Our world was turned upside down the day my water broke seven weeks too soon. We would have never made it through the next few months without the kindness, generosity, and overwhelming support of our friends, family, and complete strangers.
When you have a loved one going through a NICU stay, you may feel helpless, unsure of what to say or do. You will never know though, how even a small act of kindness can make a world of difference. Here are some things we found to be helpful during our daughter’s NICU stay:
Basic Needs: One of the best ways you can help someone through a NICU stay is to assist the family with meeting basic needs.
Shelter– Our hospital was an hour away from our home. I was not willing to be an hour away from my baby. A generous family member reserved us a hotel room for the first few nights. After that, we had no idea what we would do. Then a nurse suggested parking an RV in the hospital lot. So we went on the hunt for an RV we could borrow. Within minutes of putting the word out there, a coworker of my mom’s volunteered. Although we had never met her, she didn’t hesitate to help us.
Food- NICU days are long and short all at the same time. Time starts to take on a whole new meaning and it is easy to miss meals. Eating is so important, but it falls low on the list when you are by your baby’s side. Every few days a friend or a family member would come take us out for lunch. It was nice to visit, get some fresh air and have a meal taken care of. People also sent us meals and gift cards for nearby restaurants. It was so helpful to have these gifts and it ensured we kept up our strength.
Transportation- After giving birth, many doctors restrict new moms from driving. This can make getting to and from the hospital very difficult. If you can, offer a ride to the hospital. Also, driving back and forth can get expensive. A few friends gave us gas gift cards, which helped us handle the burden of that expense.
Baby Preparation: Throughout my pregnancy, we had absolutely zero indication that we would be delivering a premature baby until my water broke in the middle of the night. The nursery wasn’t finished, clothes weren’t washed, and we didn’t even have a car seat. While I was in labor, a few friends were at our house working on the nursery and a family member messaged my mom to let us know the car seat was taken care of. It was the biggest relief to find out that things would be ready when it was time to bring our daughter home. Also, since I missed the “nesting” stage, I was worried about bringing our daughter home to a messy house. After hearing about our concerns, a few family members volunteered to spend the day scrubbing our home from top to bottom.
Encouragement: The NICU is a very busy, but very lonely place. The first few days you are in there you are flooded with texts, calls, and messages. However, many times you are in the NICU for much longer than just a few days. You start to feel the world is moving on and you are stuck. It is very easy to feel alone and discouraged. Keep those encouraging messages coming! I can’t tell you how many times I read messages that I received. You don’t need to say the perfect thing, you just need to let them know you are thinking about them.
When you are offering to help a loved one, start by picking one of these categories. That will help your loved one focus on what they really need and it will allow you to do what you are comfortable with. Of course every family and every situation is unique. Most importantly, you want your loved one to feel supported. Try to remember that having a premature baby is a long journey, a journey that continues outside of the NICU. And as with any journey, it is much better to have some help along the way.