It’s a question that comes up often. “How can I help my friend/sister/whomever who is on bedrest/in the hospital/has a baby in the NICU?”
I know how helpless it feels to be that friend/sister/coworker. I can only imagine how helpless it feels to be on the otherside. At the time, when people would ask how they could help, what we needed, I constantly drew a blank. I needed Lennox’s membrane to seal. I needed to stay pregnant. I needed…lots of things no one could give me. Everything else simply didn’t matter.
Let’s start with hospital bedrest since that’s the only kind I know. This weird things happens, to me, at least when in the hospital. Normally, I love to read. I can spend hours and hours at a time with a book. In the hospital, I had no desire to read. I couldn’t work up any energy to do crossword puzzles, or sketch, or play computer games. All things I love to do and never have the time for. I slept a lot when people weren’t around. I watched lots of mindless television when I could find something on one of the 15 channels I had (one of which was hospital information, two were in a language I don’t speak, and I think at least one was a gospel channel). Company is a huge help. I know I didn’t have much to say, beyond what food they’d tortured me with, but it was always nice to have the distraction of a guest who wasn’t too uncomfortable seeing me in bed, unshowered, hooked up to machines. If a co-worker is working remotely, like I was, see if there is anything she needs from the office to make it easier…notes, phonelists, whatever. Bring movies and stay to watch them. There wasn’t much in the way of errands or chores that we needed help with, but others might have some. Want to bring gifts? If there aren’t dietary restrictions, bring food. Real food. Hospital food is deadly. Bring nice hand lotion. I was allowed a 5 minute shower ever day. Shannon got me lots of good smelling soap, shampoo, and face stuff so that that five minutes was as decadent as possible.
After. My biggest piece of advice is don’t by baby gifts if the baby is in the NICU. Wait until you’ve received news that the baby is coming home and then ask Mom and Dad what they still need to be ready. I have hats, NICU onsies, and books that never got used and that I can’t look at now.
You know how after a baby is born, there’s that two week period when Mom and baby are encouraged to just sleep and recover and do nothing but take care of each other? When baby comes early and is in the NICU, Mom doesn’t get that two weeks. She can’t because baby needs her and that requires driving back and forth. NICUs are crowded with equipment and there often isn’t room to sit. Mom basically has to forget that she had a major medical procedure and that’s so hard. So, what helps? Gift cards. I know, sounds cheesy but wait.
Many chain restaurants are collections of several different restaurants. Chili’s, for example. You can get gift cards that are good at five or six restaurants and I’d be willing to bet that at least two of them can be found within a few miles of the hospital. That means Mom and Dad can get food easily after a visit to the NICU, when it might be late and cooking just seems too hard.
Target. In one store, that stays open until 10 at night, you can get groceries, a pair of pants that don’t hurt your c-section incision, breastpumping supplies, and a new cd to listen in the car as you make all those drives back and forth.
Visa Gift Cards. Accepted anywhere that takes visa. Not terribly personal gift, but you are helping your friend AND giving them control over what they receive so it is always what they need…even if what they end up using it for is putting gas in the car.
That sort of thing relieves stressed parents of just one more worry.
Yard work, errands, phone calls, laundry, child care (if there are older children), that sort of thing never hurts to offer. Just to give you an idea of what a typical day was like for us when Zoe was in the NICU (we both worked from home during that time)…
Midnight to 3am – sleep
3am to 3:30am-pump
3:45am to 6am – sleep
6am to 6:30 – pump
6:30 to 7:45 – shower, change incision dressing, get dressed, eat breakfast. Shannon checked email while I packed bag of pumping supplies and got bottles of milk into cooler.
7:45 – 9:30ish – drive 10 miles to hospital, parking takes ~10 minutes, 5 minutes to walk to NICU, three minute scrub-in, visit with Zoe. Give Shannon some daddy time while I pump.
10:00 – 5:30 get back home. Shannon works. I get a snack and work for about an hour. Then pump. Then fix lunch. Then work for a bit, pump, snack. Nap at around 2. Pump. (I worked while pumping too).
5:30 – Get milk in cooler. Restock bag with clean pumping supplies (Shannon was on part sterilizing duty. We had three full sets, so one was always ready to use, one was being sterilized, and one was dirty).
6:00/6?30-ish – Drive to hospital. Same as morning visit, only this one is more relaxed and longer.
9:45 or so – go home. find something for dinner.
10:45 – pump, check dressing on incision, go to bed
It was a non-stop schedule. I couldn’t drive for two weeks, which meant that we constantly had to choose between say, going to the grocery store or spending a little more time with Zoe. A doctor’s appointment, which I had several of because my incision didn’t heal well, threw everything off for both of us. A chauffeur who could take me to an appointment, so Shannon could work, or someone who could go to the grocery store for us would have been wonderful. We ate well because my mother filled our freezer with soups in two serving portions. If we hadn’t had that, we probably would have lived off cereal and peanut butter sandwiches. So, there are plenty of opportunities for helping. Just don’t say, “Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.” because that requires brain power and thought and then contacting you and there just isn’t enough energy during that sort of day for that. Figure out what you can do and say, “I’m free X evening. Give me a list and I’ll get you some groceries.” or “When is your doctor’s appointment? I’ll be happy to drive you.” There will be polite protests. Hopefully you know your friend enough to know just how much to push back and insist. And sometimes, just show up with a decaf mocha latte and sitting and listening. There are a lot of worries circling like hungry sharks in that brain and someone who will listen to them without offering platitudes is a life saver.