For Charlotte’s parents.

Friends of mine had the most adorable baby a week ago.  She was born a bit early and with more than her fair share of complications and is currently in a NICU.  A long time ago, I decided NICU nurses are like chemo nurses.  They balance pragmatism with hope, and can steel emotions enough to do the hard things while maintaining enough compassion to remember the patient and his/her family.

When I heard my friends’ baby was going to the NICU in a different hospital, I remembered my family’s tour(s) of the NICUs.  Nieces 2 and 3 were born way too early and enjoyed 2 helicopter rides, some very scary moments and while short by NICU stays, a long stay in the hospital.  Luckily, they were never in different hospitals but they did come home separately.  Nephew #3 apparently wanted to join the other two in this adventure – but he skipped the hospital ride and didn’t get a long stay: just enough to freak out his parents.  My family is lucky: all 3 are fine – if not downright ornery this time of year.

I started hearing what people were saying to my friends: about medicine coming a long way, about how the time would pass quickly, about how everything is going to be ok.  I’ve never been pregnant, the closest I’ve come to parenting is the rare times my sister let’s me watch a child or the cats.  I’m pretty clueless about how to care for an infant.  Putting a sleeper on a baby terrifies me: I’m afraid I’ll break his/her shoulder!

Ok, some NICU tours are more normal than others jaundice lights for example.  But saying to a parent that “you’d do the same thing at home” (watch your baby) as in the NICU is asinine.  At home, you can hold your baby at will, you can be a family.  In the NICU, you move to the rhythm of the hospital.  You can hold your child when allowed, sometimes see your child only at certain times, and let’s face it, very few of us are used to the sounds of alarms and noises.

As a friend, sibling, co-worker, you don’t know what to say.  There is the deep part of us that wants to say “your baby will be fine” but we don’t know this: there isn’t a promise with any birth.  Watching small improvements via pictures can bring smiles but are only the smallest of exhales that the parents may feel.  We don’t have to live in the fear of the phone ringing about our newborn.  We don’t have to live in the yo-yo of a NICU where guilt of a child becoming healthy can creep in as we watch other new parents join the NICU family or facing other families watch a baby loose his/her battle.

What we can offer our friends and family is love: an open phone line, gift cards for meals, and the mocking we’d do during our relationship (i.e. #newdadsarefunny).  We can offer a place of normalcy where we can let those we care about decompress. If you can’t think of something to say, simply say, that.  Or let your friends know that every emotion they feel is valid, authentic and acceptable.

But most of all, please don’t say something stupid.  Please don’t say this is part of some plan: it is hell.  It is hell for the people brought this baby into the world and all who love the family.  And Charlotte, you will look fantastic in orange.


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3 Responses to “For Charlotte’s parents.”

  1. Leigh Says:

    Great post! Our 3rd was 2 lbs 7 oz, but she seemed big in comparison to my nephew who was 1 lb 8 oz at birth. My nephew contracted a staph infection not once but twice while there, and my sister and her husband were shaken out of sleep on more than one night to “come say goodbye.”

    I’m happy to say that both my youngest and my adorable nephew are super-healthy kids now. The NICU experience is different for everybody, but it is never, ever an easy thing.

    (Shall I throw in a shameless plug here for my children’s book about prematurity, The Littlest Sister? Nah… ;-)

  2. mebythemountains Says:

    Well said and written, Lella.

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