Emotional Gifts: Holding Virtual Space

December 12, 2016

emotional gifts

I will never be able to adequately express my thanks for the outpouring of support that flooded over my family in the weeks before and after my son’s birth. I had a five year old at home, and was in the hospital for two weeks before my urgent c-section, and heading back and forth to the NICU for six weeks after. We needed all the help we could get.

Friends and family sent food, cleaned our house, arranged childcare. They generally took as much of the load from our shoulders as they could.

Sometimes people ask me what they can do for their loved ones in a similar situation. There are lots of practical answers beyond food deliveries, and I can rattle off a list from the top of my head.

When I was in the thick of it, there was one gift that surprised me in its emotional usefulness.

Holding virtual space

One mentally exhausting aspect of the whole situation was feeling like I needed to keep everyone up to date at all times. I used social media to disseminate information as concisely as possible, but people wanted to reach out to me directly, to let me know they were thinking of us, to see what they could do to help.

I was so grateful to know how many people cared and wanted to check in with me, but I also felt overwhelmed. My life felt like a puzzle with too many pieces. I was wracked with guilt when I failed to respond or to give full answers to my well wishers. I was so lucky to have such a huge village and I worried I appeared unappreciative.

One day I got an email from a close friend. He said he was going to keep checking in on me regularly, but that I should not feel responsibility to respond if I was overwhelmed. He has known me well for a very long time. It was obvious I was likely drowning.

The gesture was simple – I doubt my friend gave it much thought – but it was the emotional get out of jail free card I didn’t know I needed.

friend holding baby

My friend, Steven, holding Rowan Steven.

I had not realized how tense I felt whenever someone sent me a message to ask how things were going. I was so glad to hear from everyone but so weary of repeating the same information over and over again. Also, the answer was not always pretty. I was struggling, and it felt disingenuous to give a breezy, “I’m good, thanks!” At the same time I did not want to give everyone a full run-down of all the ways I was under water.

If someone you love has a baby in the NICU please give them this gift. If you find yourself with a baby in the NICU ask for this gift. Tell everyone that you are giving it to yourself. Let them know you love their well wishes, but cannot possibly answer everyone. Try to let that guilt go, because everyone will understand.

For the NICU veterans — did anyone give you an emotional gift? Tell us about it!