Minutes after my second son was born in January my worst fears came to fruition and we discovered that he required the care and expertise of the nurses and doctors in our local NICU to help him get enough oxygen for the first 8 days of his life. My family is lucky. Our baby was only in the NICU for a little over a week, and he has sustained no permanent damage. Many more moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, brothers and sisters, have to deal with caring for a struggling baby inside of the hospital for weeks, and even months.
Do you know one of these families? Maybe a friend, an acquaintance or a family member? It’s easy to think that these families may not need your help right now, that the hospital is taking care of everything. But that is just not true. Having a child in the NICU was the single hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life. Without the support of my family and friends, it would have been that much harder. Here are a few things my family and friends did to help, and a few extra ideas I thought of that would have been especially useful had our baby required longer term care:
While Mom is Still in the Hospital:
- Go and visit mom at the hospital! Baby won’t be in the room with mama since he/she is tucked away in the safety of the NICU, but mom is a patient, and she is healing and hurting, and she NEEDS to see familiar faces. My (amaaaazing) friends brought me muffins, coffee, magazines, chocolates, flowers, and subs, but more importantly, they sat with me and chatted.
- Ask if you can visit the baby. Depending on the baby’s situation, you may be able to accompany mom to visit her newest joy. But you also might not be allowed inside the NICU, and that’s ok. Have mom show you all her pictures of the little one when you go to visit her.
- Schedule a time for a play date with an older brother or sister. My parents were watching my oldest son while I was in the hospital, but a good friend took him off their hands for a morning and I know they were very grateful for the break. And I know Bean enjoyed the normalcy of a simple play date with his BFF.
When Baby is Still in the NICU:
- Check in on mom in particular. Leaving my baby at the hospital after I was discharged was heart-wrenching, to put it mildly. Mom will be having a very rough time, so be sure to check in on her, and offer any form of assistance she may need, including simply listening to how much this all sucks.
- Again – offer to take big brother or sister off the parent’s hands for a bit. So many of my friends offered to take Bean, for which I am SO appreciative. We had things covered, thankfully, and Bean was pretty clingy at the time so I wanted to keep him close to home, but just knowing I could ship him off to a friend for a morning or afternoon was so helpful for me.
- Send gift cards for gas, restaurants close to the hospital, or even for dining establishments inside the hospital. My commute to visit Gray in the NICU was only across town, but if I had to make that trip every day for many months I know these types of gifts would have been extremely helpful. Plus, you typically aren’t allowed to bring food into the NICU, so helping to absorb some of the burden of dining out while your friend or family sits with their NICU-bound child will be greatly appreciated.
- Offer to go with your friend or family member when they visit their baby. Baby’s mom and dad are exhausted from commuting, taking care of older sibs, dealing with a sick child, and recovering from birth. So an offer to simply drive them to the hospital, or accompany them for a part of a day would be beyond welcome.
When Baby Comes Home (YAY!):
- CELEBRATE! Even if the homecoming is months and months after he/she was born, act like baby was born yesterday, because to the family bringing that baby home, this is about as exciting as it gets. Provide champagne, banners, balloons, cupcakes, anything you might normally do for a baby’s homecoming.
- Bring food! My (again, amaaaazing) friends brought me tons of food, because seriously, I had no time to cook. My fridge was stocked with soups, quesadillas, pasta dishes, and more.
Through it All:
- Check in, check in, check in. I can’t say this enough. Trust me, if you are close enough to mom/dad to be Facebook friends, then you are close enough to send a private message, e-mail, text, or even give a phone call. No, you will not be bugging them. I am beyond grateful to the people who reached out to me during and after Gray’s NICU stay. It showed they cared, it showed they were thinking of us and sending good thoughts, and it showed that we weren’t alone.
- Ask what mom and dad need. Don’t be afraid to make specific suggestions, or leave it open to what the family may need at that point, as their needs will change over time.
- Do your own research. It’s fine to ask the parents questions about their child’s situation (so long as they are appropriately timed and correlate to the closeness of your relationship), but take some initiative and do a small amount of research on your own (a quick google search.) This will keep you informed and aware without making the parents drag through their child’s condition over and over again, and will allow you to be more sensitive to what they are going through.
What other suggestions do you have to help a family with a child in the NICU? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.