By Jon Bennion
This is a season of change for most people. Whether it’s the start of school, hunting season, or football games, many of us can stomach the end of summer by appreciating the changes fall brings.
One unwelcome change stems from the drop in temperature and more time indoors - sick season. Colds, flu and the dreaded RSV start to rear their ugly heads during this time of year. It's not fun for kids that get sick, it's not fun for parents that have to take care of sick kids, and it's not fun for parents who get sick from their sick kids.
For parents of many preemies, this season brings even more dread and fear. Preemies, especially micro-preemies with bad lungs and underdeveloped immune systems, are quite vulnerable during this time. A cold or bout of flu can land a preemie in the hospital. RSV can be a killer.
To protect their little ones from these dangers, many parents of preemies take the extraordinary, but wise step of isolating their preemie from large public place, sick adults, and most children (other than siblings). From anywhere starting in October and extending into April or May in the first year or two of a preemie's life, a protective bubble of sorts forms over the home only to be burst when the coast is clear or for doctor visits. This can be especially hard on the parent that is necessarily isolated as they shield their child from the bugs and viruses we can't see, but all know they are there.
In our family, my wife, Jessi stayed at home with our 23-weeker son, Jack. He had chronic lung disease from being on the ventilator and required home oxygen for the first six months we had him at home. We didn't want to take any chances, so an invisible wall was built around our home where visitors weren't welcome (with a few exceptions) and the only person going in and out on a daily basis was me for my job outside of the home. We didn't go to church together anymore, we didn't go to the store together or out to eat as a family. We even avoided big holiday gatherings with lots of the people we love. Friends and family can pass on bad germs too.
Needless to say, isolation is something that can be very difficult for the parent stuck in an almost prison-like setting. I had personal interaction with people all day at my job - Jessi had her phone and Facebook. I had to travel as a part of work - Jessi's existence was largely relegated to four rooms in our house. She did it for two long winters, and I can't begin to imagine how difficult it must have been.
If you have a new preemie, you or your significant other may soon be entering some form of isolation to protect your little one from some nasty illnesses. If it's you within the winter fortress, I can't begin to give advice since I did not go through it. If you are the parent that has to work outside of the home while the other parent takes one for the team, I do have some advice:
1. Constant contact - we live in a time where we have email, texting, Facebook, phone calls an more. Use all of them often to reach out to your significant other. Ask how they are doing. Ask them if you need to bring something home after work. Be helpful and thoughtful.
2. Kick them out the door- whether they want to or not, volunteer often to watch your child while your significant other goes out with friends & family, sees the outside world, and forgets temporarily about the bubble back home. It will help their sanity immensely.
3. Date night – your significant other may not just want time out of the house – they may want time with you. I recognize that this may be altogether impossible for some couples, because it requires you to leave your baby with a friend or family member. You may not have someone to leave your child with. If you do, however, take some time once a month to get out together as a couple.
4. Make it to big doctor appointments, meetings – adding to the feeling of loneliness as part of isolation is when the parent at home is also alone during the few times they leave the house for doctor appointments or meetings regarding your child. Once a month, Jack visited the doctor for weight checks, several shots, and general checkups. We were also meeting with therapists to discuss early intervention. I made as many as I could. Trying to make these big meetings or appointments will reinforce that you are not leaving your significant other to do all of the heavy lifting by themselves.
There is no way around it – isolation is tough for the parent who stays at home. But you can make it slightly easier on them. For more information about Jessi’s time in isolation and survival tips, visit her blog about Jack at: