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?
Read the comments or scroll down to add your own:
Everyone needs that friend that will buy them pants. So much great practical advice in here Kate, and so nice to hear such a positive and beautiful story.
I can relate to the pants!
So, I’m pregnant with twins. Rainbow babies at that. And anticipating prematurity and a plethora of other emotions that come with pregnancy after loss. I kind of needed this… Thank you.
Kate Lloyd says
Just taking one thing off the list. I think that’s such great advice and can mean so much. Loved reading this Kate.
Oh Kate, thank you for sharing your story. Every family needs support with a new baby (or babies) but your advice for families who start their journal on a very bumpy road is incredibly helpful. Really lovely advice that I’m sure will help many. xx
Love this story and these tips!
This is a beautiful post Kate, I was nodding along as I read through it. What an amazing friend you have, what broke me was when my sister arrived to see us and bought a gift and flowers for our little man and just having the ‘normality’ when everything up to that point had been anything but was too much.
Kate Russell says
We’re going through this at the moment and I really appreciate your post. We have been blessed with a community who have ensured we have a freezer full of meals and endless offers to help with things like school drop offs and pick ups. Even though we are now home with our prem baby, life is still hard and full of uncertainty. Having people around who understand is a blessing.
I think I found coming home with our babies one of the hardest parts. I am so glad you have a lovely community rallying around you, it really does make a huge difference just to have one less thing to think about!
Beautifully written. I had my little boy, my first, 6 weeks early, and it was quite the shock. You have an idea of going full term and bringing home your little angel after a day or two. When this ideal is shattered it can leave you feeling shattered. I felt tremendous guilt, with no known cause as to why he was born early. He had a relatively easy stay but it was still one of the hardest times of my life. I am blessed to be holding my little angel right now, rocking him to sleep. I totally get the whole pants thing! I remember going to Walmart in a haze one day because nothing fit, and feeling so sad to see other moms with their babies at the store. Thank you for this!
The guilt is an odd thing isn’t it… I mean we all know logically that it wasn’t anything we did or didn’t do, yet the guilt seems to seep in around the edges of that logic!
I’m so pleased you have your little one in your arms now :)
I had 2 premmies. What broke me was trying to get the smallest one to fit into the car seat for the journey home. She was so tiny it was useless. And going in each night to read her a bedtime story and then having to leave without her again.
Going home day after day without a baby is so hard… so very hard!
My little prem baby is now 11, but the best thing was being given hope from mothers of older babies that I would still be able to breastfeed even though we didn’t in the first hours. Breastfeeding is super important to me & having a tiny baby being tube fed was sending me into a panic. Chatting with the mum of a much older, formerly prem baby who had started feeding later gave me so much encouragement. It took a few weeks but we got there in the end. And I fed her to almost 3!!