18 August 2015
6 tips for dealing with parents of a premature baby
I remember different people's reactions when Popette arrived early. People often say things that can be quite hurtful and upsetting without even realising it. I had one relative ask me if Popette was going to make it. Of course it was on our minds, but we didn't want to discuss the possibility of her not making it. We wanted to show off our beautiful baby girl!
As new parents all we wanted was our baby to be healthy and well enough to take home.
Those first few months were an emotional roller-coaster ride for my husband and I. We didn't know anyone who had had a premature baby, so couldn't ask them for their advice or help. All we knew is what the doctors and nurses told us, or what we read from books or researched on the Internet.
Its a time when you really need the love, support and understanding of your family and friends.
Here are my 6 tips for dealing with parents of a premature baby.
1. What not to say
Lets say your closest friend has had a premature baby. Please don't respond with "Oh bugger, how awful" or "Is she going to make it ?" I heard both these remarks!
Remember your friends are scared and extremely worried about their baby. They don't need to hear insensitive remarks or to be asked questions about mortality rates or long-term health effects.
Don't say "Oh look how tiny she is" or "How's little Johnny doing?". Your friends are aware of how tiny their baby is, you don't need to constantly remind them.
At this time, what your friend needs to hear is your concern and interest in their baby. Focus on how the baby is growing and developing.
2. Be a shoulder...
For a while your friends lives will revolve around visits to the NICU. They may not be interested in anything else until they know their child is thriving and can come home soon.
This is an important time for you to be there as a friend. Your friends need you now more than ever. Don't turn your back on them because they haven't called or text to see how you're doing or check how your overseas holiday was!
Remember they are going through a traumatic time and need the love and support of their families and friends. You don't need to say something to make them happy whenever you see or speak to them. You just being there and listening will be enough.
3. Help out if you can
I know everyone's lives are busy with careers, families and social lives. But what means a lot to parents with babies in the NICU are the little things. For example, when your friends get home after spending 4-5 hours at the hospital each day, the last thing they will feel like doing is cooking. They are probably sick of buying take-out, and would be grateful for a home cooked meal that they don't have to cook themselves.
Other ways you could help;
* If your friends have older kids offer to babysit so they can have a moment to themselves.
* Offer to pickup some groceries for them when you do your grocery shopping, even if its just bread and milk.
* Offer to do some of their clothes washing for them.
If your friend's baby has come a few months early, they may have not finalised the baby's room or bought things they need for the baby. Maybe ask them if they would like any help.
4. Remember they are still new parents
Just because your friends have had a premature baby doesn't mean they don't want to show off their precious newborn. Yes you can see photos they've loaded on Facebook, but if you can, go and visit them in hospital. Some NICU's allow 1 visitor (not just family) to escort 1 parent into the NICU. If your friend ask you if you would like to see their baby, don't be afraid or put off by the NICU. Say yes and be happy to see your friends sweet little baby.
5. This should be an exciting time for them but its not
If your friends are new, first-time parents, they are probably disappointed not to experience the joys of having a newborn and showing their beautiful newborn off to family and friends. It is hard hearing other people's friends being congratulated on their newborn, and to see deliveries of balloons, teddies and flowers arrive for new Mumma's when you have a newborn in the NICU. Try and make your visit special for your friends too!
6. Don't compare your full-term baby to your friends premmie
Popette who was a relatively healthy premature baby took approximately 2 years to catch up to her milestones. While she had delays with crawling, sitting and walking, she was doing all the things other full-term babies were doing by the time she reached 2.
Unfortunately some premature babies may be born with development issues and other long-term health problems and take a lot longer.
Depending on how early they were born, lets say your friend's baby was born at 29 weeks gestation, that makes her baby 11 weeks early (approx. 3 months).
While its ok to be happy about your own child's milestones, try not to compare your little one who may have started walking early with your friend's premature baby, especially if they were supposed to be born the same month. This doesn't help your friend whose baby might be only rolling at the same time.
I can't stress how important your love and support will be to your friends through this tough time. I was lucky and had the love and support of my family and close friends, but unfortunately there were some people who didn't realise how stressful a time it was for us and didn't know how to support us.
Don't expect your friends to get over their child's birth (especially it if was a traumatic time for both mother and baby) or time spent in the NICU quickly. It took my husband and I a long time to be able to talk about Popette's birth without us both getting emotional and teary. Its a thing you never forget.
I hope by sharing my experience and stories, anyone who has friends or relatives going through a similar situation will find these posts useful. Read other posts from this series:
* An introduction to my series: Having a Premmie
* The arrival of Popette: my experience with pre-eclampsia & HELLP syndrome
* Letter to the new NICU Mumma