My Friend Had a Preemie :: How Can I Help?
A new baby’s arrival is supposed to be a joyous event, but sometimes things don’t go according to plan. A baby may arrive weeks or months early and end up in the neonatal intensive care unit. I had two of my babies end up in the NICU for weeks and had friends and family offering to help us out. However, at times, I didn’t know what I needed or what to tell them.
After reflecting over two separate NICU stays, I’ve compiled a list of things that tremendously helped me navigate through the tough journey.
Congratulate the Family
I know it sounds like a no brainer, but more often than not, people are too worried and scared of the situation at hand to send a congratulatory message to the family. Whether it’s a floral arrangement, a card or a thoughtful text, this normal gesture is usually forgotten during the first few days. Make sure to congratulate the mom who just gave birth; she needs to hear it.
And don’t forget the dad and siblings! A group of friends sent a cookie bouquet to the house, and my two older sons were ecstatic that somebody remembered them through this tough time.
Help with older kids
If the family has older children, offer to come to watch them. It was insanely hard to balance two kids at home and going to the hospital daily. Offer to take them on a playdate, come over and do crafts, or if the kids are old enough, offer to watch them overnight. I sincerely couldn’t have done this without my parents and sister watching my older kids daily so I could get to the hospital. Most NICU’s have guidelines where other children can’t visit the unit (for good reason), so the parents would surely appreciate the help.
One of the last things I wanted to worry about is what I was going to feed my family. Drop off a meal, set up a meal train, or even send over pizza are just a few ideas on how you can help out. Freezer meals were especially helpful so I could take them out when needed. As much as my kids surely loved surviving on fast food and take out, the meals that friends and family would drop off were more than welcome and much appreciated.
Electronic gift cards are truly amazing. I remember waking up one morning to a gift card from Starbucks that a friend sent me via email. It was such a touching gesture to know that someone was thinking about me. You know that it was used that day on my daily drive to the hospital. I also received gift cards to a local restaurant that was near the hospital so I could go and get a meal that wasn’t cafeteria food. Check out what coffee shops and restaurants are around the hospital and send a little happy to make your friends day.
If you are local, you can request a care package from Delivering Hope NOLA which is full of preemie and NICU stay essentials. Not local to New Orleans? Make your own. Some of my favorite essentials were antibacterial, hand lotion, a soft blanket for cuddling your baby, a journal to jot down notes from the doctor, a water bottle and snacks/energy bars. A thoughtful addition to a care package is a baby book. I would read them often while visiting my baby and the nurses could even stamp their tiny footprints in the back.
Gift for the Baby
If the baby is in the NICU, he/she may not be able to wear some clothes for quite sometime so a great gift is a baby blanket. Since both of my sons were extremely premature, it was a long while before they were able to wear clothes so one way I felt like we could personalize their isolette was blankets. One of the most thoughtful gifts I received was a super soft blanket with his birth stats monogrammed.
If the family is religious, consider gifting them some prayer cards or religious medals. I would have prayer cards, crosses and medals at my sons bedside.
Reach Out and Listen
Send a text (but don’t expect a reply!) and let your friend know that you are thinking of her. Just knowing that people were checking in on my baby meant so much. At times I would spend hours on end in a silent small NICU room, and the only thing that would get me through is just texting someone.
My middle child Liam spent his first Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas in the NICU. Let me just tell you how bad that sucked. Be kind to your friend or family member during the holidays. Splitting my time between family and visiting my baby in the hospital was extremely tough, all while trying to survive the normal holiday hustle and bustle. If their baby can wear hats and/or clothes, gift them some holiday attire. There was nothing more I loved than celebrating in ways that I could. I even had an artificial Christmas tree up in his private room with battery operated lights with a stocking on his isolette.
Keep Offering Help
Once the baby is discharged from the hospital, it may seem like life is back to normal, but this is when things get tough. Your friend’s child may have spent days, weeks or months in a unit with constant care of medical professionals, and now she is home alone with her newborn without the support. So continue to reach out and offer help. Even if she didn’t accept it during the hospital stay, she may now!