Before my personal experience as a NICU mom, I knew other moms who had been through a NICU stay. My sister and sister-in-law had both been there. I visited my nephew in the NICU. I saw what was on the surface: they left the hospital without their baby, the strict NICU rules, scrubbing in. Still, I had no clue what they were experiencing on a personal level, at least not until I had my son at 24 weeks, weighing 1 lb. 11 oz. and 12 inches long.
From September 1, 2017, to June 25, 2018, Junior was in the NICU in critical condition. One
of the toughest parts of his 10-month stay was the fact that not a single person knew what my husband and I were going through, no matter how close they were to us or to our situation. Although there is no magic wand that can allow others to relate to you, there are ways to support a NICU parent without having been in their shoes.
Never minimize their feelings.
You may not understand why a NICU parent is feeling the way they’re feeling at the time, but you can always be a listening ear. The things they complain about or discuss with you may not seem like a big deal to you. I promise you, in their world at that time, everything is a big deal. Everything. Everything is harder than it should be. Be a listening ear. Be a helping hand. Be a shoulder to cry on.
Help maintain some normalcy.
I was a crazy person while Junior was in the NICU. My already bad anxiety was through the roof. I was completely overwhelmed with staying current on all of Junior’s health problems, taking care of my daughter, pets, and the house, trying to pump enough to feed Junior, and spending most of my time sitting next to his isolette. All anyone ever wanted to talk about was Junior, and it was so draining. I spent most of my waking hours worrying about him. Every once in a while, I wanted to talk about something else. For a tiny part of my day, I
wanted to forget the devastation that was my life at the time. Ask how they are doing, too, not only the baby.
Don’t take things personally.
If you call or text and get no response, it’s probably not you. They could be sitting next to their baby in the NICU or doing skin-to-skin. Or maybe they’re exhausted. Maybe they just can’t handle another person asking questions, having to give the same information for the eighth time that day. It’s not you, it’s them.
Let them grieve.
Yes, their baby is here, still alive. The outlook may be bad or good, but it doesn’t matter. The fact is that they are losing out on the natural experience of having a newborn baby. They are grieving the loss of joyful parenthood, what they’ve been expecting.