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Having a rough NICU day? Here's one simple trick to improve it.


Having a rough NICU day? Here's one simple trick to improve it.


NICU mom crying and sad

Sometimes I run. OK, actually, let’s be honest - I jog.  Some days, when I jog, I feel pretty good. Never great, but sometimes my legs cooperate, my breathing isn’t too heavy, and I can get through my three laps around a familiar loop feeling pretty good about it.

And then some days, it just hurts. I never really know when it will hurt, or why, but my knees hurt, or my legs ache, or it’s just harder to breathe, heavy in my chest.

NICU nurse jogging outside

This happened the other day.  I found myself hobbling along, with legs of lead and lungs that burned.  A voice crept into my thoughts -I started thinking about how old I’m getting, how sad it is that I'm not a good runner.

But my thoughts didn’t stop there - oh, no. I started thinking about how my knees probably won't last much longer, I’ll probably need a total knee replacement at age 43, soon I'll be lucky to walk one measly block using a walker! I was envisioning myself driving one of those electric carts along the grocery store isles, because I'm so damn frail I won’t even be able to walk with these weak, pathetic, miserable legs…..

My bad jog was getting worse.

Not only did my body ache, now my mind was bringing me down too. Big time.

But something new happened, and I don't know why, but it was different. I realized what was going on in my head. I somehow noticed how negative my thinking was, I noticed how my mind was making it even worse.  I noticed that I was focusing so much energy on feeling bad. I noticed how crazy, over-the-top-hopeless my thinking was getting.

And then something strange happened - I actually started to feel a little better.  The simple act of recognizing my negativity immediately lightened my mood. I was still jogging, but I was feeling a little better. I think I even cracked a smile, laughing at myself for being such a negative dork. And it hit me - I was just having a bad day. They're not all this bad, but for some reason today just wasn't my day.

Once I realized that I was just having a bad day, I decided to go easy on myself. I thought -  wouldn’t it be nice to just cut myself some slack?

sad day in the NICU

It’s what we all want, right?

When we’re feeling crappy, we would love someone to say “Hey, take it easy today. Take the day off. Treat yourself.” So I did. I gave myself permission to stop and walk a whole bunch if I wanted to, I decided to only run two laps instead of my usual three, and I told myself to just do what I could and not worry about it. Because I knew these things pass, and that another day it would feel fine.

I finished my two slow laps with legs still hurting and feeling as slow as molasses, but you know what? It wasn’t so bad. I took it easy and actually enjoyed it a bit once I recognized my crazy thinking.

What the heck, you might be thinking, does this have to do with the NICU Trish?!?

The these days, I find myself thinking about experiences that might help NICU families. And it dawned on me - This is kinda similar to how parents in the NICU feel some days.

NICU mom looking at preemie

With a baby in the NICU, some days are decent, right? When your baby is fairly stable, when you have plenty of time to be with your little one, when you got enough sleep the night before, when your baby's nurse is a favorite one, when your mood just feels OK - you're able to handle it all. Maybe not great, but not too bad.

However, other NICU days are much, much harder.

You find yourself focusing on all of the negatives, feeling completely sorry for yourself, jealous of your friends with healthy babies, irritated at every little thing the nurses tell you, angry at the world for putting you and your baby through this. Filled with negative emotions that feel out of your control, making your bad day even worse.

Here’s the thing: You can’t change how your baby is doing on any given day, any more than I could change the fact that my knees and lungs hurt for no good reason. But I could change how I reacted to it, and you can too.

So, maybe give this a try when you find yourself spinning out of control on a bad day.

  • Notice it. That’s all. Just notice it. If you can step back just far enough to see that you’re really feeling crappy, go ahead and say to yourself “Ah-HA! I’m just having an extra crappy day today. Not all days are this bad, and maybe tomorrow will be better."
  • Then, give yourself permission to take it easy for now. Have compassion for yourself, as you might if it was a friend having a really hard day.  Just relax your expectations a little. Don't be afraid to tell the nurses, your partner, your friends & family "I'm just having a rough day today." Maybe even treat yourself to something nice. Because not every day will be this bad, and it’s perfectly normal to have bad days now and again with a baby in the NICU.

Do you think you can give it a try?

NICU mom sad, lying in bed

This is just one little strategy to try. Do you have any other suggestions you could share with readers about how YOU handled the extra hard days? (Because we all know the NICU can deliver some mighty crappy days!)

As for my jogging? It still doesn’t feel great, but most days feel pretty good and I’m happy to know that when I need a little compassion on the hard days, I’ll give it to myself. It makes it easier to face the unknown.


What did YOU do to get through the particularly hard days?