Imagine being a mother or a father with a mere six or eight weeks of family leave – the standard at many companies in the US – and knowing that your preemie baby will very likely call the NICU home for months to come. That first six weeks, whether it is six weeks of one medical crisis after another or six weeks spent simply waiting for that wonderful day you can hold your child for the first time, will fly by.
Before you know it, it is time to return to work. If you have other children, the relatives and friends who were kind enough to care for them while you spent hours in the NICU may no longer be able to. Little by little, you find yourself shouldering more routine tasks, household chores, and professional responsibilities.
On one hand, adjusting to life with a micro-preemie in the NICU can be a good thing. Day-to-day existence can be a welcome distraction when the alternative is spending every moment on high alert next to an isolette. But on the other hand, the time you spend at your job and caring for your household is less time you have to bond with a baby who draws her or his strength, in part, from your scent, your voice, and your presence.
Being the parent of a preemie means being always pulled in two directions.
You want to be there for your precious and delicate miracle baby – as in, actually physically present, sharing as much as you can of their triumphs and their setbacks. And yet at the same time you realize that preparing for their eventual homecoming means having a routine in place, being financially stable, and readying yourself and your family for the challenges still to come.
Last week, we shared some of the things people SHOULD say to parents of preemies. This week we’d like to share one of the best gifts you can GIVE to parents of preemies. It’s a simple one, but one that doesn’t necessarily occur to people who don’t know what it’s like to be coping with the impact extreme prematurity can have one people and on families. That gift? Time. How do you give moms and dads of micro-preemies and later term preemies more time to spend in the NICU with their babies? More time to spend getting their lives in order to prepare for that blessed day they get to take their babies home?
Don’t ask HOW you can help or WHAT you can do, because people are taught that self-sufficiency is important and are apt to say “Oh, we’re fine. Don’t put yourself out.” Instead, make a specific offer, like:
- When would it be convenient for me to drop off some frozen meals you can reheat?
- Can I take your children to the zoo next Saturday so you can get some things done or spend some uninterrupted time at the hospital?
- Do you need a ride to the NICU any day this week or next?
- Would you like me to feed and walk your dog one day a week so you can spend the whole evening with your baby?
- Can I make a grocery trip for you?
It’s been said before but we feel that it’s important to say it again: It’s the simple things that really make an impact during difficult times. It’s amazing how the most basic offers of help – caring for pets, a ride, or food – can mean the difference between a micro-preemie parent feeling utterly overwhelmed and a mom or dad of a micro-preemie who is coping with their new reality as best they can.