When a new baby is born, its a time of hope and joy, when a premature baby is born, things are less certain. I've read a lot of posts pn forums and heard a lot of friends who have had premature babies say that their friends and family have not known what to do to support and to help. So I thought I'd explore this a bit further in today's post. This post will focus on the baby in hospital, then my next one will be focussed around when the baby comes home.
What do I say? Congratulations is a good place to start. Different mums I know feel differently about this. Some parents feel its hollow, I did at first, what is there to congratulate us about, our baby is small and sick and no one knows what the outcome will be. Now I am grateful for those who said "congratulations". But say it gently and with a little smile, and leave the door open for the new parents to tell you more.
What do I ask? Focus on the here and now. "How is your little one today?" is a good place to start. Listen carefully and pick up on what is being said, and that can help you in future conversations. You could ask who they think the baby looks like, or what little thing the baby does? Joseph had a habit of lying on his hands and using them as a pillow, and I loved talking about that!
What do I buy? Personally, I always advise against buying clothes. Depending on how premature the baby was, most of them just wear a nappy and a hat for the first weeks. Often the hat is specially made to accommodate CPAP or ventilation tubes. Buying clothes for later might be a good homecoming gift, however to buy a new baby who is tiny, in our case 1lb 7oz, something for a newborn weighing 7lb, is just a further reminder that things aren't "normal".
You could buy muslins or small blankets. I used these a lot in hospital. A dear friend of mine bought me some pretty ones, that I treasured. We used muslins for everything, swaddling blankets, sheets, even their traditional use of catching vomit! If you pre wash these a couple of times in non bio detergent, and re wrap in tissue paper with a nice ribbon, that's even better, ready to use! Another nice gift is a small stuffed toy. Many hospitals will allow a toy on or in an incubator. A personalised gift is lovely, a little cushion, or a door hanger. Story books are a lovely idea, I used to take them to the unit to read to Joseph.
If you would like to buy a gift for the new mum, hand cream is a good one, but look for one that is rich, luxurious, but with little scent. The Body Shop and Crabtree and Evelyn both do good ones. Another nice gift is good quality chocolate. Chocolate is really good for breastfeeding mums, and its easy to eat. Magazines are another nice thing to buy, for mum to read when doctors rounds are taking place, or in the expressing room.
I really want to visit, but they say I can't, why is this? Many hosptials are increasingly adopting an "immediate family only" policy. Small babies are at risk of infection, and the more people coming throught he unit there are, the more risk there is of something coming in that could be very harmful to a small baby. Also units are often very small, and too many visits impedes the staff being able to effectively care for these small babies. It is not all a reflection on you.
I've been asked to visit the baby, but I'm scared. If you've never been in one, a neonatal unit is an intimidating place. We had a number of visitors once Joseph was more robust who had never been in such an environment. First of all, as soon as you get into the unit, wash your hands. It will be clear where the washing stations are. Wash your hands thoroughly.
When you get to the babies cot or incubator, just try to focus on the baby. There may be a number of wires and tubes, the parents will probably explain them to you, but try and just look at the baby, and ignore them.
It's quite important to focus only on the baby you are visiting. Units have a very strict code of conduct about not looking at other babies, and very importantly, not asking questions. I did have this happen a few times with other people's visitors and it made me feel very awkward. Everyone was curious about Joseph as he was by far the smallest baby in the unit, but it did make me feel uncomfortable when complete strangers would ask questions.
Anything else? Don't feel you always have to talk about the new baby. The parents might just need a break from time to time, and want to talk about something else. Ask gentle, open questions. Invite the mum (or dad) for coffee or a meal. Ask if there is anything practical you can do to help. Cook a casserole, run an errand, do some tidying up around the house. Sometimes people are embarassed to ask, but visiting a small baby takes a huge amount of time and emotional energy.
Friendship is so important at times like these, but just be aware that your friend or family member may not be able to show how important your care and concern is, and at times may be a bit distant, I know I was. I had some lovely friends who went out of their way for me, and I didn't say "thank you" the way I normally would, it was like I just had so much on my plate, that thinking about other people was just very difficult.
Next post, we'll talk about how to help when the baby comes home.