NICU: How to help parents get through those first couple of weeks…

So, I thought I’d try and do some useful blog posts this year. As a family, we went through a lot during 2019 (like many, I’m sure). I feel like I’m kind of at a point, where I’m able to reflect a little, and think about all the stuff that actually happened. Although, only a bit at a time. The main, and most obvious thing, was that our baby boy, Rex, arrived. He was very early, and decided to join the party at 28 weeks and 4 days. This meant that he spent around 3 months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), at St Michael’s Hospital, in Bristol. I don’t think it’s a situation anyone can really prepare for, but, we were completely blindsided; absolute rabbits-in-headlights. This was not what we anticipated, for our first steps into parenting.

However, we’re here, out the other side, and we survived. We felt so lost at the start, so, I can only imagine how our close family and friends felt, in regards to what to say or do. When you love and care for people, all you want to do is help them out in some way. So, I thought I’d put a few ideas out there so that they could potentially help those going through similar circumstances. It might be something that new parents, in NICU, could forward to people, when they’re too overwhelmed to speak or write messages. Or it might just be a post to give a little comfort and confidence to family and friends, who feel helpless, at such a challenging and sensitive time.

I’m also very aware that these words only come from our personal experience. So please, take them as you please; things will never suit every individual and their situation. I’m not telling you what to say and do at all; it’s a few ideas, having gone through it myself.

Don’t go quiet

I think some people go quiet, when they simply don’t know what to say, which is understandable. However, I just remember feeling so very alone, sat next to his incubator, during those first weeks. It was terrifying and isolating. So, messages on my phone, were like a little life boat back to land, outside of NICU.

So, don’t hold back on your congratulations! We were still awash with love and hope for our boy. Therefore, having people welcome Rex to the world, giving their heartfelt congrats and love, really were a tonic; just lovely. The future seemed very uncertain at the time, but we were living very much in the moment, and I wanted Rex to have what every new arrival does, even though he had some work to do to get home. A simple message to say that someone was thinking of us, or just an emoji, was enough to lift my spirits.

Photo 01-05-2019, 21 40 40
Getting used to life in intensive care was…intensive. This was the first time I helped to change his nappy.

Limit questioning

Any situation thats a little, or a lot, out of the ordinary, creates questions. So, an early arrival and a stay in NICU, was bound to have our nearest and dearest thinking about potential outcomes, current wellbeing…the list is endless, I’m sure.

We chose to share certain details of Rex’s arrival, and sent out a happy-news style message, with his first picture (he’s barely had any photos taken since, haha). That’s all we could really say at that time. Mainly because that’s all we knew, I was off my face on, I have no idea (I lost about 3 days), and what little energy we had, was needed elsewhere. I was lucky in that the majority of people responded with love, congratulations, and just sweet words that I will keep forever (I’m a screenshot addict, with folders full of sentimental stuff).

However, there were a few, and I feel bad for saying anything because I know it came from a loving place, who just kept asking questions. I reached a point where I went silent because I couldn’t bare to type out everything we were going through. Bad questions are anything to do with the baby’s health and progress, because they can sometimes make parents worry about things that they weren’t even thinking about. The worst question of all (for us anyway) was, asking when he’d be coming home. There were times when we were wondering if he’d be coming home at all, and home time for Rex seemed so far away. I’d try to avoid that one altogether.

Instead, send the parents and baby some love. Say something kind about them, that you’re there, should they need to talk, or if they want anything practical. Just be mindful that NICU is exhausting, and answering questions takes up a lot of energy. So, if they go a little quiet on you for a while, I would not take it personally.

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Getting to grips with the tiniest person I’d ever met, was so scary and so rewarding, all at once

Do not expect to meet baby anytime soon

Aside from the various rules in NICU regarding visitors, it’s a time where we had tunnel vision, and inviting people to meet Rex, was not on our mind. We obviously wanted our parents to meet him quite soon, and they were so patient and understanding.

If a premature baby is in NICU, it’s a time when they should really still be in the womb. So, you’re not really missing-out. There are upsetting, devastating, and frightening days. It’s great to be there if they need you in person, but at the start, the likelihood is that they just want to process things as a family.

Things to read

NICU days are long. Like many parents, after I was discharged from hospital, I headed straight there in the morning, and was their until my husband, Marv, took us home after he’d spent time with Rex post-work. So, anything to read, is great. Sending, or dropping some magazines over, would be welcomed by many. Book suggestions would also be greatly received; escapism is key.

We were incredibly lucky, and received books to read to Rex; reading to your preemie is recommended. But, those books and story times with him, were so special, I want to write a dedicated post all about it. Anyway, books for baby, are also a great idea.

Snacks are top tier

Snacks are essential, especially for new, breastfeeding moms, or parents who need something to go with their caffeine of choice in the parent’s lounge. Vending machines are expensive, and sometimes, limited. Sending snacks that you know the parents enjoy, is a thoughtful act of kindness, they’ll love you for.

Actually, consumables in general are great. The thought of cooking or preparing food is way too much at the beginning. So, meal or food vouchers, snacks, drinks will all be greatly received, you get the idea, yummm, I love snacks.

A lovely friend sent me this MAMA bar and some tea to help with milk production. It felt like such a treat, taking in something tasty to eat, that was created for new mamas, was a reminder that I was loved and cared-for. Coffee is there too; aside from insulin, it’s usually my drug of choice.

Follow their lead

I’m sure I’ve painted enough of a picture here. But, if you care about those parents sat in NICU, and their beautiful new bundle, you’re bound to give them the love and care that they need. Keep in touch with them, let them know you’re there, and don’t expect too much back. They’ll open-up, ask, and tell you things when they’re ready. Lots of love and patience will always be appreciated.

Let me know in the comments if you have any ideas and tips about helping parents in their first fortnight in NICU; I’ll add them to this list. I’ll be doing further posts about supporting NICU parents throughout their time there.

Peace, love, and patience, Fay x

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