For as long as I can remember, I have always been a prayer warrior – a person of strong and intentional faith. As a young girl, I always remember our parents teaching us to “take it to the Lord in prayer” and their staunch belief in their prayers, despite the opposition that often ensued. Regardless of the challenges faced, I have always been taught to seek God in prayer as a primary recourse – to speak to Him and to hear His desires for the situation and for my life. Praying for my children, both in the womb and when we discovered that they would spend their first days on earth in the NICU, has been essential.
A NICU experience is not something that a parent plans. It is not the way any expectant couple plans to spend the first days of parenthood. Our NICU experience has taught me that most people (including myself a month ago) could use some education on NICU etiquette – simply because they have never had to deal with such a situation. The past month has taught me a few lessons from the walls of the NICU, which might be helpful to readers who find themselves supporting a friend with a child(ren) in the NICU or those who find themselves in the NICU in the future.
While these observations are specific to the NICU, this blog is genuinely about encouraging others to walk in the grace that is upon their lives. These lessons can be applied to any area of life.
1. Be Prayerful
A NICU experience may be one of the most difficult challenges your friend has faced. While everyone’s experience is so different, many parents whose children begin their lives in the NICU are dealing with the stress of being separated from their child, the difficulty of feeling helpless of unable able to do anything to make a difference, lack of rest, guilt, embarrassment, and fear, to name a few. The biggest assets your friend could use are faith and prayer. Tangible assistance is great, but from my experience, prayers are the most valuable gifts you can offer during such a critical time.
2. Be Sensitive
The NICU is a scary place at times (dare I venture to say, most of the time). Honestly, even if your child is not considered “sick”, there is still something to be said about seeing tubes and machines and monitors and alarms surrounding your child each time you see him or her. Consider the fact that many NICU parents are not allowed to hold their children until 72 hours after birth (some – longer). Consider the fact that, even when holding is allowed, it is monitored in order to make sure nothing happens to the babies’ vitals while snuggling with dad or mom. Consider the fact that when mom is discharged from the hospital, she will have to leave her child at the hospital for someone else to take care of. NICU stays are not easy – they involve LOTS of happiness, sadness, fear, and disappointment. If you’re usually the “rough around the edges” friend who has a hard time finding the right things to say at the right time, consider finding a softer way to communicate with your NICU friend – remember: they’re going through a REALLY tough time right now!
3. Be Gracious
Your friend whose child is in the NICU likely has 1 million things on his or her mind. If they are silent or delayed in responding to you, please try to imagine what they are going through and show them some grace. Days in the NICU are full of doctors’ rounds, loudly ringing alarms that may or may not be an important indication concerning your baby, changing status of your babies, decision-making based on babies’ changing status, many accomplishments and setbacks, and countless other potential stressors. Honestly, for a NICU parent, sometimes you may not want to talk to anyone except your babies, the medical team, and the people that come to visit (and sometimes, no one).Responding to a text, a call, a voicemail, a Facebook tag, or anything else may not be top of mind. While this is not a pass to be unresponsive, just remember that your friend is likely dealing with something they have never imagined they would.So, when you get that response four days late, just remember to show a little grace.
4. Be Considerate
Having a baby in the NICU is different than taking your baby home when you are discharged from the hospital. If a mom who has a “normal” delivery is overprotective of her babies, let’s say the NICU mom is 1,000 times more overprotective. Yes, she may not want lots of hands touching the baby at first. That’s okay. No, she may not be open to lots of visitors at first. That’s okay. Yes, she may watch you like a hawk if you are interacting with the baby. That’s okay. No, she may not want you to hold the baby at all. That’s okay. NICU babies, particularly those who are also premature, have very immature immune systems (even more sensitive than that of a term baby). So, when your NICU Mommy friend seems to be WAY overboard, revisit point #3 and show her a little grace.
5. Be Thoughtful
Every parent appreciates kind gestures – prayers, calls, texts, visits, FOOD (*smile*) – whether or not they have a child in the NICU. If you have a friend facing the NICU challenge, don’t hesitate to reach out to him or her to offer any kind gesture. However, do not be offended if your offer is declined in the present moment. Perhaps you would like to visit or see pictures, but the parents have not extended the invitation, just wait until the visit is extended and acceptable. (On another note, consider allowing the parents to invite you for the first visit rather than requesting the honor.) Parents are doing the best they can, and I know your support is more than appreciated. Just wait a while, and things will be a little easier. Just be thoughtful :)