Health care is an avoidance topic, plain and simple. No one wants to think about being sick or worse yet, having a child sick and in the hospital. But realistically, we know that every day thousands of people across the Kansas City area are spending their day in the hospital helping care for a loved one. Think about your own circle of friends. Even if it is a step removed, you probably know of someone right now who is facing a health challenge in their world.
Even childbirth, which is supposed to be a joyful time, can lead to uncertainty when a mother gives birth to a preemie and finds her new family taking up residence in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). I know firsthand what NICU moms are going through because I was one. My daughter, Kaydee, was born at 25 weeks. She weighed 1 lb., 6 oz. and was 12 inches long. She faced numerous uphill battles which has included nine months in the NICU before she got to go home for the first time, and numerous inpatient and PICU stays over the past five years. Today, Kaydee is a healthy and active preschooler.
It wasn’t an easy journey, but I learned a lot during my time spent in the NICU at Children’s Mercy. I now work in the same NICU offering support to other parents. I know sometimes it’s hard to know how you can best help your friends when they have a child in the NICU or in the hospital, so we put together a short list of ways you can offer support. We also included some tips for the parents of the child in the hospital.
Reach out, but don’t expect a reply. Let them know you’re thinking of them and their family. The support is appreciated and means so much, but just know it may be impossible for them to respond to everyone. Also, sending positive text messages is so important. I grew TIRED of always having people say "so what's going on with the baby?" It was nice when friends would say things like "everything is going to work out." "I am praying for you." "Call me if you need to talk" and things like that. Parent tip: Ask a family member to return calls and texts for you. You can also keep friends and family updated through Facebook. I found it was a quick way to share information broadly, and it reassured me that I didn’t have to respond to everyone individually.
Offer rides to the hospital. Something as simple as offering a ride to and from the hospital is an easy way to help and can make a world of difference. We lived an hour away, so friends that worked in Kansas City would give me rides to the hospital. My mom or husband would come to visit in the evening and bring me home. Gas cards are another great gift. The miles can quickly add up. Parent tip: Go home at night and sleep if you can. You need to take care of yourself, so you can give all you have to take care of your child. Build relationships with the nurses, so you feel comfortable leaving the hospital. I would call and check on Kaydee as soon as I got home, before I went to bed, if I woke up in the middle of the night and again in the morning before I headed back to the hospital. I tried to be as connected as possible while away.
Provide meals. Preparing dinner is the last thing on any parent’s mind. Provide the family with a home-cooked meal or food delivery gift cards, so they don’t have to resort to only eating hospital food day after day. Also think about making individual portions that can be frozen and brought to the hospital for lunch.
Give gift certificates to area restaurants. My husband and I always appreciated gift certificates and would go out to eat on our way home from the hospital. We may not say two words to each other, but it was nice to go to dinner and not have an expectation to relive the day.
Laundry packs for the child in the NICU. I had to bring clothes for Ava to wear and would sometimes forget to bring additional outfits for her. When that happened, she would be in a diaper and a wrap. It would have been great to have someone supplying me with packets of onesies, cute socks, and things like that for her to wear during her stay.
Make grab-and-go snack packs. Having healthy snacks on hand is a must. Granola bars, trail mix and even fresh fruit is a quick way to re-energize throughout the day. Parent tip: If someone offers to take you out for lunch, go! You need to eat and leaving the bedside for a couple of hours will do you good. Also, don’t forget to drink plenty of water.
Give coins. It’s not something you think about, but parents need quarters for the vending machines at hospitals. A church group gave us a basket full of goodies, which included $5 in quarters and it was a great gift, because you never have change when you need it. Parent tip: Money can carry germs and bacteria, so it’s important to wash your hands after touching dollar bills and coins to help prevent your little one from getting sick.
Help with chores and pets. Clean the house and do laundry. My mom, her friend and my sister-in-law did this without asking me, because they knew if they’d asked, I’d say “no.” It was such a relief to come home to a clean house and clean clothes.
Walk the dog and buy pet food, so it’s one less thing they have to worry about or even offer to foster the family pets during the hospital stay. It’s always the little things that helped the most. Parent tip: Friends and family are going to offer to help. Let them! It gives them a way to show support and it really does let you focus on your family.
Help with siblings. Parents are juggling a lot during their stay in the hospital, but its important siblings maintain as routine a life as possible. Offer rides to school, practice or games. Have a playdate or a sleepover, so parents can spend time at the hospital.
Parent tip: See what support services the hospital offers. For example, Children’s Mercy has a lot of great programs for siblings. Utilize Child Life for support. They can meet with the sibling and go over what they’re about to experience, and they can help entertain kids at the bedside. Include other children in your child’s care if they’re old enough. After Kaydee came home and we finally got to the point where we’d go out, I’d have my nieces and nephews be in charge of making sure everyone washed their hands. They took this responsibility very seriously as it was a way for them to help keep Kaydee healthy.
These are just a few suggestions for things you can do to try and help your friends because it truly does take a village. Even if you think what you are offering is something small – it really does make a difference. This Mother’s Day you can even show support to a mom you might not know.
Children’s Mercy is working to make sure all moms/caregivers are recognized and feel the love of our community “village” by hand-delivering each a Hallmark card. If you would like to send a card to a mom who is at Children’s Mercy, click here to select your card and message. A volunteer will handwrite the message and deliver the card for Mother’s Day.