Surviving the NICU as an Adoptive Parent

These tips will help ensure you have the best possible hospital experience.

Narda Emett February 15, 2016

Five of my babies (two of whom were adopted) spent time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). If you are an adoptive parent and your baby is spending time in the NICU, these tips will help ensure you have the best possible experience and feel empowered to care for your baby at the hospital.

Take care of confidentiality concerns.
1. Take care of confidentiality concerns.

Sometimes, medical staff is afraid of violating the HIPAA laws, which includes divulging personal medical information to someone who should not obtain it. You need to have your attorney, agency, or caseworker help you sign all paperwork allowing you, as the adoptive parent, to make medical decisions on behalf of your baby.

Take care of insurance coverage.
2. Take care of insurance coverage.

You can add your baby to your insurance at placement, and once placement papers are signed in a private adoption, you are responsible for the medical needs of the child placed. Talk to your agency, attorney, case worker, etc. to see if the baby may be eligible for Medicaid coverage. In our twins’ case, the birth mother was on Medicaid at the time of birth and didn’t sign relinquishment for five days. In the meantime, she filled out paperwork to cover the twins’ medical costs postpartum. They were covered by Medicaid for six months without us needing to qualify for coverage. Medicaid paid secondary to our own insurance, which helped us cover the costs of deductibles, co-payments, and coinsurance.

Find an advocate.
3. Find an advocate.

Ask the hospital to assign a social worker or parent advocate employed by the hospital to assist you. They can help you navigate the “system.” As a biological parent with a baby in the NICU, I was given a huge packet of information, assigned a social worker, and invited to stay in a hospital room (for a minimal nightly fee). As an adoptive parent with twins in the NICU, I was looked at with suspicion and always asked to verify who I was and why I was there, until a doctor finally stepped in and made sure we were given hospital bracelets and access codes to allow us to get updates and be involved in medical decisions. It was at that point that we were finally treated as “parents.”

Use skin-to-skin contact to begin bonding.
4. Use skin-to-skin contact to begin bonding.

The NICU is a great place to begin bonding. There is a method called “Kangaroo Care” or “skin-to-skin” used in most hospitals. You place your diapered baby on your bare chest and cover up with a blanket. This practice has proven helpful to newborns in keeping their temperature stable, improving their breathing, and in some cases, relieving colic. It is also a great time to relax, take deep breaths, and bond. You have the right to hold your baby skin-to-skin in privacy. It is beneficial to both baby and parent.

Ask questions.
5. Ask questions.

Don’t be afraid to ask, “What does that mean?”

We are not all medical terminology or acronym professionals. If someone says something you don’t understand, ask for clarification. Many hospitals will allow you to be present for rounds. That is when the doctors and nurses meet together to discuss the progress and plans for your baby. Ask if you can attend. This may be the only chance you get to speak directly to the doctor, since they only come around a couple of times per day, depending on the severity of your baby’s medical needs.

Be there when you can.
6. Be there when you can.

Spend as much time as you want in the NICU and be involved in feeding, changing and caring for your baby. However, don’t feel guilty if you are only able to visit for short periods of time. You can call any time, day or night, to check on the baby.

Ask for support.
7. Ask for support.

Ask the hospital who is allowed to visit. Some hospitals require a parent to be present when other visitors come; others allow you to indicate what guests you authorize to visit. In the latter case, the guest is allowed in during visiting hours. They can help with feedings, diaper changes, and whatever they feel comfortable doing. This is helpful to relieve the guilt of not being there every minute when you know Grandma or a trusted friend is holding your baby.

Get nearby housing for little to no cost.
9. Get nearby housing for little to no cost.

If you live a distance from the hospital, you may be eligible to stay at a Ronald McDonald House (RMH) for little to no cost. This was a life-saver when our biological son was in the NICU. I was hit by a drunk driver on my way home from a NICU visit one evening and spent the next 9 days in the same hospital as my son. My husband stayed at the RMH for several nights so he could be close to our son and me at that time. Meals were available to him at no cost and he was able to get a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed. Ask your hospital social worker to help make arrangements, if you fit the criteria.

Your thoughts?
10. Your thoughts?

Have you been a NICU parent? Add your tips and suggestions in the comments below!

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Narda Emett

Narda Emett is a mother of six, four of whom were adopted. She has been part of the adoption community for over 16 years, serving on local and national boards for Families Supporting Adoption. She has adopted both domestically and internationally and is happy to be part of a transracial adoptive family. In her free time (does a mother of six ever have free time?), she likes to read and make amazing wedding cakes.


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