Tuesday, July 5, 2011

5 Things You Should Never Say to a Mom with a Baby in the NICU

In light of my bestie's NICU adventures last week, I called upon my own NICU memories to compose a handy guide for friends and family members to consult before saying funky things to a distraught mother.

Situations like this are so hard...nobody can prepare for them, and emotions make us all tongue-tied and fumbly.  So, while this may sound harsh, I'm just trying to tell it like it is.  We all know you mean well...it just doesn't always come out the right way.

5.  This isn't that bad.  When my Johnny was in the hospital, it was WAY worse.
Um, even if Johnny's hospital stay WAS way worse than this particular mom's story, please don't say that.  It sounds like you are down-playing her heartache, and right now she needs to feel like she isn't crazy for feeling like her world is falling in on itself.  Maybe your story was harder than hers, but she doesn't need to be one-upped right now.

4.  Everything is going to be alright.
Do you know that?  Really?  Because you never really know, right?  You can hope that it's alright.  You can feel like it will be alright.  But you need to acknowledge her fears that it may not, otherwise she's going to feel like she has a secret that she can't divulge to anyone.

When Chase was in the NICU, I actually imagined what it would be like if he didn't come back from his surgery.  I did.  I had it all lived out in my mind.  I don't even think I told my husband about it.  I just harbored that little scenario in my heart all by itself, and then felt guilty that I didn't have enough faith to squelch it.  It felt awful to carry that around.

3.  This time next year, you will have forgotten this ever happened.
Nope.  She will never forget that she had to leave her baby at the hospital when she was discharged.  She will never forget that she had to go past all the other new moms with their little pink bundles of babies when she headed out to the car with her bags and her gifts and her empty car seat.  That's going to be burned in her mommy-brain forever, and even though that sounds terrible, it's not, because it will provide support someday for another mom who needs it.

2.  I know how you feel.
Unless you've had to leave a newborn in the NICU, too, you don't.  You may have an idea...you may almost know...you may try really really hard to equate it to something that you have gone through.  That's okay to talk about.  Try saying, "I can only imagine that you must be feeling like I felt when ...xyz."  

1.  Are you going to try for another?
Yeah, too early.  Never, ever.  Just don't.

So what CAN you say?
1.  When can I watch your other kids for you?
2.  I'm bringing a meal for you on ____ day.
3. I'm here if you need to talk.
4. I'm sorry that you have to go through this.
5. We're praying for (thinking about) you.
6. Give me an update.
7. Call me any time for anything.  Seriously.  Do.
8.  I did the stupidest thing today...(follow with a funny story- a little levity is welcome now and then.)
9.  How are you feeling?
10. It's going to be so.awesome. when you bring her home.


Tiffanyrose said...

This is so perfectly put. Seriously perfect.

connie said...

Amen, sister.

Nicole said...

don't know you, but i LOVED this post. my daughter was in the NICU for 12 weeks after her birth at 26 weeks. which was a blessing, since i first went into labor at 23 weeks.

fortunately, she was our first, so we had no childcare issues to deal with at the time, but even just the first 2 weeks i wasn't allowed to drive myself to the hospital were horrendous. also, we were lucky in that she was remarkably healthy and...right, i guess. no surgeries needed, a slight abdominal hernia that healed itself by the time she was about 5 months old, only 1 life-threatening infection at 2 weeks old, and the rest of the time was playing the waiting and growing game. but STILL.

i felt everything was going to be alright from the beginning, but i HATED anyone else telling me that. i felt like i'd been handed this little divine insight to relieve some stress; everyone else was just trying to pacify my justified worries.

here's the 6th thing never to say to a breast-feeding hopeful NICU mom: either "any healthy baby past 32 gestational weeks old can learn to breastfeed," (ah, so in addition to my uterus failing my baby, now me and my breasts are doing the same thing!) OR "what's the big deal if she can't be breastfed? at least she's drinking well from a bottle now!" (right, and the nurses are doing it 80-90% of the time because i can't live at the hospital. i tried. i thought the 10-20% of the time that i had her we could further bond by having her suckle, you know, so we could have one semi-normal newborn/mother experience, but apparently, i'm making a mountain out of a molehill. thank you.)

loved your first 5 so much; thanks!