Helping Hands: How to Help a NICU Family

Before Scarlett, I am thankful to say that I had never before spent a long period of time in the hospital.  It was a complete shock for me to go from living a relatively normal life to living life – in a hospital.  It took time to process it all. Not only was my baby in critical condition but I was a new mother! It was both exciting and terrifying.

The day Scarlett was born we had a lot of visitors. The amount of support we received during that time was astonishing. Friends, family and people I didn’t even know were reaching out to me offering words of wisdom and encouragement. I couldn’t believe it.  People were coming left and right to congratulate BJ and I on our new baby girl, and they wanted to meet our little miracle. It was nice. But if I’m being honest it was all a blur to me. I was happy people had come but I was in shock. I needed a minute. My life had changed dramatically and I needed time for me to wrap my head around that.

But by the time things had settled down and I had taken it all in, people had stopped coming or calling as often. Or they just stopped reaching out all together. It was as if Scarlett and I were in bubble and everyone else went back to their own lives. Now, I do NOT mean to sound ungrateful at ALL, because we had more than enough support and I eventually found my “village” to take care of me. But as I’ve stated before, part of my reason for writing this blog, is to not only help me, but also to help other NICU parents and families too. I want to help other people realize what its like for a NICU parent and what others can do to help them.

So here it goes.


 To the NICU parent, 

In the beginning there will be a MASSIVE amount of support and people coming “out of the woodwork” to offer you their prayers, thoughts, opinions, etc. You will be tired. You will be in shock.  You will basically be a robot and you will sound very repetitive because everyone will ask you the same questions. That’s OKAY. If you don’t want to talk to anyone, don’t. Don’t feel obligated to respond to anyone’s calls/text or IM’s right away – or even at all. You take what ever time you need to rest, recuperate and process it all. When you are ready then you can do whatever you want.

After a while though, there will not be as many calls/texts/IM’s. Life will quiet down and you might start to feel secluded. Some people you used to talk to often may even shy away from you or disappear from your life altogether. (It happens.) While you are focused on supporting your baby who is fighting their battle, there may or may not be someone in your corner to support you. To this I say, find your people. Some of us are lucky enough that we don’t have to look too far for them. Some of us though,  aren’t so fortunate and have no one. Don’t be afraid. There are a lot of NICU mama’s who will be that shoulder for you to lean and cry on if you need to. Just say the word and I’m one of them. I promise. Support groups are hard to find, (I didn’t find mine until after Scarlett’s NICU stay) but they are out there and I hope you see this so I can point you in the right direction.

Have courage, and buckle in. When we say NICU life is a rollercoaster – we mean it.

Hopefully, you’re NICU stay will be short and you’ll get to take your little one home.

Know that not every story has the ending we all pray for – but let’s try to be optimistic.

Sometimes, (like in our case) your NICU stay will feel like forever – just take things one day at a time & celebrate every small victory. (You’ll learn quickly what those are.)

Another thing I would like to suggest to you is this: start a Facebook page or a Blog. Dedicate it to solely to updating everyone on your baby’s progress. This way, you don’t have to keep repeating the same information to 100 different people. It makes it so much easier for you and everyone can get the same information all at once. It will also be a nice way for you to reflect on your journey later. You could even designate a close friend or family member to update the page for you.

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To friends/family & Well Wishers:

Thank you. Thank you for taking time out of your lives to stop and think of our families. Even if it’s just a one word comment, text, etc. Thank you for taking the time to reach out.  Please be gentle with us. I know you are worried and want to know what exactly is going on. But remember we are fragile and although you might be worried, I promise we are 10 times more anxious and afraid. Give us some space, let us catch our breath and then come back to us. We know that you have the best intentions and mean well but sometimes, waiting for an update is better than asking for one. After all, with any medical situation no news is good news.

There are a few ways you can help if you feel the call to do so. Below I have listed a few ideas, in case you would like to do something sweet for the family but are unsure of where to start.

1. NICU Milestone cards: These are sweet little printed cards that have things like “1 week old”, “1st kangaroo hold with mom”, “first bottle/breast feed” and  other things like that. They make great gifts for parents and are ways to document their journey. You can find a lot of designs on Etsy or you could even make your own!

2. A Journal: Another way for mothers/parents to record their NICU journey and something they can use to jot down information or questions they might have. It will come in handy.

3. The Littlest Peanut:  This is a book I HIGHLY recommend for every NICU family. My sister found it on Amazon and I absolutely love it. It helped me track things I never even thought about! Now, I love looking back on it. It’s been a great help in reflecting back on Scarlett’s journey and seeing how far she has come.

4. Water bottle/snacks: For that tired breast feeding/pumping mother who is working so hard to make food for her growing fighter. Keeping hydrated and fed is necessary and they could always use them.

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5. Preemie clothes: I recently discovered that Carter’s now has a collection specifically for  preemies. They are the cutest & would have been VERY helpful when Scarlett was in NICU. I would suggest getting them if you are wanting to get something for baby. If you are crafty or know someone who crochets or knits, smalls hats are often used and make the perfect little gift as well.

6. Books: Scarlett received a few books while she was in NICU and I loved reading them to her as often as I could.  It was also a great way to past the time I spent sitting at her bedside. Our hospital actually gifted Scarlett with Dr. Suess’: Oh! The Places You Will Go and it was signed by all of her doctors and nurses. She received this after her NICU Graduation and I love it! I can’t wait show it to her when she is older. I don’t know that all hospitals do this so you might ask. If they don’t it would make a fantastic surprise gift!

7. Coffee/Lunch/Dinner dates: As a parent it’s hard to drag ourselves away from the hospital so we really do need help remembering to take care of ourselves. Quick getaways with friends or family and doing something for ourselves is always nice and much appreciated, whether we realized it or not.

8. Offer to take care of the other children/pets, etc.  Scarlett is my only daughter & BJ did his best to take care of our dogs at home (they also did a great job of keeping him company while we were away). Thankfully I was able to give my full attention to Scarlett. But some families have other children they need to care for as well; I cannot imagine how much more difficult that would be. So offering to take care of them for a little while so mommy & daddy can have a little time to themselves would probably be extremely helpful.

9. Blankets: It’s pretty chilly in NICU to help keep the germs away. After awhile though, sitting in the cold as you’re visiting your baby can be a little too chilly so a nice little throw blanket would make another perfect gift.

10. Receiving blankets: In NICU the nurses will make little “nests” for baby to lay in while they are in their incubators/cribs. I loved being able to use colorful receiving blankets as a way to kind of decorate Scarlett’s “room”. It just added a personal touch from me to her and she was able to use them for a while afterwards.

11. Photography:  One of the BEST things a friend of mine did for me was offer to come and take pictures of Scarlett during her NICU stay. She was able to document Scarletts journey in that way and they are photos that I will treasure forever. As a NICU momma I wasn’t able to have photos of the birth taken and the pictures she took for us are Scarlett’s only “newborn” photos we have. It’s so amazing being able to look through them and see how much she has grown and changed.

I know a lot of people say “if you ever need anything let me know” and it is a sweet sentiment. But my advice to you is, if you offer – make sure you follow through. Because from personal experience there were times I definetly should  have taken someone up on it, but I never did. Simply because I didn’t want to bother anyone. So, please. If you offer take that initiative, go the extra step and follow up on it.

I went on ahead and made a list of all the things I’ve suggested. I know most of them are linked already but I thought it might be nice to have it all in one place. So just click here and it will lead you to it.


To Our Village: 

Thank you for being such a blessing to us. God knew that we needed you and you are an answered prayer.

I can’t tell you how many times I fell apart and cried uncontrollably without fear of rejection. Knowing that I could let my guard down and let someone see my weakness when I just didn’t have it in me to be strong. Being able to lean on you for comfort and support means so much. There are not enough words I could  ever say that would adequately convey how grateful we are to have you in our lives.

I love you.


 

I hope this is seen by whomever needs to see it. I hope that it helps as much as I intended it to. I know how much I could have and needed to hear some of these words, especially from a fellow NICU mama. If you or someone you know is in a similar season of life, please feel free to reach out and share your story with me. I’m a good listener.

Thank you all for taking the time to read this.

Love,

Maria Isabel ❤

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