We Didn’t Plan for the NICU

After arriving home from the airport at 10:00 PM, Kyle and I unwound from our baby shower weekend with a snack and a TV show, finally retiring to bed at nearly 1:00 AM. At 2:15 AM, I awoke feeling a bit… wet.


I hadn’t experienced urinary incontinence to that point my pregnancy, but I knew it was a common symptom. I went to the toilet and emptied my bladder, but somehow liquid just kept leaking out every time I stood up – I had no control over it.


At 34 weeks 6 days gestation, I didn’t want to believe that my water had spontaneously broken, but this also wasn’t normal behavior for my bladder. Kyle and I Googled “urine vs. amniotic fluid” for about half an hour before it became undeniable that I was in labor. We had no labor bag ready, so we grabbed our carryon suitcase from our trip and our Hypnobirthing material and drove to the hospital.


Thirteen hours later, our daughter, DPR, was born. She could barely draw her breath and was transferred to an advanced NICU at another hospital.


DPR in the NICU

DPR in the NICU


This story has a happy present: DPR is home with us now and completely healthy. She spent three weeks in the NICU maturing until she was equivalent to a full-term baby. She’s been home with us for a few weeks now and is simply delightful. No explanation whatsoever for her early arrival has revealed itself.


Kyle and DPR out for a walk

Kyle and DPR out for a walk


DPR’s NICU stay was our first bona fide family emergency ever. As you might expect both from the (early) arrival of a child and in the midst of an emergency, cost consideration became a very low priority. Of course, we knew DPR was racking up major costs through her extended hospital stay. We also had to keep our own bodies operating through the hospital stay (we were at the hospital on average 12 hours per day when we weren’t able to stay overnight), which involved an unusual level of convenience food and parking spending. Finally, our apartment was far, far from being prepared for DPR to come home, so during the hospital stay we placed our largest Amazon order ever – no more measures of frugality like shopping the consignment stores.


We both began to feel some measure of “money is no object” during this period. In fact, money hardly ever crossed my mind. But I realize that we were able to feel that way because of the strong current state of our finances. We had no idea that our particular emergency would be a multi-week hospital stay, but our finances were fairly well prepared for some kind of emergency.


1) Thank goodness for (great) health insurance.


You had better believe that I would have been concerned about money during this NICU stay if we didn’t have health insurance or we had some kind of substandard plan. I can’t imagine what a crazy stressed out place the NICU must have been before the Affordable Care Act went into effect. But we do have health insurance. We still have no idea how much this hospitalization cost, but a friend whose baby traversed a very, very similar path said that child’s total hospital bill was about $100,000. I also had a suspicion, later confirmed, that we would have little to no out-of-pocket cost. Apparently – and this has yet to play out, as I said – the insurance company is picking up 100% of the hospitalization cost above DPR’s deductible, which is $200. I mean, I can’t even.


2) Thank goodness for auto-pay.


Money didn’t have to be on our minds during the hospitalization because we have so many of our bills on auto-pay – from our rent to our subscriptions to our credit cards. We didn’t have to concern ourselves with the date or keep track of what is due when. The only aspects of our finances that are not on auto-pay are our retirement contribution and tithe because the amounts vary from month to month. We did get a bit behind on those and made the transactions only when we thought of them, but as there is no ‘due date’ on them the delay didn’t matter much.


3) Thank goodness for emergency funds.


We didn’t actually access our emergency fund during this emergency, but its simple presence gave me peace of mind. Last spring, we (finally) increased our emergency fund to a respectable size. If this emergency had gone a slightly different way – such as us having to pay for a hotel to stay near the hospital or having to pay coinsurance – we surely would have relied on the fund.


4) Thank goodness for credit cards and cash in checking.


We use credit cards for all our purchases, which removes our spending one step from our checking account. About a year ago, we also switched from keeping exactly the amount of money we wanted to spend each month in our checking account to having a significant cash buffer. As such, we didn’t have to track our weekly spending to make sure we had enough in our checking account to cover our purchases.


5) Thank goodness for parental leave and self-employment.


Kyle requested four weeks of full-time leave and two weeks of half-time leave. It seemed possibly excessive at the time, but we needed every bit of it between the hospital stay and adjusting to caring for DPR at home. Kyle’s job gave him half-pay during his full-time leave and three-quarters-pay during his half-time leave, which kept money flowing into our checking account even while he wasn’t working. We also prepared a special savings account to supplement our income shortfall during the planned leave.


As for my work, the summer is my slow season. I delivered my last seminar for the 2015-2016 school year a few weeks before DPR’s birth and had just planned on cultivating client relationships and developing material for the 2016-2017 school year in the first part of the summer. I simply shifted my planned work from earlier to later to account for my new ‘maternity leave’ dates.


Our finances haven’t always been this strong and automatic. If this emergency had occurred years ago when we had different systems in place, we wouldn’t have come through it in such good form. The big lesson I’m taking away is that preparing financially for an emergency goes far beyond having an emergency fund. Yes, you need money available, but you also need to plan for how your financial life and job will keep running smoothly even when you can’t take any action on their behalf.


Have your children brought any emergencies into your life? Are your finances prepared for an emergency?


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25 Responses to "We Didn’t Plan for the NICU"

  1. Fiby says:

    Whoa I’m glad to hear she’s completely healthy! And that health insurance will cover everything less a minor deductible.

    Must also feel good to know you guys can survive a financial emergency! I’ve never had one myself but I’m sure I’d be fine.

    Congratulations on your baby girl!

    1. Emily says:

      Haha yeah it took us adding another member to our household to finally have an emergency! And it wasn’t really an emergency in the financial sense because of the health insurance and pre-arranged leave. I guess throwing your life off kilter is just what kids do, though!

  2. Poor darling baby. That is fantastic that she’s doing great now, but what a trying time for you guys.


    To answer your question: Other than an emergency fund, we really don’t have any systems in play (many of our bills are automated, but not all of them). We’d probably just let things slide and pay the consequences.

    1. Emily says:

      Thanks! We definitely didn’t anticipate DPR’s life starting this way, but there have been silver linings to it all.

      At this point, we could afford the consequences of letting things go to seed a bit as well, but we definitely couldn’t have a few years ago. I do like the prevention model better, though, if it’s not too troublesome to put in place.

  3. Mrs. PoP says:

    Congrats on your arrival. Sadly NICU stays don’t seem to be all that uncommon as I’ve had several friends have a similar experience to yours – but like your little one theirs are all well and thriving now! =)

    We have most things on auto-pay, at least for minimum payments, so we’d probably be in a similar situation to you if life threw that big of a curveball our way. And that’s a nice feeling.

    1. Emily says:

      I was surprised by how many of my friends/acquaintances had NICU experience, too! They were exactly like DPR – born several weeks early and in need of some special care for only a limited period of time. It was very encouraging to know how well those children are doing months and years later.

      I suppose we could have made time for financial housekeeping while DPR was in the hospital… It was more that we didn’t have the mental energy to think of it and follow through. Actually, one thing that would have made a difference if we did need to do that housekeeping would be to have access to our accounts on our phones, which at least I don’t right now. We always had our phones with us but had to make a special effort to get on a laptop. That would be an additional step I could take to prepare for the next emergency.

  4. Julia says:

    Congratulations! I hope you are also doing well with all the more typical new baby transitions! (I miss sleep…)

    BabyM spent all of 12 hours in the NICU when he was 2 days old and I was an absolute mess. And it was relatively minor, but in Germany we were under midwife care for recovery, and they felt they couldn’t give him quite the attention he needed. (Also, I think it being Sunday and not having a non-emergency pediatric doc on duty had something to do with it.) I cannot imagine what you must have gone through. I would have needed comfort food just as much as convenience food! They didn’t let you stay in the hospital overnight with her? There were beds for the mothers in the NICU, but typically fathers had to go home. I think they said something about there being an “apartment” in the hospital for babies who needed to stay there longer, though I could have misunderstood…

    We’re flying to Seattle in 6 hours! With a teething, crawling 8 month old… It’s going to be so much fun! 😉

    1. Emily says:

      Welcome back to Seattle! I hope your flight was bearable.

      The NICU DPR was in had multiple babies in a single room, so it wasn’t (?) an option to stay overnight next to her bed. The hospital had a few hotel-like rooms, but they were in high demand so we only got them for five nights. On our last night, we had the opportunity to “room in,” which as I understand is similar to typical postpartum rooms in which the baby and mother/parents can sleep in the same room (probably what you described).

      The NICU wasn’t a picnic but it wasn’t all bad, either! We learned a ton from the nurses and it was in a way a good transition into parenthood because we didn’t have to care for her 24/7.

  5. Leigh says:

    I was starting to wonder about the lack of posting! I’m really glad to hear that your daughter is fine now, but the early arrival and the NICU must have been really scary! Congratulations!

    1. Emily says:

      Yeah I was considering scheduling posts ahead for my “maternity leave” but I hadn’t gotten around to it yet!

      The scariness dropped off quickly as we realized that everything going on with DPR was typical for babies born slightly early and that basically all she needed was to age up a bit. The nurses were continually telling us how well she was doing so that was very reassuring.

  6. Jon White says:

    Congratulations on your new arrival! Great to hear she’s is home and completely healthy.

    I can’t imagine having to go through all of that but I’m glad that money wasn’t an added layer of stress for you guys.

    1. Emily says:

      Time really seemed to disappear quickly in the hospital, as it does in early parenthood. We definitely didn’t need anything more on our plate!

  7. Congratulations! And SO amazing that your health insurance covered everything. I just got charged $800 for a basic blood test!

    1. Emily says:

      It’s really crazy how out of pocket costs can vary among plans. We super lucked out as we didn’t choose this plan at all, it’s just the one that Kyle’s employer offers. I know HDHPs are all the rage right now in the PF blogosphere, but I’m very glad we don’t have one this year!

  8. NZ Muse says:

    Congratulations Emily and co!

    My manager went into early labour – at work no less – and spent awhile in hospital. Some things you just can’t plan. So glad all the financials were okay too.

    1. Emily says:

      That’s dramatic! At least all the coworkers knew exactly what was going on!

  9. Congratulations Emily and Kyle! I am so happy that you are two are back and your baby is healthy. What’s her name?

    1. Emily says:

      Thanks! We’re just using ‘DPR’ on the blog – not her initials.

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