I’m Jaclyn. And I’m a HELLP syndrome survivor. Never heard of HELLP syndrome? Neither had I. Until I was diagnosed with it in an emergency room in Fort Myers, FL. While on vacation. (There’s probably a lifetime movie or Bravo TV script somewhere in here).
My son Nicholas was born 12 weeks early, unannounced, and far, far away from home. He was small. Okay, he was tiny. He weighed in at 1 pound 12 ounces. He fit in the palm of my husband’s hand. We lived (and laughed and cried and prayed and begged and argued and loved) in the NICU for 69 days. Then, we came home (with wires and loud alarms, and a list of doctors to go see).
I tell you all of this to say proudly, I am a NICU mama – hear me NEED you. You, mamas, are my tribe. Did you give birth full-term? Tribe. Did you have a high-risk pregnancy? Tribe. Did you struggle with becoming and staying pregnant? Tribe. Are you tired and feeling like you should have invented yoga pants because at least you’d be making a profit off the new mom uniform right now? Tribe.
You. Are. My Tribe. – and I need you.
More than you know.
NICU mamas have special circumstances around our births. We often have children with special needs. We often can’t touch or hold or feed or physically bond with our children for days, weeks or months. And, well, if you haven’t been there, let me tell you – it isn’t anything we would wish on any of our fellow tribe members.
Again I say, we need you.
Here are a few ways you can spread cheer in the NICU and support us.
For your convenience, I’ve included affiliate links. Read my Disclaimer to learn more.
1. Distract us.
Yes, I know. We need to focus on ourselves. Our children. Our family. But, somehow, the world keeps turning and bills have to be paid and jobs have to be held onto and the house manages to run out of toilet paper and dogs just don’t feed themselves. So, please, by all means, distract us. Call us on the phone. Text us. Tell us how you’re doing. What’s going on in your world. Please don’t treat us like shut-ins and invalids. We want to be those things but we know that in order to survive this and to be an example of resilience and strength, we can’t be those things. Distract us.
2. Help us bond with our baby.
I didn’t get to hold Nicholas for almost 1 week after he was born. My husband was able to hold him in his hands, under heat lights for a few moments at a time during those first few days. Bonding isn’t easy in the NICU. But, you can help.
Donate baby blankets, newborn hats, preemie clothes, and fabric swatches. A NICU mama can sleep with all of these items (or wear them while breastfeeding), transferring her scent to them. Then they can be used with the baby so he’ll learn via smell who his parents are. I used a fabric swatch in my bra that I laid over my pump periodically to help with bonding. My husband, I am proud to say, also wore one of these fabric swatches under his shirt while he worked so Nicholas would also know who daddy was. We slept with swaddle blankets every night and brought them to the hospital every day for Nicholas.
And for you crafty ladies, if you’d like details on easy crochet patterns for blankets or hat, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve made over 50 hats and 20 blankets this year alone – happy to share my tips!
3. Donate books.
Yes, baby books are great. But, if you’ve ever read a baby book, you can probably do so in 2 minutes. That doesn’t help much when mamas (like me) sit by their baby’s bedside for hours at a time. Donate classic fairy tales, baby Bibles and children’s classic books. This gives us something to read aloud to our child that takes longer than 2 minutes. While we were in the NICU, I read The Velveteen Rabbit, Winnie The Pooh and Curious George to Nicholas.
4. Cuddle a NICU baby.
NICUs around the country have volunteers lovingly nicknamed, Cuddlers. These are people who are vetted and trained to care for preemies. You can become one, too.
I witnessed babies surrendered after birth by their mamas. They sat in the NICU without loving touch for weeks – except for their cuddlers. Strangers who would come and hold them and rock them and sing to them. If you can, do this. You will make an impact on babies who have no mamas and on us mamas who are tired and would like to take a minute to shower and eat and pray and cry and maybe have a glass of wine. I welcomed cuddlers into our world when it was medically safe for my child, and there were days that they saved my sanity (and my marriage).
5. Help us hydrate.
This one sounds weird, I know. But, it’s important. If you’ve breastfed, you know how important water is. It’s hard to stay hydrated in a hospital – there aren’t many water fountains around. And, well, hospital bottled water can really rack up in $$$ when you’re there so much. Reusable water bottles are a Godsend.
BONUS TIPS: From one NICU Dad to another.
Lastly, please humor me here. I read my writing aloud to my husband tonight – as I do with most of my writing. He would like to make sure dads know that he feels their pain. So, here are his words. (With a little southern charm sprinkled on top. Because, you know, he’s a Yankee, y’all.)
I signed up to be a dad. I did not sign up to be in the NICU. But, neither did my wife. We signed up for the kind of pregnancy that goes full-term, your wife has some back pain, we go into the hospital, push a few times, and out comes a pudgy, pink, happy baby. Somehow, somewhere, someone mixed up my order.
The second my child was born, I white-knuckled life. All of it. It’s hard. The best gift you can give your NICU wife is to love her. Let her fuss and cry and scream and argue and control as much as possible – because she cannot control the NICU journey you’re on – and she so badly wants to. Love her. And tell her you do – a lot. She may feel like she failed you in the childbirth department, so she needs to know you have her back.
And a bit more about us. We have started a book and blanket drive for preemie families. If you’d like more information, know a family in need or would like to help, head on over to: lovenotesfornicholas.com. Thank you for helping us spread cheer in the NICU – all year long.
How do you spread cheer in the NICU? Share your thoughts below or on Facebook at MothersRest.
About the guest blogger, editor’s note:
My strong friend, Jaclyn, 28 weeks pregnant, was supposed to have lunch with me when she went radio silent. As self-proclaimed, southern royalty (with a Yankee hubby, but who’s judging, right?), radio silence is not her MO. I assumed I had told her the wrong date for lunch. Because Jaclyn is punctual and dependable. But no, things had gone madly awry in her world. You can follow her NICU journey over at lovenotesfornicholas.com.
Jaclyn was lucky. Her husband’s quick actions saved her life and their sweet, tiny son. You can read more about HELLP syndrome here.
Preemies hold a special place in my heart. Because my sister was born 5 weeks early when our mother contracted the flu. You can read her birth story here: Why you need the flu shot – especially if you’re pregnant.
Here are more great (and easy) suggestions from other NICU moms:
Support housing options for NICU parents.
NICU families need housing options at the drop of a hat when their sweet babes need urgent surgery or treatment. My own parents stayed at the Ronald McDonald House when my sister was born premature. It was truly a blessing. But housing like this fills up fast and many families don’t know where to turn.
Check out this amazing nonprofit, LilyPads Housing, that creates a network of volunteer host homes for these families. Please consider donating (or signing up to be a host if you live in Charlottesville, VA).
Bring goodies to the NICU staff.
Our triplets were in for 60 to 70 days. There was SO much I wanted to do for the nurses but just couldn’t find the time. Enter my thoughtful friends. They baked breads/cookies/treats to send me through the doors with FOR the staff. So as you’re baking and decorating Christmas cookies, send a couple of batches to a NICU parent (enough for them and the staff they love so dearly!)
–mom of NICU triplets
Photo credit, featured image: Aditya Romansa from Unsplash.com