How to Be a Friend to a Preemie Parent
You know that friend you have who’s a major overachiever and seems to accomplish more in a day than you do in a week? Yeah, me too. Well, almost two years ago, that friend of mine —Melissa, of Tales of the Anti-Preemie — gave birth to a 24-week-old baby boy. As someone who was used to “doing it all”, asking for help didn’t come naturally to her. Luckily she didn’t have to ask. People stepped up and she now knows she couldn’t have gotten through some very trying times without the help of family and friends.
Now, almost two years later, Melissa’s enjoying time with her thriving “anti-preemie” and she gave me some pointers on how to be a good friend to someone in her shoes. (If only I’d had this two years ago…)
Sam, Born at 24 Weeks
Chances are, you know someone who has — or will have — a preemie. A recent WHO report stated 1 in 8 babies born each year in the U.S. are premature.
If Baby's in the NICU
Many preemies have to spend awhile in the hospital. Here are some tips for this time period.
Many preemie moms have had C-sections and aren’t able to drive, but they’re anxious to get to the hospital. This is a great way to see your friend and help her out!
...Then Take a Detour
Sitting in the hospital for hours on end can be very stressful. Take the scenic route to the hospital. Take Mom to get a foot massage on the way. Do something special to give Mom a bit of a mental escape.
Plan a Sibling Playdate
“Hey, Lucy could really use a playmate. Can we borrow Big Sister for a couple hours?” = Mom and Dad getting time at the hospital together. A very rare treat if the preemie has big siblings at home.
When Baby Gets to Come Home
Coming home can be quite an adjustment for preemie families. Here are some tips for this time period.
"Home" Doesn't Necessarily Mean "Normal"
Those precious little preemies can require lots of extra attention. Monitors. Treatments. Appointments all over town (at home the doctors no longer come to check in…you have to go to them!). Be there to listen and support your friend if she finds this transition challenging.
Don't Come In ... Or Do
If you have groceries, supplies, gifts, etc. to drop off, call ahead and say you plan to leave them on the porch. Don’t be surprised if the parents are grateful and don’t invite you in — preemies’ immune systems are very delicate. But if they do invite you in, by all means, go in (unless you think you might be fighting a virus). Sometimes company is the greatest gift.
… and, yes, your kids are walking germs. You know that immune system thing I mentioned? It could mean hand washing, masks, etc. It could also mean that your kids aren’t welcome. It’s not personal. It’s just smart.
What to Avoid Saying
Of course you would never say something hurtful on purpose, but keep in mind comments about Baby’s preemie appearance can be hard on parents. While you may be surprised by how (teeny, scary, pale, etc) Baby looks — they see a perfect little angel.
That Just-Right Something
If you’re looking for the perfect gift, consider these ideas.
Melissa didn’t set foot in a grocery store for four months. Four months! Not only did friends keep her well fed by dropping off home-cooked meals and grocery staples, their thoughtfulness ensured Mom wasn’t out in crowds bringing seasonal germs home to Baby.
Gift Cards for Baby Product Delivery Services
While preemie clothes are adorable, many preemies can’t actually wear a lot of them. Consider a gift certificate to a store that delivers diapers or other baby products. (More keeping Mom out of germs’ way!)
If Baby’s in the hospital, doctors encourage Mom and Dad to sleep with little blankets that they leave with Baby when they go home for the night. This way Baby smells Mom and Dad. In Melissa’s case, big sis, Irene, found it to be a great bonding activity to wear a scent doll that was left with Sam the next night.
Whew. And you thought being a parent to a full-term baby was complicated! I hope Melissa’s experience and insights help you — and your friends — celebrate and honor many more anti-preemies to come.
For more great preemie insight, visit Melissa’s blog, Tales of the Anti-Preemie.