Saturday, January 26, 2008

What You Can Say or Do for a NICU Parent

When a baby has been admitted to the NICU, family and friends can fear saying or doing the wrong thing so much that they don't do or say anything at all; this is not helpful for a NICU parents who could use support during a difficult time.

Well-meaning friends and family members want to be able to say something that can somehow make it better, or do something that can ease their distress.

Read on to discover some helpful suggestions of what to say and what to do for the parents when a baby gets admitted to the NICU from a parent who's been in the NICU and has also offered advice to other NICU Parents and others facing challenging times.

Say Something to Show Your Support
Pick one of these various suggestions, or modify one so it feels more like something you would say. If finding something to say still doesn't seem to work, then you can let the person know verbally or in writing that you are there for them.

Some of my personal favorites include:
  • I am sorry for your loss.
  • I wish you didn't have to experience this.
  • I am sorry that this happened to you.
  • I am thinking of you during this difficult time. (usually written)
  • I'm so sorry.
  • I wish this hadn't happened to you.
  • I wish things had turned out better for you.
  • I wish the news had been different.
What can I *say* to a NICU Parent?
People often fear so much saying the wrong thing that they often don't say anything at all. A grieving parent would like to know that family and friends are there to support them during this difficult time of loss.

I think that most of the time words spoken from the heart even if they don't feel perfect will generally be remembered as heart-felt support.

If you aren't sure what to say, you can start by sending a card and letting them know you are thinking about them.

What can I *do* for a NICU Parent?
You may also make specific offers of help to the overwhelmed NICU Parents. Ask:

  • What can I do for you?
  • How can I help?
  • What would be the most helpful for you right now?

NICU parents are often in a state of shock, especially initially and have difficulty making simple decisions. Instead of asking what you can do, you may want to make specific offers e.g. picking up other children, bringing food, helping or doing the shopping, calling family members and then have the parents tell you if that is something they need.

What else can I *do* for a NICU Parent?
Two very helpful things you can *do* to support a NICU parent are to listen and to just be.

One of the most important things you can *do* for a grieving NICU parent is to give him or her your presence. The ability to listen can be a great source of comfort. Listening communicates respect, caring and empathy.

Sometimes all a parent may needs is someone who will truly and emphatically listen to their NICU story. Really listening involves being present for the person, not interrupting and staying connected and focused on what he or she is saying.

Simply Be
Simply sitting and listening to their NICU story, being a witness to their stress and anxiety can help provide invaluable support for a overwhelmed parent.

Invite the NICU parent for a cup of coffee or tea at the hospital cafeteria or nearby coffee shop.

Spending a few quiet moments in silence, holding a hand can be a very effective way to convey your support and caring.

Best Gifts for a NICU Parent
Remember that two of the greatest gifts you can give to a NICU parent are the gift of listening and the gift of your presence.

Do not underestimate the healing presence yourself and of really listening to someone who is going through a difficult experience.

Note: This is a slightly modified version of the article "What to Say or Do for a NICU Parent" published on the Type-A Mom site.

Image Sources: Laura Glover. Holding Hands. Matthew Hains. Coffee Shop in Black and White. Pipps Outlet Center. All Royalty Free Use.