More babies than ever are having stays in the NICU. 77 for every 1,000 live births have some kind of NICU stay. For any parent who has spent time in a NICU you know how important and overwhelming the experience can be. When someone you know is experiencing this scary experience there are some simple and easy ways to support, and there are also some things to that won’t help. Here are some simple Dos and Don’ts for supporting parents experiencing a NICU stay.
Do: Reach Out
Knowing that you have family and friends praying for you and offering to support is heartwarming for any person. Feeling the support of your tribe can really lift your spirits. Reach out to the person you know has a child in the NICU in some way.
Don’t: Expect a response right away
As great as it is to feel that support it can sometimes be overwhelming to respond to everyone, especially if you are not sure on the health status of your sweet baby. Don’t bombard with texts if you haven’t heard back right away. Be patient and give space when necessary. If you are truly concerned and worried and haven’t gotten a response, reach out to someone close to them like a grandparent, friend, or sibling.
Do: Find ways to help
When my youngest was in the NICU the two biggest things that people did to help was a meal train to support my husband and older son (I was still in the hospital as well) and it helped tremendously. Family and friends who picked up our groceries from curbside, helped with our older son, fed our dog, and even had our home cleaned. Even when NICU stays are expected they are difficult and every day things can often fall by the wayside.
Don’t: Get Pushy
When you’re emotionally and physically drained the last thing you need is someone being pushy. I get it, I am a pushy person who wants to help, but sometimes people need space. Space to process everything they’re experiencing and focus on their reality. They’re going to be meeting with different doctors, nurses, insurance companies, and hospital representatives. Planned or not they have a lot on their plate. They may have their basics taken care of. If you truly want to help, a card with a gift card is a fantastic way to give them something they can read and use when they are able and meet your need to help.
NICU experiences are never easy. Anyone who has had a child with a long or short stay (usually defined as a week or shorter) can tell you that. Brene Brown says “Empathy doesn’t require that we have the exact same experiences…Empathy is connecting with the emotion that some is experiencing.” Many of us have never had a baby stay in the NICU, but every person, whether they are a parent or not, can understand the overwhelming emotion of a loved one having a hospital stay for a serious reason. It can be difficult to comprehend their feelings but it is so powerful to reach out with empathy. Parents may be experiencing a plethora of emotions during an infants NICU stay from fear to worry to guilt. Empathy can be one of the strongest ways to make them feel supported.
We have this nasty trait in the world of parenting in the twenty-first century. Whether it is a serious health concern or something simpler babies are admitted to the NICU for a reason. Understanding that is important, downplaying the reasons someone’s child might be there is never okay. One in eight babies are born pre-term (defined in America as born before 37 weeks) and over 80% of pre-term babies have a NICU stay. Comparison has no place in supporting a parent with a child in the NICU. You might feel like comparing how severe and serious your baby’s stay was to theirs will help but it won’t, it will make them scared. You might feel like reaching out comparing your child’s short NICU stay is will create a bond, it won’t it will just frustrate them. I had both and both honestly just pissed me off. The other side of this is comparing a birth with a NICU stay to another birth story. It just isn’t helpful.
We all have our vulnerable birth stories and the way to connect isn’t to compare but to make each other feel heard.