September is NICU Awareness Month. We are committed to supporting all families and in hopes of doing so, we are sharing stories and resources. Last week, Love Child contributor Meghan Bevill shared her experience of being in the NICU with her son George who was born 8 weeks early and today she is back to share ways you can support parents with children in the NICU.
By Meghan Bevill
We’ve all been in a position where we have a friend or a family member going through a hard time. We want to help. We want to comfort. We want to be there for them. But we don’t know the right thing to say or do, and we don’t want to say or do the wrong thing.
I’m one of those people. Sometimes I hesitate to say anything or reach out because I don’t want to say the wrong thing and upset someone who’s already going through something traumatic. But after going through a traumatic experience myself, when my son was in the NICU for 7 weeks, I realized that the the truth is, anything you do or say is right if it’s coming from the heart.
The best thing you can do is reach out. If you find yourself with a friend who has a child in the NICU, don’t keep your distance because you don’t want to bug them. Don’t give them space because you think they need it. Don’t hesitate to reach out because you think it will be a hard conversation. I can promise you, they need you. They need your words. They need your ear. They need your presence. But most of all, they need to know that you are thinking of them. It is a lonely, scary place, but knowing you have a support system makes it just a little bit easier.
If you are still hesitant, below are a few tips in how to approach a friend or family member whose child is in the NICU.
- Check in. Call. Text. Take them to lunch. Let them know you’re thinking about them. A parent who has a child in the NICU has their whole world consumed by that little baby and what he’s going through. But they don’t want to pass that burden on to anyone else. So they will not proactively reach out to you. You need to take the initiative. I can assure you that they do want to hear from you, and they want you to ask how they’re doing and how their baby is doing.
- Make a kind gesture. It doesn’t have to be big. Send them dinner one night. Have lunch delivered to the NICU. Have groceries delivered to their house. Any small thing you can do. But one tip – don’t make them decide what they need! They have so much on their minds and are often making life-changing decisions for their little one each day, so they don’t want to think about anything. Just tell them what you are going to do and do it.
- Bring them life outside of the NICU. Their world revolves around their baby in the NICU, but the rest of the world doesn’t cease to exist. It can serve as a nice mental break to talk about something outside of their tiny NICU world.
I know I said earlier that there isn’t really anything you can say or do that wouldn’t be appreciated, but I did find myself getting annoyed at one thing that people did. I know they did it out of love and good intentions, but it tended to get under my skin, so I figured other NICU moms might have felt the same way. It always had a common theme: Don’t worry, He will grow. Don’t worry, He will catch up. Don’t worry, he won’t be small forever. Just wait. He’ll catch up on the growth chart. Just wait. He’ll shoot up.
It’s hard to express how this made me feel without sounding like a brat, but it boils down to this: I am already worrying about everything, so telling me not to worry does nothing. And also, maybe he will be small. Maybe he will be developmentally behind. Maybe he won’t ever be bigger than his cousin. And that is okay. A lot of being the parent of a preemie is coming to terms with the fact that your baby may be a little bit different than the picture you had in your head. And that is okay. So my last piece of advice would be to point out the beautiful, wonderful, special qualities of the baby in front of you rather than focusing on what he may become.