With the increasing rate of premature births, it seems that someone always knows someone who has had a premature baby. Yet the topic itself seems a bit taboo. Hell, my Dr didn’t even feel the need to go through the possibility and he was supposedly the expert doctor for twins and high risk pregnancy. Nobody talks about it. Perhaps out of fear, perhaps just innocently unaware or maybe its because they would never think of it happening to themselves or their loved ones. I was the later two.
In NICU, each day was completely new and we never knew what to expect. You really do just have to take it one day at a time. Some days are extremely positive (like when India had her first cuddle without her CPAP-it felt like I was holding a real baby, weird thing to say but it is how it felt); other days it feels like the whole world is crushing down on top of you (like when we found out that Dahli’s PDA (hole in her heart) was not closing like it should). And all the days, as they add up and up and up, blur into one big, long, messy roller coaster ride, with the one overarching, glowing light at the end of the immensely, intricate tunnel-the day your baby/babies graduate and can finally come home.
Although friends and family found it hard to understand our heartbreaking situation, throughout our time in NICU, we experienced so much generosity and kindness. Family, friends, nurses, doctors, cleaners, neighbours and organisations all reached out.
I recently had a friend ask me what would be a good gift to give their friend who had just had a premature baby and was currently in NICU. I instantly wanted to help because I knew what was so helpful for us and I could relate to their situation. I knew what people did and didn’t do that was so wonderfully helpful and so greatly appreciated. So I decided to make a list of great gifts and things that you can do for parents who have a baby or babies in NICU:
- Cook healthy meals that can be easily frozen (for long NICU day lunches and dinners). Some families are a long way from home and may be staying at the Ronald Mcdonald house, and if this is the case you could either send meals with family or purchase meals or groceries online, to be delivered.
- Make or purchase healthy snacks (helped to get me through the long drive, the long stays and the perpetual expressing that I needed to do).
- Transport. After having a C Section I couldn’t drive so I had family and friends driving me to and from the hospital twice a day. When family left, I was so lucky that an organisation (Community Options) gifted me taxi vouchers which I used until I had clearance to drive.
- Bake some lactation cookies or muffins (I ate many of these and I swear by them-post on these coming soon! Pretty sure I have perfected the recipe!)
- Create a NICU mummy pack. You could include things like: tissues (for all the tears), memory box (to put tags, CPAP, caps etc in), a cute pen (to label all the expressed milk bottles), some prem baby clothes (these were hard to come by and when buying for two, very expensive), lip balm (and coldsore cream if applicable), nipple cream, hand cream (oh so much hand sanitising!), chocolate (for those weak, I need chocolate comfort moments! And for breastmilk supply, of course!), nice tea bags (you can even get lactation tea), a water bottle.
- Support. Knowing that you care, actually means a lot. You don’t have to understand. Just a few words of love and well wishes is wonderful. We had messages of love from many people, including on Facebook, from long ago friends who I wouldn’t have expected at all. Weekly check ins (texts) from friends were lovely. Of course, never expect a reply (although I always did my best) and just make sure that your messages of support don’t press for information about the situation. Your friend will open up if they want, when they are ready. Another nice way to offer support is to ask if they would like a visit (not to see the baby). You might catch up for tea/coffee, have a little picnic near by, or take a walk outside in the fresh air. I remember one day going to watch a movie with a friend in between cares. This broke up a long day and was great for my mental health.
- Space. Of course support is lovely but also be aware of space. Like I mentioned, checking in regularly is nice but it you don’t hear from your friend or family member for a while, don’t be offended. Sometimes the world of NICU consumes you totally and you can’t bear speaking to or texting another person the same thing, explaining how well or not so well your bub/babies are going.
- Don’t be nosy. I know you may just be a caring, concerned friend, but please don’t ask your friend, “why did this happen?” Chances are they are already feeling hopelessly responsible, losing sleep over what they could have done differently to have prevented it. And what I have read and heard from a few doctors is that, in the majority of cases, we don’t know why things like this happen, they just occur and nothing the mother did differently could have helped anyway.
- The usual baby shower gifts. If your friend had an extreme premature baby (and it is their first), then chances are they missed out on their baby shower. Mine was planned for the day before the girls were born, so I was really disappointed that I didn’t get to experience this special day. Often new parents wait until after the baby shower to purchase things (like we did), so any baby gifts will most likely be greatly appreciated.
- A massage or pamper voucher for mumma at a place close to the hospital.
- A voucher for dinner close by to the hospital.
- Purchase NICU milestone cards (Like the ones from Miracle mumma https://www.miraclemumma.com.au). I wish I had known about these or thought about creating them myself. Like I said though, we had no idea what to expect and so I really had no idea what the milestones would be.
- Offer to feed and/or walk their dogs (in our case it was dogs, but other families had children. You could help with babysitting, dropping off and/or picking up from school, preparing kid friendly food or even doing some cleaning for them).
- Mow their lawn. I was worried about our dogs barking late into the night, while I spent 12 days in hospital. So I had a family member put a note in our neighbours letterbox, apologising and explaining our situation. The next thing we knew, our lawn was mowed and continued to be so, until after we got home with the twins.
Writing this now and reflecting back on the overwhelming support and kindness that we received during our time in NICU, I have become quite emotional. Big or small, the thoughts, gifts and actions from our family and friends will always be so greatly appreciated. You all helped us through, and it is my hope that this list can help other families, as they are in the depths of their own NICU journey.
“Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in our hearts”. – Winnie the Pooh, A.A Milne