It’s a question that pops up in my inbox at least once a week: “I have a friend in the NICU. How can I help?”
Well, I can tell you the absolute worst thing to say to your friend. “Please let me know if you need anything.” Chances are? She won’t. Not because she’s too proud or even ashamed, but likely because that new NICU mom has no idea what she really needs.
Recently, a dear friend found herself in the neonatal intensive care unit for the first time with a micropreemie. She was a recent transplant back to Texas, her home state, and all her friends from her previous home in the midwest were emailing me, asking how they could help.
Thus, the virtual NICU shower was born. It was so wildly successful, wonderfully easy and incredibly heartwarming that I’ve decided to share how we did it with y’all. The next time someone you love finds herself struggling to stay afloat in the world of neonates, I’ve got her lifeline.
The first thing to consider? Set up a site for the NICU parents via CareFlash. It provides a place for NICU parents to update friends and family on the progress of their preemie. There’s also an iHelp calendar feature, great videos on common preemie diagnoses for those that are new to neonate lingo and a place to upload photos. It’s safe, secure and easy to access.
Next, designate a family spokesperson. Ask your friend if there’s a trusted family member or friend that can serve as the buffer for all those requests and inquiries in those initial few days and weeks. People assume that the one quick phone call, the short text or the well-meaning voicemail can easily be answered by the new family. In reality, they’re overwhelmed and likely emotionally and physically exhausted. It’s a bit like drinking out of a fire hose! Once your friend acclimates herself to the NICU, she can begin to assume some of those responsibilities as her time, and mental state, allow. You might also consider getting her connected to Hand to Hold to be paired with a mentor, someone who as been in the NICU trenches and knows what it takes to survive. I know that saved my sanity!
Finally, get the NICU Shower started by utilizing a site like SignUp Genius. It allows you to insert all the items the family needs, specifying quantities. A sample list is below. Think bigger than hand sanitizer and hand lotion. Do they have other children at home and is childcare needed? What home needs do they have – house cleaning, lawn mowing, mail delivery, etc.? Where will they eat while visiting their baby in the NICU? What things can locals provide and what can out-of-towners send in that’s helpful? The site also allows for you to send messages to participants and export an Excel spreadsheet for your friend.
- Gift cards: grocery store, gas, hospital cafeteria, local restaurants, Target, VISA/MasterCard, iTunes or Starbucks
- Hand lotion
- Water bottle (reusable)
- Water bottles (disposable)
- Healthy snacks (non-perishable and perishable, like fruit)
- Thank you notes and stamps
- Phone charger
- Insulated tote bag for carrying all those items to and from the NICU
- Preemie clothes, particularly those that wrap or snap/button on the side so as not to interfere with IVs, PICC lines, CPAPs, ostomy bags, O2 cannulas, etc.
- Story books for baby
- Quilts or incubator cover
- Disposable camera for the nurses to take photos
- Stain stick, left at the NICU when the baby begins wearing clothes and then has their first blowout!
- Childcare helpers, who can watch children at home while mom and dad visit the NICU
- House cleaning (can be shared by friends and neighbors or hired out)
- Lawn mowing (can be shared by friends and neighbors or hired out)
- List of contacts for NICU photographers, child psychologists, hospital chaplains and school counselors
Lastly, we made this a surprise, but you may want to alert your friend first. It all depends on the relationship you have with your girlfriend. All the gifts were wrapped and then delivered. Oh, to see the look on that sweet family’s faces. We all want to feel loved and this baby shower is one way to show your friend that her baby is celebrated and cherished, even if the entrance into the world was more drama-filled than she envisioned.
Bottom line? She needs your support most of all. Even when you don’t know what to say, you can never go wrong with, “I’m here for you. How can I help you today?”