Tuesday, November 8, 2011

World Prematurity Day: How You Can Help

November is Prematurity Awareness Month, and November 17 marks World Prematurity Day. Did you know that in the United States, 1 in 8 babies are born prematurely? World-wide, an estimated 13 million babies are born too soon. With statistic like these, chances are you will know somebody who delivers a premature baby in your lifetime. It may be a family member, or a friend of a friend. Maybe its one of your Facebook acquaintances or a co-worker. No matter who it is, I can almost guarantee that the parents are dealing with feelings of fear and helplessness. But as helpless as these parents may feel, I can assure you that as a friend, family member, aquaintance or even a complete stranger, there is something that YOU can do to help preemie parents in their time of need. Below are some suggestions:

Cook meals that can be frozen and reheated. Parents that have a child in the NICU literally have not a moment to spare, as most of their free time is spent at the hospital. Being able to come home late, heat up dinner and crash makes life a little easier. Any household chores you can do for a family with a preemie is great too, whether its cutting their grass or doing a load of laundry.

If the family has other children, offer to babysit. Lain and I did not have to worry about this issue, as Lea was our first. But I can only imagine that having other children with one in the hospital can make you absolutely nuts; especially since children are not allowed to visit the NICU.

Be supportive, but not overly positive. Although the phrase "It's going to be okay," seems to be the go-to saying to make a preemie parent feel better, I can attest to the fact that this phrase always sent a tinge of frustration through me. You don't really know that all will be okay, although we know that is what you hope for. Instead, I'd suggest something like, "Hey, this situation sucks, but I want you to know that you have my support, and that I've been praying for God to keep your baby healthy." Acknowledging what the parents are going through and their fears for their baby, and praying that their fears are lifted is the most helpful thing you can do.

Do your homework. The more knowledgeable you are about prematurity, the more you can easily communicate with and understand when a preemie parent gives an update. There are tons of fabulous resources for you to learn more about preemies. Click here for a list of resources.

Let us vent. Sometimes, as preemie parents, we'll just want to talk. cry. yell. whatever... Just be there to listen, even if we repeat ourselves. Believe me, it helps.

Inquire about visitation. If the parents want visitors, make sure to plan your visit in advance. Just "showing up" can take away valuable time that the parents are spending with their child, as no more than two people are allowed in the NICU at a time. Don't forget, while our baby may be tiny, we are still very proud parents, and we want to show our little bundle off just like any other parent... we just need a head's up!

If you can knit, sew or just like to shop, you can donate preemie clothing, hats and booties to your local NICU, and the nurses will give them out. I will never forget one day walking in to see Lea, my eyes swollen and red, my heart heavy.... and finding two beautiful, doll-sized dresses that had been hand made by a very generous seamstress. Trying those dresses on my girl was a step towards normalacy. It completely brightened my day, and I remember leaving with a smile on my face.

 Gifts, cards and words of encouragement are always welcome. When Lea was in the NICU, we had loads of support from friends and family. Gifts were literally left at our doorstep for Lea. Its funny how a tiny pair of shoes, or a sweet picture frame can really lift your spirits as a preemie parent. And even more-so, knowing that people care helps you feel a little less isolated. Anything that lets the parents know that they have your support helps!

Send a NICU care package. Hand sanitizer and moisturizer, snacks for long hospital visits, restaurant gift cards, journals, and disposable cameras to be left at the baby's bedside are all great suggestions to include in your package.

Let us be germ freaks. Yes, germ freaks. If we ask if your hands are clean, don't be offended. And if you're a smoker, don't be surprised if you're not invited for a visit. We are looking out for what is best for our child -- you understand.

If you are a preemie parent, use the knowledge and wisdom gained during your baby's stay in the NICU to help others. I have been blessed to meet some amazing preemie mothers through my experience. There is no better feeling than being able to relate to another preemie parent; we share a very special bond.

And lastly, simply pray. Prayer is a biggie. Praying for these families is probably the most beneficial act you can do for them. God has His way of bringing comfort to those in distress.

So if ever you find yourself able to help out a parent of a premature baby, I hope you find this list helpful. Know that any small gesture is greatly appreciated and never forgotten.

"As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, 
one for helping yourself, the other for helping others."
- Audrey Hepburn