Written by Jennifer Canvasser, Founder and Director of the NEC Society
My twins, Micah and Zachary, were born three months prematurely. They spent 91 terrifying days in the NICU, where they each nearly lost their lives. I am not exaggerating when I say that most of our 91 days in the NICU felt like hell. During this time, I did not reach out to my family and friends because I was too overwhelmed. I needed people to reach out to me and insist on providing their love and support. Fortunately, people did, and here are the amazing gifts they gave…
Do you know a NICU family? Which gift can you share?
Babies need to feel their parents’ touch and skin, it is crucial to their development. During our NICU journey, an “expert babywearer” visited our family and showed us how to safely wrap our babies – even when they were hooked up to cords, wires and tubes. Babywearing allowed us to keep our babies close, snuggled up next to our hearts, with our hands totally free! Babywearing provides a beautiful (and convenient!) way for parents and babies to bond. All NICU families should learn how to “wear” their babies.
Capture the Moments
In the moment, we had no desire to remember or document much of our NICU experience. It was so overwhelming that we just wanted it to be over. But now, we treasure every photo, video, handprint and keepsake from the boys’ first months of life. We loved having non-toxic, washable ink pads to make baby hand and footprints. High quality photos and videos are invaluable in reminding us to celebrate all of our babies’ achievements.
Micah and Zachary couldn’t be held during most of their NICU stay. To connect, we read children’s books to them. We sat next to their isolettes and read story after story. The boys loved hearing our voice and feeling us close. The stories we read during their NICU stay are written in our hearts forever. Every NICU baby should own these books:
Hospital food gets old, fast. We were always at the hospital and never made time to cook. We needed food that was easy to eat, satisfying, and most of all, healthy. Nursing (or exclusively pumping!) mothers need a healthy, nutrient-rich diet. Healthy meals from our family and friends were a godsend.
Help at Home
It was impossible to keep up with household tasks during the boys’ NICU stay. Even simple chores were neglected. We desperately needed help to keep our home functioning. Thankfully, our moms and neighbors stepped up. If you’re willing to lend a hand, please be specific with your offer. Here’s what we found extremely helpful:
Help with siblings/the family dog
Help with the yard
Offers to run errands or pick up things from the store
Did we mention healthy food?
Breast milk is essential for medically fragile infants. Unfortunately, many babies in the NICU cannot nurse for weeks or months, which means mothers have to rely on a breast pump to establish their milk supply. Pumping is exhausting, uncomfortable, and challenging. Mothers of fragile infants need your support, encouragement and understanding. Fragile infants need mama milk. Partners, family members, and friends should do everything they can to support NICU mamas as they make milk for their babies. Donor milk is a great option for vulnerable infants whose mothers cannot provide them with enough milk.
Music heals. Micah and Zachary were fortunate to have a music therapist play live music for them, regularly. The music soothed all of us. When live music wasn’t available, we relied on Pandora or Spotify for uplifting music. Calm music drowns out sounds of chaos (i.e. alarms, machines, beeping) and creates a haven of peace and healing.
– Handmade baby blankets/other items
– Baby blankets with the boys’ names
– Children’s books
– Preemie sized, button up clothes Personalized keepsake boxes
– Wraps or babycarriers that allowed us to keep our babies close
Micah and Zachary were often so unpredictable and unstable that I did not want visitors. I could not handle one more person or anymore questions. Planned visits were wonderful. I am forever grateful to the people who took the time to call, email or text, to find out how the boys were doing, and allowed me to tell them when they could come by for a visit. Indeed, I wanted visitors. I wanted to share my beautiful sons with my family and friends. I wanted to be connected with life outside of the NICU. But, I had to feel safe and ready.
Presence. Words. Silence.
Be present in the moment with NICU families. Love the NICU baby for who she is right now. Stop looking for explanations or trying to make predictions. Just be in the moment. Here are some things to say to NICU families:
– Your baby is beautiful.
– I would love to support you through this journey. Can I provide/give/do___________?
– Where can I wash my hands? (hand hygiene is an important way in the NICU!)
– Use words that validate, empower, and recognize the challenges of being a NICU parent.
Tragically, baby loss is a real thing for many NICU families. Be sure to say the lost baby’s name and let the family know you haven’t forgotten about their precious baby. Finally, get comfortable with silence. Sometimes just being present, and listening, is all NICU families need to feel loved, validated and supported.
No one plans to become a NICU family. NICU families need the love and support of their family and community. If you know a NICU family, provide them with one of these 10 incredible gifts. Insist on showing them some love. A community of love will help NICU families become the best advocates, nurturers and champions for their precious babies.