safer and your child will be more likely to sleep if you have soft dim lighting instead of very bright fluorescent lights.
Pen. You never know when you will need to make a note of something, or when you will luck into a magazine with a crossword puzzle.
Reusable bag. This one could have many uses, but if your child’s admission is for a longer amount of time, e.g. more than three days, use this as a laundry bag. Kids puke, things spill, and if you live at the hospital with your child for weeks, you’ll run out of clean things to wear. I hope for you parents who are staying with your children for weeks, your child’s hospital provides laundry service to parents and families. I have washed laundry in the hospital more times than I care to recall, and it’s been a true blessing to have family laundry on every unit my kids have stayed.