I wasn’t prepared for a premature baby when my daughter was born 6 weeks early. Since we were adopting, some of the normal concerns of pregnancy just weren’t on my radar.
And because we were matched so late into the pregnancy, we’d only had a few weeks to prepare at all before being thrust into parenthood with the emergency of premature birth.
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Today, November 17 is National Prematurity Day. According to WHO, each year more than 15 million babies are born prematurely, that’s more than one in ten. And these numbers are increasing! Chances are someone you know will have a premature baby.
They will need help & might not even know what they really need.
Looking back, I realize how difficult that time really was. It was kind of a whirlwind, so we weren’t able to process much in total survival mode. However, our friends did a few things that made life easier. And there were a few things that would have been extremely helpful.
Having a premature baby may mean an extended stay in a NICU far from home.
Our daughter was born three hours away. It was unlikely we could move her before we were able to bring her home. We were there for the duration, which potentially could have been until her due date.
Offer to house sit or pet sit or babysit.
In a matter of minutes, we had to pack for an indeterminate period of time three hours away without knowing what we would really need. We didn’t have time to think about preparing the house, setting lights on timers, pausing mail delivery, etc.
A dear friend and her husband volunteered to take our rescue pup while we were out of town, which was our largest concern about being away from home for an extended time. Also, our sweet neighbors watched over our home, brought in packages, and made us a welcome home banner and a sweet bundle of gifts.
Taking care of things at home meant we could focus on just being at the hospital, worrying about our new baby, and learning our new roles as her parents.
If your friends have other children, do what you can to help with the older siblings. If the parents have to be in one city with their premature baby while their other kids need to go to school back home, can you keep them overnight? pick them up after school? walk them to the bus stop? Offer to help grandparents navigate an unfamiliar area if they come to help? Whatever you can do to help will be one less worry for your friends.
Give or Send them Restaurant Gift Cards.
Without time to plan, we didn’t take any food or even know where grocery stores were. We were living on whatever restaurants were under 5-10 minutes away from the hospital. It was not economical at all. We had two hours between each NICU visit, so we would race out, grab something, and be standing at the hospital NICU door when we could next get in to see her.
If you’re tech savvy, you might be able to use Google maps and find out which restaurants are close and send them email gift cards.
Even if they are close to home, they will probably not have time to cook for weeks. Those gift cards will save time and money even after baby comes home.
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Prior to my daughter’s birth, I had totally given up caffeine. After one day in the NICU, I was a Starbucks fanatic. Coffee gift cards are likely going to be welcome! Newborns are brutal on sleep as it is, but the NICU is just an additional trial with scrubbing, gowning, feeding schedules, and worry.
Financial support is often necessary
You can always start a GoFundMe or something similar to help offset hotel and living expenses as well. We never considered that we might stay more than overnight if she were full term, so we hadn’t budgeted for it. Needing to be close meant staying at the hotel nearest to the hospital which wasn’t the least expensive option.
While no one expects help with financial concerns, you can’t know the myriad of expenses that stack up quickly and help in this area can mean so much.
If you can, even call the hotel and pay for a night.
Depending on location, parking costs may be outlandish. Large cities can charge $25 a day to park at both the hotel and hospital. An extra $50 per day, plus meals can add up quickly.
We also didn’t bring enough clothes for ourselves or her. All our baby clothes were for a large full-term infant since she had been measuring very big. We had to run to buy the tiniest preemie things for her and a couple of things for us.
While we had zero medical expenses due to medicaid and our military insurance, it still cost over $2000 for the expenses of staying out of town during the NICU stay.
Sadly, raising money might also be helpful if the baby’s medical care is beyond insurance coverage or if the baby was just born too early to survive. No parent plans for a funeral. Over one million premature babies die each year. The grief of losing the baby is already going to be devastating. If you can help with expenses toward the arrangements, it can take an additional stress away from an already distraught family.
Be present however you can while they care for their premature baby.
Over the phone or in person, be willing to listen and pray with them. Sometimes, all the medical stuff can be daunting. Being able to fuss and worry and vent without judgment would be very meaningful.
If the baby is really struggling, they may not want to leave even to eat or sleep. Think of ways to be a help, volunteer to bring pillows and blankets or fresh clothes from home.
If you can come sit at the hospital or call, do it. Being far from home, scared and stressed, is isolating. I know hearing from my friends helped me talk through what we were facing and process my emotions.
If you are a co-worker, do whatever you can to bring them work or email. If you can take care of some of their workload, it is a huge relief. I was teaching full-time and knowing I had friends coordinating with my substitute let me focus on my daughter.
Lastly, if you don’t know what they need, ask and offer some tangible suggestions.
Offer something, even mowing the lawn, watering plants, grocery shopping, doing laundry, cleaning house. When people say “If you need anything . . .” , it’s hard to know if they really mean it. But when you make a specific suggestion, they can reply with something similar they need or remember your offer in the future.
Having a premature baby takes the fear of parenting a newborn to a whole new level. Medical concerns and worry and sleepless nights can make new parents feel lost and helpless. But even seasoned parents need support.
The friends who stood by our side made a difficult time easier and we’ve never forgotten those who supported us in that emotional rollercoaster.