This short essay about getting outdoors was written by NICU Families Northwest’s Treasurer, Emily Terriquez. Title and text (c) Emily Terriquez. No part of this post may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without the permission of the copyright owner.
My oldest son, Sander was born in July of 2013, right at the height of Portland’s amazing summer weather. I was stuck inside the hospital for weeks while he was in the NICU, only able to enjoy the weather on my walk to and from the parking lot. It was terrible, and in complete contrast to how I anticipated spending the summer days after a long, rainy winter.
By the time my son came home, I was eager to be outside, but all the talk of germs from even a common cold and my fears of RSV had me paranoid about exposing him to any risk. I had hand sanitizer stationed at every entrance to my house. Like in the NICU, I washed my hands constantly, and I drastically limited visitors to only healthy friends and family.
On top of my NICU-related anxiety, as a first time mom I was nervous about trying to go anywhere. What if I ran out of diapers? What if I needed a change of clothes? Would I have enough milk on hand? Would he be warm enough? Too warm? What if he screamed? I started out small with a walk around the block in the stroller and an enormous bag of supplies.
At first, it seemed like more effort than it was worth. Sander was slow to settle into our walks, and it was hard to know how long he would stay comfortable, quiet, and happy. But over time it got easier. He started to genuinely enjoy looking around and seeing the world, and I could see his curiosity grow. I found he often napped better if we were out and about than if I tried to put him in his crib. It was also great to be able to get some exercise and fresh air, and to feel like I was getting something accomplished. As he got older, our excursions became longer, my bag got smaller, my confidence grew, and he became accustomed to going outside for adventures.
Shortly before Sander turned three, Ashton was born. He was even earlier than his big brother and we stayed in the NICU longer. He was discharged from the hospital in July, and I knew that I wanted to get back into our outdoor routine for his health, mine, and to keep Sander engaged and entertained. The moment Ashton weighed enough for his carrier, we were off hiking in the woods. He spent most of the early hikes sleeping, while his older brother was in a backpack, stroller, or walking by my side. Now that’s he’s bigger, he really relishes every moment of being outdoors.
My NICU babies love the outdoors and I believe getting them outside early helped foster their curiosity, sense of adventure, and enthusiasm for all the seasons of the Pacific Northwest. They both love going for walks, playing in the woods, exploring the backyard, and tackling new skills like skiing or sledding. It’s true that leaving the house with kids requires a little more planning, but with a little preparation, you can get out and enjoy all our world has to offer.
NICU Families Northwest partners with Hike it Baby to encourage NICU parents to tackle their fear of getting outdoors with their new babies. Keep an eye on our calendar of events for upcoming hikes/walks/playground meet-ups.