5 Things Never to Say to a Preemie Mom
It's always difficult to think of things to say when someone is hurting. You want to be supportive, but uplifting and positive, too, yet sometimes the words you think are supportive are, well … not.
Moms of preemies are under enormous amounts of stress, coupled with immense heartache, and even the most well-intentioned comments can inflict more emotional pain than you realize. When in doubt, offer a hug and your sincere hope that the outcome they want happens soon.
Until then, avoid the following …
“They just need to do some growing!”
No. Just no. While some preemies may technically need to do some growing, that process is not as simple as it sounds. What it really means is that their bodies are underdeveloped for life outside the womb at this point and that they require medical intervention to help them grow in an environment they weren't meant to be in yet.
For a mother watching her baby try to survive on the outside of her body when they are still meant to be inside, the phrase knocks at the gravity of the situation.
“You haven't held them yet?”
Worst question ever. Ask a new mother what those first few moments holding her baby were like. Magical, emotional, beautiful — a perfect pause in time to erase the hours of pain and to make the effort all worth it.
For moms of preemies who have not yet held their babies, their arms are aching, along with the rest of their body. They suffered through the pain, perhaps while terrified or coming to grips with the need for an emergency intervention. Their babies are too small and fragile, even for the gentleness of a mother's touch — a fact that intensifies the hurt as each day passes. When you see a picture of them holding their newborn, you'll have an answer.
“When will they come home?”
This is the question — it's the only question in the world that matters, and if preemie moms had an answer, you wouldn't even have to ask. They would be screaming it from every social media platform, in group text messages, and from the roof of the hospital building.
If you're part of a need-to-know group of close friends or family to the preemie parents, chances are you know what needs to happen in order for them to come home. If you're not, and the mom doesn't volunteer any information, just don't ask — unless you want to watch the waterworks.
“My sister's baby was born at __ weeks, and they turned out fine!”
Personal stories have a place, obviously. Knowing that there is someone who has dealt with a similar situation and came out the other side unscathed is a huge comfort. Yet every preemie situation is different, and rarely do personal stories make the parents feel better in the moment.
What they usually do is make them long for the days when they will be the ones saying “Oh, yes. My youngest spent time in the NICU as a preemie, but they're doing wonderfully now.”
“Enjoy some extra time to sleep and relax before they come home!”
This one is a particularly harsh one for parents of preemies. The mere act of returning home from the hospital without a newborn in their arms is hard enough, much less trying to get quality sleep or relax in any capacity. Those who have the ability to stay at their baby's side do, and those who can't are usually needed to put on a brave face for older kids at home. Relaxing and sleeping? Hardly.
When parents are in the middle of a medical crisis involving their kids, even a small one, there's very little you can say that will be of a comfort to them. Instead, ask what you can do to help. Do they need a gift card for the hospital cafeteria? Do they need someone to pick up their older children from school? Do they need a hug?
What can you say? “I'm so sorry you're going through this, and I'm here if you need me to listen.” A shoulder to cry on is sometimes what they need most.