As difficult as the neonatal journey was for us as parents, it was no picnic for grandparents, family or friends either. Not only were they worried about us and Henry but they were often left feeling there was little they could do to help.
Strict hospital visiting rules also mean that some family members may feel left out of the journey too, in our neonatal unit visiting was for grandparents and siblings only. Looking back, when our parents did visit they must have found it quite difficult trying to make conversation over lunch while we rapidly gulped down our food in our hurry to get back to Henry (and in my case, express more milk!), especially in the first month when things could change so suddenly. Despite the situation, however, there were a few things that relatives did which really helped us and after posting the question and gathering responses from other NICU mums on the Facebook page I’ve put together a list of these things below as well as some handy tips for easily updating everyone.
How can friends and relatives help?
If you are a friend or relative of someone with a baby in neonatal care you may feel there is nothing you can do to help but here are a few things you can do if you have some spare time:
- Batch cooking meals – The last thing you have time or energy for when your child is in hospital is cooking and thankfully we were provided with a lovely selection of home-cooked meals frozen by my sister-in-law and a two-course feast from one of our cousins. This was so helpful, and something that was reiterated by several other parents whose family members did the same.
- Childcare for siblings – Childcare was not something we had to worry about, but for a lot of parents the baby in the NICU is not their only child and they benefited greatly from grandparents and friends offering babysitting services, allowing them more time in the hospital.
- Offering lifts – Some parents cannot drive and visiting can be difficult when relying on public transport, especially during public holidays. In addition a lot of mothers of premature babies may have had a caesarian section meaning they are not allowed to drive for six weeks. Offering a lift to a struggling parent can mean a lot, not to mention the benefit of a listening ear on the car journey to the hospital.
- Updating friends and extended family – As a parent, it is difficult to keep everyone updated (see more on this below) so having a chain of updates running through the family was very helpful, even Henry’s great-grandma was able to play a role! We only needed to update grandparents and a few selected friends who then cascaded this to others.
- Housework/Gardening – Chores don’t feature in the priority list of parents with a baby in the NICU; our housework was completed to a minimal standard (although as we were never home it didn’t really get too dirty) but the gardens, however, did not get touched and by the time Spring arrived we were very grateful to the in-laws for setting to work, mowing the lawns and de-weeding our mini-jungles!
- Odd jobs/helping with to-do lists – There are many jobs that you may have been planning to do before your baby arrives and a premature baby quickly puts a stop to these. Unfortunately some items on the to-do list still have to be done; for us, this was selling our old car and thankfully a family member took charge with this and had it sold within a couple of weeks after organising viewings and test drives. All we had to do was sign the paperwork.
Here’s a handy shareable tick list (click to enlarge or download) you can share with your friends and family:
Easy Ways to Update Everyone
Following the early arrival of a baby, well-meaning friends and relatives will all wish to be kept in the loop to know how the little one is getting on. As parents it is hard to find the time to give out regular updates so here are some easy, stress-free ways to update those important people:
- Update chain – Only update a few select people and ask them to cascade to others who will in tum pass on to more people until eventually everyone knows what is happening. This is particularly helpful in the early days before you have time to fully process the situation.
- Shared photo album – You will inevitably find yourselves taking lots of pictures of your baby during their time in hospital; by adding these straight to a shared album using an app like Google Photos you can share the link with family or friends and everyone who has joined the album will receive a notification when a new photo is added and be able to watch your baby making progress. Sometimes a picture says 1,000 words!
- Group messages – Creating a messaging group in an app like Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp can be beneficial for updating a small group of people at once, you may want to be careful about including too many people in the group, however, as the conversation can be difficult to keep track of if lots of people are responding or asking questions at the same time.
- Social Media – If you are a Facebook user then this can be really useful for updating large numbers of people at once although it can be a little overwhelming trying to respond to lots of comments and there may be the expectation to update regularly. Personally I couldn’t face using Facebook for the first few weeks, as Henry was so extremely premature I was too worried to even contemplate updating my status! Once he was a bit stronger, I started to add the odd picture or video and I know these little random updates were appreciated by friends and family.
I hope you have found these lists useful. Have I missed anything? If so, please leave a comment below.