"It isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, but knowing how to dance in the rain."
It has been almost two months my son, Aiden, came from the NICU. Like all other parents, we jumped straight into the routine without any help from our families. There is no more help from the nurses and doctors and by the rule of thumb, we are sleep deprived. Yet it still feels so good to be in the comfort of home.
Our journey had a rough start. However, we are so grateful to have had so many people help us along the way — the endless words of encouragement and support, the food and flowers magically appearing at our doorsteps. Some even shared their own experience of having a preemie or being a preemie themselves. We felt deeply touched and loved.
What I would like to share today are the 5 things I learned along the journey. These are my experiences and what helped me greatly; they might be very different from others. With this, I hope to raise awareness if you ever find yourself or someone you know in the same situation.
Reach out to give endless words of encouragement and support.
It gives great comfort to hear from family and friends in time of distress. It is even better when they can check in on you often or every day to see how you are doing. People are often worried that might be too excessive. The thing is if everyone thinks like that, no one ends up checking up on the person. There are many ways you can do it without disturbing them. Visiting them every day would cause them hassle; however, do things like send a message to let them know you are thinking about them, to ask if they need anything, or just simply to ask how they're feeling and let them know you are always there to listen.
Also, check in often, and not just one time. Whatever the family is going through, it can be a lengthy and stressful journey. For NICU babies, short stays are a few days or weeks, long stays are a few months; some stay for 10 months or longer. People often receive an overwhelming support at the start, but it often dies down as time goes by. The constant level of support brings warmth to the family and make them feel less alone. Even if they can’t answer or reply your message, they know someone is thinking about them and that gives great comfort.
Give help; don’t just offer help.
Many people will step forward and offer help of many kinds. While some parents knows exactly what they need help with, some are just too occupied with the treatment of their babies or often they are still under shocked. They don’t know what help they need. In some other cases, they don’t know how to accept help. It will be something they learn as part of this journey. This gets mentioned in every single book on preemie for new NICU parents. So, help them before they even know they need help.
You can think of the common necessities you would want if you were in their shoes. Food and grocery runs are always good. If they don’t know what they want to eat, bring what you know they like or bringing your favorite dishes. Any food is better than hospital food or instant noodles or fast food or no food. Supplies for moms are helpful, especially from experienced moms. I appreciate so much those who brought me nursing and pumping supplies. Since the baby came 3 months earlier than expected, I hadn’t had a chance to researched into those things, nor did I know what to expect.
The second or third night after delivery, I woke up at home in excruciating pain and it’s not because of the cesarean section. I learned something new: it was breast engorgement when the milk came in, and you don’t have a baby there to eat. Luckily my friends with kids were there to the rescue! And even luckier, some of them dropped off breast therapy pillow (I didn’t know such thing exists), nipple soother gel and cream... the next day. It’s the best feeling to know you are taken care of.
Don’t judge, in any shape or form.
The truth is you unknowingly or unintentionally maybe judging the already distressed parents for what happens. I was surprised at how often that happened to me. During our stay in the NICU, while we received so many words of encouragement and support, some of them didn’t come in the form we wished to hear. I had people told me outright how my traveling probably caused the early labor and hence I should learn that lesson for my next kid. Others told me it must be my carelessness working late into the night or letting work stress affected me that must have caused the whole situation.
None of these “judges” is a medical professional; none of them knew the exact conditions of what caused it or what happened to me in medical terms. Both my OB and the doctors insisted that traveling wasn’t the cause and didn’t need to be avoided. What saddens me is that these friends didn’t have the trust that I was doing everything I could to take care of my body during my pregnancy. Given the distressed position a mother is already in, why would you want to put guilt on her when she knows absolutely she has done everything she could for herself and her baby.
Bottom line, if the medical professionals don’t have an answer, please don’t try to give one yourself. Instead of judgement, give pure love — and love only.
Give them company, especially when the baby isn’t home yet.
When I searched for articles and blogs on dealing with emotions after delivery, loneliness and isolation are among the most common feelings that every mother has. Unless you have families staying long period of time to help, you are on your own. Your husband may still be working. Day in and day out, it is you and the baby around the clock, feeding, changing diapers, soothing him to sleep, pumping and somewhere in between take care of your primary needs such as bathroom breaks, eating, and — if you're lucky — cooking and cleaning.
Taking care of a baby around the clock for a few months just on your own, you start craving social interaction, going out door, talking to adults, catching up on things happening outside of the baby’s nursery. None of these are different from full term babies, but remember there is still the aftershock for everything preemie parents have just gone through. It is a trauma that may take months or even years for them to process. It’s also worse with preemies, since the doctor may warn the parents to stay clear of crowded places until the baby is a few months or much older. They are more receptive to germs and get sick much easier. Something might cause a cold or flu to a full-term could be lethal to preemies. The worst thing is no matter how much you hate repeating this to people, you must. People may (and often) think you are overprotective and judge you. The truth is, they don’t know you wish you didn’t have to take those extra precautions.
Keep reaching out, even when you think they are out of the woods.
Like I mentioned earlier, loneliness and isolation are real after baby comes. Of course, you want to respect privacy and their bonding time, it never hurts to ask when you can visit and if you can help. Chances are, they might need as much help and attention after the baby comes home.
I was truly fortunate to have a few friends coming over the week right after. Some brought over homemade food, some even brought prepared dishes and cooked there for us so it’s hot and steamy. We didn’t have to do a thing nor clean up. It felt so nice to have the company, and the comfort of homemade meal right at home.
This story was written by Linh K. Tran and originally appeared on Medium.com.