Hand to Hold's Official Blog: Written by Parents for Parents

World Prematurity Day: Helping Preemie Parents Heal

preemie babyWorld Prematurity Day wasn’t a day I ever knew about or had any connection to until I became a preemie parent myself. Having spent 109 days in the NICU watching my son fight for his life, I became aware of the harsh realities of extreme prematurity first hand: the uncertainties and unknowns, the helplessness against being able to protect him and the fierce protectiveness as his mama bear.

Nurses encouraged us to take part in his care and reminded us of how much he needed our love.  This was something only we could provide him, something that was essential to helping him grow and thrive. Neonatologists provided us with the information we needed to make complex and sometimes impossibly difficult medical decisions as we hoped we were doing the right thing for our son.

Through it all we heard messages to “stay strong” and “stay positive,” as most NICU parents do. We often heard from friends message of compassion, sharing that there’s no way they could ever get through something like that. Family members complimented us for being so strong and brave through all of this.

One of the most common phrases NICU parents here is, “God/Life only gives you what you can handle. You’re strong enough to handle this.”

But as one of my former postpartum clients put it so perfectly, “I don’t want to be strong.”

Messages and comments like these from loved ones, although well-meaning, can make NICU parents and parents whose preemies are home feel isolated. It makes them feel like sharing any feelings other than stoicism is unacceptable. They start to feel like there’s no space to talk about how hard things really are because everyone around them needs them to be strong.

This loneliness can exacerbate anxiety and low mood, both of which NICU and preemie parents are at high risk for developing anyway.

Working with my clients, the most common wish they have is that people would just listen. Not try to smooth away the rough edges of their reality. Not try to cover up pain with platitudes. Not turn away from them when they want to share the truth.

They want to be heard.

In fact, storytelling can be an incredibly healing experience for NICU and preemie parents. If you are a loved one supporting a family member or friend who is a preemie parent, I encourage you to take World Prematurity Day as an opportunity to ask them their story.

Ask questions. Learn about what scares them the most and what makes them the happiest, because likely, it’s something different than you’d think. Hear how they feel their journey to preemie parenthood has changed them. Enquire about what they’re struggling with even if the NICU days are months or even years behind them. Be inquisitive about what their hopes and dreams are for their preemie. Find out what’s behind that brave mask they show the rest of the world.

There will certainly be those unavoidable moments when you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed by the heartbreaking experience they are sharing with you, those times that you want to “fix everything” yet feel helpless to offer anything of value. It is then when simply offering a hug, handle hold, or letting them know you love them, can provide tremendous relief and support to preemie parents.

Know that while you may never fully understand what they have been through or are going through right now, your ears are so important to their healing.

Understand that we’re not preemie parents because we’re strong. We’re strong because we’re preemie parents.

Parijat Deshpande About Parijat Deshpande

Parijat Deshpande (CA) is a micropreemie mom and the leading high-risk pregnancy expert who specializes in helping women stay pregnant as long as possible, even if they're facing pregnancy complications. Parijat is the host of Delivering Miracles® and is a clinically trained therapist, a women’s wellness expert and an experienced speaker on the impact of stress on health and wellness.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this post. My triplets (who are now almost 3) were in the NICU for 3 months (for two of them) and 4 months (for one). Reading this has encouraged me to think about sharing more of that experience with friends and loved ones. I wanted to be heard, but didn’t know that then. Thank you again.

  2. I have to say that you basically took everything I always thought and put it into the perfect words. I couldn’t have expressed it better. These were exactly my sentiments while on bedrest, in the NICU with my preemie twins, and for a long time afterwards while struggling with so many preemie problems.
    People do say things that we don’t really want to hear. The “You’re so strong” comments were only one type. How many comments did I get that “It’s not so bad…others have it worse…what are you so worried about….you won’t have this problem again (who says??)….” The worst were the ones that started with “At least.” I’ve even gotten, when I was 22 weeks pregnant, “If they are born now, at least your babies will live!” Seriously?? Of course, there was the advice that people gave too… At some point, I just stopped talking to people.
    At those times, I really wished that others would stop making themselves feel better, stop trying to stop me from formulating my fears, stop turning me into a superwoman, and just LISTEN. Fortunately, I did have one friend that really listened. She openly acknowledged that she could never understand, but she provided me with something that no-one else did. I am always grateful to her for that.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Write their story to share with family and friends. Invite them to write their own. […]

Speak Your Mind

*