My first pregnancy was anything but picture perfect. A test concerned us into thinking our son might have spina bifida, so we had multiple ultrasounds to confirm that he did not. Then we learned that somehow the baby’s blood had mixed with mine, and then my body was creating antibodies against him as if he was a virus.
Then a routine ultrasound in my 35th week showed that our little boy was not doing well. I was losing fluid, he was not growing, and he lacked the amount of movement a baby his age should have. So off I went to labor and delivery for an emergency c-section.
Our son, Lewis, was born at four pounds five ounces and was immediately whisked off to the NICU.
I sometimes look back on that time and feel guilty that I was so upset about my son being in the NICU. In total he was only there for two weeks. There are plenty of women who have their children in NICUs for a month, or two, or three. And here I was so upset over a two-week stay.
But in the moment, we didn’t know how long he would be there. That’s one of the difficulties of the NICU — you don’t know when your baby will be well enough to leave.
Whether your baby is in the NICU for a week or two or a month or two, leaving the hospital without your child is one of the hardest things you can endure as a parent.
If you know a mom who has a child in the NICU, here are some things you can do to support her in her time of need.
5 Ways to Support a NICU Mom
1. Bring her dinner.
It’s the tried-and-true offer for all parents with newborns, but sometimes NICU parents are forgotten since they aren’t yet home with their babies. But these parents need to eat too! Offer to cook a favorite meal or have something delivered. Even a delivery pizza would be so welcomed and appreciated!
2. Offer to babysit her other children.
If a mom already has children to care for and is worrying about a newborn in the NICU, then her heart is being pulled in two directions. Help ease her burden by offering to watch her children so she can spend an hour or two beside her son or daughter in the hospital.
3. Offer to help pay for parking.
When my son was in the NICU, we eventually got a pass allowing us to use the parking deck for free, since we would be there so often and for so long. But we didn’t get the pass until many days had passed. If you include the cost of parking for the initial hospital stay with delivery and recovery, plus visiting the hospital as often as possible while the baby is receiving care, the cost really starts to add up. Most women wouldn’t dare ask for money, even in a time of need, so put forth the offer yourself. Hand over a 20 dollar bill with a simple, “I want to help you pay for parking so you can visit your little one as often as you’d like.”
4. Take her out for coffee.
Spending time in the NICU can be exhausting, physically and mentally. If you know a mom who has been going every day for a while, offer to take her out for coffee just to have a few moments to destress and regroup. She will enjoy having a conversation that isn’t about tests or illnesses or worry, and she will appreciate having a friend to lean on.
5. Talk to her and truly listen.
Ask her questions. Let her vent. Be a shoulder to cry on. You won’t be able to quite understand what it’s like for her to be a mother without her baby, but I promise she will appreciate that you are engaging her and listening when she speaks.
What about you? Have you had a baby with an extended NICU stay? What things did your friends and family do to help you out in that difficult time?