This post is sponsored by Bupa.
“How are things?” she asked when we met out the front of the hospital.
She wasn’t expecting the flood of tears, and, quite frankly, neither was I.
But there I was, standing on the street, with tears streaming down my face.
“I’m sorry” I snuffled.
“Don’t be sorry” she said, “Just tell me what’s up?”
“It’s just so stupid…”
“It’s not stupid. You have two tiny babies in the ICU…it’s not stupid”.
“No, it’s not that. I mean it is that, but… ” The tears started again and I knew from the look on her face she was getting really concerned so I just blurted it out.
“I have no pants that fit me.”
After making it through our twins being born 11 weeks early and that scary first week in NICU, it was pants that had broken me.
Pants. Such a ridiculous, unimportant thing.
Later I realised the pants were just a symbol. Just one of the many things I felt I couldn’t manage while I was trying to cope with the reality of having premature babies.
Buying Christmas presents, returning phone calls, sorting out the health insurance, remembering to eat, paying bills, expressing enough milk, wondering when (or even if) we should buy baby equipment, finding time to buy some pants that fit… There was a growing list of things I thought I should be able to manage, but just couldn’t, and it had broken me.
All I wanted to do was sit between the two isolettes and make the world wait until my babies and I were ready to join it.
After talking with other premmie Mums I know I was not the only premmie mum who felt overwhelmed, I was not the only one who lost it over something that seemed so trivial.
So many mums of prem babies talk about feeling worried, and feeling overwhelmed, and they also talk about how much it means when a friend of family member does something to lighten the load a little. It’s usually not something momentous, often it’s just listening and caring, or doing one little thing, that makes such a huge difference.
That’s what my friend did for me that day. She took one little thing off my list and made such a huge difference. She went and bought me pants.
She took care of me so I could take care of my babies, and even now, so many years later, I remember and I am thankful.
If you have friends or family who suddenly find themselves with a tiny baby in the NICU here are a few things you might be able to do to make it a little easier on them:
You may not be able to hold the baby, or even visit him or her, but a baby being born is still something worth celebrating. Take your lead from the parents, celebrate the baby’s birth, and all the little milestones that see them one step closer to coming home.
Don’t be afraid to ask.
Having a prem baby can be very different to having a full term baby, so it is much better to ask than to assume.
Ask the parents how they want to handle visitors, and ask the hospital what the rules are for visitors. Ask how the baby is doing, ask what all those big scary words and acronyms mean. Ask how the parents are doing, ask if there is anything they need. Ask the nurses or hospital staff or get in touch with a support service (like the National Premmie Foundation) and ask how you can support the family.
Parents of prem babies are dealing with lots of big, scary things. Right now, their focus is on their baby, so be understanding when they might not return phone calls, or if they miss birthdays and family events, or if they need time to themselves, or they seem to have ‘full on’ rules about visiting the baby. A little understanding goes a long way.
Be there for the long haul.
Having a prem baby can mean weeks, or months, in hospital, and sometimes, after the initial excitement of the baby’s birth, parents are left alone to cope with the long haul towards home. NICU can be a lonely place, and the occasional phone call, text or email, popping in to the hospital to have lunch, asking when you can visit etc. can have a big impact on scared, lonely and exhausted parents.
Offer practical support
Babysitting for older children, a freezer full of meals, driving to and from the hospital, help buying baby items, helping take care of pets, doing other essential shopping (like buying pants that fit!)… there are lots of practical ways you can offer help.
Understand that having a prem baby doesn’t end the day they come home from hospital.
Even if the baby has a dream run through NICU and special care, and goes home healthy, being born early often comes with a legacy attached. For some that means long term health, or developmental issues, but for all of us, it means extra tests, extra medical visits, and extra worries. Be understanding and supportive after the baby comes home too.
Even though my own prem babies are teenagers now, you never forget the experience of having a prem baby, and you never forget those people who made things just a little easier.
Have you had a prem baby? Or have you had a friend of family member who has been on this journey?
What little things made your life, or your friend’s life, a little easier during those early days of having a miracle baby?