So many people have written variations of posts outlining various things not to say to parents of preemies, and that’s important. We know there is a lot of unintentional insensitivity toward preemie parents. People say some strange things to parents of preemies both in and out of the NICU, and it’s not hard to understand why.
The trials, joys, and sorrows of having a preemie are unique, and prematurity’s rollercoaster ride is something that most people will, thankfully, never experience. It’s not hard to imagine that most folks who say awkward and seemingly rude things to parents of micro-preemies and later-term preemies, too, are simply trying to find something, anything to say to express sympathy, empathy, or their condolences.
With that in mind, we thought why not turn it around? Instead of focusing on what people shouldn’t say to preemie parents, let’s think about what people SHOULD say! We asked our Facebook followers what they would have liked to hear from friends, family, and even strangers, and we’ve compiled their answers into a list that will hopefully make its way into the hands of anyone who has a relative, friend, colleague, or acquaintance who is currently coping with extreme prematurity.
When you meet a preemie parent, try saying:
- “Congratulations! Your baby is beautiful!”
- “How are you holding up, and what can I do to help you out?” (Though sometimes a specific offer of help is best because it doesn’t require the parent to think of something for you to do)
- “It’s okay to feel however you feel, and I’m here to listen whenever you need me.”
- “You are doing such a great job, you’re stronger than you know, and your baby is strong like you.”
- “Can I give you a ride to or from the hospital? Or take your kids so you can spend more time at the hospital?”
- “If you’d like someone to be there with you in the NICU, I’d be happy to just sit with you.”
- “Can I see a picture? When can I come and visit you and the baby?”
- “I want to know more about what having a preemie means for you and for your baby. What information would you like me to share with our circle?”
Of course, there’s no one right thing to say to any parent of any infant or child, no matter what the situation, because everyone is different. This is just a start. But know that overwhelmingly, the responses we received from parents of preemies suggested that specific offers of help, admiration for their baby or babies, and questions will almost always be welcome.
Why questions? Every preemie will be different, so it’s better to ask than to make assumptions about health, development, and emotions.
And possibly the best ‘what to say’ advice is this… Follow the lead of the particular parent. If they’re distraught, offer comfort. If they’re cracking jokes, laugh along with them. And if you sense there’s a need – childcare, cooking and cleaning, etc. – do whatever you can to meet that need.
Now you tell us: What have we left out – what would you like to hear now or what would you have liked to hear when your preemie was only a few days or weeks old?