In honor of World Prematurity Day on November 17th, I wanted to share some of the most helpful, as well as unhelpful, things that were said to me as I officially became a member of a club that no mama ever wants to join. Two days after Christmas, my water broke very unexpectedly. My sweet Olivia Rose came roaring into this world after 19 hours of labor, nearly seven weeks early.
What was most helpful action taken by friends and family during this time of overwhelm? Delivering meals. It was such a blessing to not have to think about food.
But what do you SAY to your sister/friend/daughter as she experiences what could be one of the most challenging events of her life?
Let’s start with what NOT to say:
“Just be glad you didn’t have to suffer through that third trimester!”
In an attempt to help me focus on the positive, several people told me a version of, “Wow, she would have been a 10-pound baby if she had gone to term- aren’t you glad you didn’t have to push that out?!” I would have given ANYTHING to keep her safely protected inside of me until she was able to breathe on her own comfortably without being hooked up to machines.
“Well, at least you can catch up on your sleep while Olivia is being cared for at the hospital.”
If it were only this simple. If only I didn’t feel guilty every minute we weren’t with her at the hospital. If only I didn’t have to pump every 3 hours, even in the middle of the night.
“Let me know how I can help!”
Don’t add to overwhelm by giving the new parents another item on their to-do list!
“Don’t worry so much! Your baby will be fine! (Insert name) was a preemie, and you wouldn’t even know!”
Every preemie’s journey is unique and usually full of twists and turns. I often felt like we were in a 1 step forward, 2 steps back process. When someone is in the depths of their worst nightmare, try not to skip 50 chapters ahead and promise them something out of your control.
Lastly, try to avoid any sentence that starts with “At least…” This qualifier might carry the intention to uplift, but it downplays the parent’s current reality.
It can be extremely uncomfortable to sit in the awkwardness of unknowns and changing variables that often accompany the NICU journey. We just want to help our loved ones feel better and give them hope!
Here are some ideas on what TO SAY:
This is so hard. I’m here for you!
It’s not supposed to be this way.
I don’t know what to say, but I’m here. I’m listening.
How is (baby’s name) doing?
You are so strong! This isn’t easy.
You are your baby’s anchor- always! Your baby feels your love.
When can I drop off a casserole or take-out? (Be specific with options and offers to help!)
Something to consider:
The phrase, “Congrats!” was really triggering for me personally. I was facing challenges I didn’t even knew existed- this was NOT the celebration of new beginnings we expected. For others, it might be comforting to hear these words and to joyfully acknowledge the milestone of becoming a mama. Maybe add or replace with the words: “You’re a MOM! …and so incredibly strong and brave! I know this milestone looks completely different than you expected … I’m so proud of you!”
Finally, keep asking how everyone is doing after the baby is released from the hospital. The journey doesn’t end simply because discharge papers were issued. The first month at home with Olivia was filled with so many beautiful moments. It was also incredibly hard. I really appreciated the continued prayers and check-ins. Try a simple text with the words: “Checking on you and sending love! How is (baby’s name)?”
I hope this post is a starting point to help you navigate these tender conversations. I was so taken aback to learn that 1 out of 10 births are premature. Unfortunately, the chances are high that you know a mama that has or will become part of this statistic. For more encouragement and first-hand stories, see our post: Tiny but Mighty, Tales from the NICU.
Especially today, I’m thinking of all the sweet babies that are literally fighting to breathe and grow as quickly as they can. I’m humbled by their strength and beautiful spirits. I am also sending much love to my fellow NICU mamas- you’ve grown in unimaginable ways, navigating a complex set of feelings ranging from grief to amazement.