The wonder of a child is priceless, especially this time of year. I enjoy watching James’ reaction to the beautiful lights that decorate our neighborhood. He gets so excited just looking out the window at our neighbors’ colorful display. I can’t wait to see what he thinks of the Christmas tree, and then see his reaction Christmas morning. Fingers crossed that this will be the year he’s excited.
Always close in thought are the families who will be spending the holidays in the hospital, especially those with a baby in the NICU. We spent our first Christmas with James in the NICU. It was a wonderful, beautiful day. When I look back I remember all of the good, but there were some difficult moments that day and throughout his NICU stay. Moments that didn’t have to happen.
I’m not one to give a lot of advice. I listen well and support others any way I can, but I don’t like to suggest to people what they should do (although my husband may disagree). Every situation and perspective is different, and I recognize that. At the same time, I learned a little from being there first hand. If you have a family member or friend with a baby in the NICU, you may be wondering what you can do to help. Here’s my little list that I wasn’t comfortable sharing with others at the time, but wished they somehow knew.
- Congratulate the family. Tell them how amazing their baby is. Smile when you do it. Granted it wasn’t an ideal situation, but when I became a Mom the majority of the faces I saw had looks of concern and fear. Remember to smile when you see them.
- Be strong if you choose to visit in person. Of course you can cry together. A good cry can be good for the soul. We all need that, especially during difficult days, but please don’t fall apart into a big puddle of mush and make them comfort you.
- Be a good listener. Nod, be understanding, validate the pain and fear they have. Please don’t tell them every story of every extended family member or friend who had a preemie who survived, so of course theirs will too. Sometimes you just need to listen.
- Ask how their baby is doing. You asking won’t remind them that their baby is fighting to live. It won’t make the day harder. It will remind them that you care. When you take time out of your day to think of someone else, they notice. Often times it means more than you can imagine.
- Help. Most people won’t ask for help. Sometimes they are so overwhelmed they don’t even know what they need. Only say “Let me know what I can do,” if you don’t really want to do anything. If you truly want to help, say, “I’m going to do _____ for you.” Then do it. They will be grateful. Not sure what to do? Consider having their lawn mowed, snow shoveled, straighten up their house, take care of siblings, watch their pets, bring them a journal, bring them a book to read to their baby, give them a disposable camera to leave at the bedside, give a gift certificate to a restaurant near the hospital, a gift card for the hospital café, parking passes, a card or note saying you’re thinking of them, chip in with a group of friends and pay a bill, sign them up for a care package from Graham’s Foundation – an amazing organization, and it won’t cost you a thing!
- Be thoughtful when visiting, especially during the holidays. Visitors are limited in general, and very limited at the bedside – ours allowed 2 people at a time. When everyone visits on a holiday it starts to resemble a parade, and you limit the time mom and dad have together with their baby. Spread the joy. Visit just because it’s a Tuesday and you were thinking of them.
- Be respectful when planning large family celebrations while a loved one is in the hospital. Of course your life goes on, as it should. Let them know you’ll be thinking of them and wish they could join you. Maybe they will. Show compassion in your messages, and remember that the celebratory feeling you have may not be shared by them, given their current circumstances.
Supporting a family member or friend with a baby in the NICU can look different for each family. I think the most important thing you can do is let them know you care. However that looks for you, do that. Hospitals and NICUs can be very lonely places, especially after weeks and months have gone by. If you can, find a way to let them know they aren’t alone.