By Heather Barrow
Through our outreach at High Risk Hope®
, I interact daily with families in a fight for their baby’s survival, whether on hospital bed rest or in the neonatal intensive care unit. Our HRH families have become extended members of my family, but I never expected to have an experience hit so close to home. This past month I found myself in unchartered territory when my college roommate and close friend was admitted to the hospital when her water broke months before her due date. When I received an early morning text from Jill that she was in labor and delivery at my hospital, I felt sick to my stomach. I knew what she was facing and how she was feeling because I had been through that exact moment five years ago when my water broke at 24 weeks. I grabbed my keys and headed for the hospital and my role shifted immediately from former hospital bed rest/NICU mom an HRH founder to someone who needed to support and encourage a good friend fighting for the life of her baby.
As a friend, your first instinct may be to ask your friend how you can help. I can promise you, she does not know what/how much help she needs, so here are my ‘expert’ tips and ten ways to help a friend on hospital bed rest or in the NICU:
1. Roll out the red carpet. If you spent months in the hospital your friend now calls home, chances are you may have some ‘pull’ with hospital staff. You may be able to help your friend experience the ‘perks’ of being an instant member of the hospital family. I knew my nurses would love Jill as much as I do, and she would be a low-maintenance and appreciative patient. I called to let them know she was on the way and they surprised me by giving her my old room on the high risk obstetric floor. In addition to being a very lucky room, #327 happens to have an incredible view and is far enough away from common areas to keep the noise down. When you are pregnant and on bed rest for months, a quiet room with a view is a very big deal. It took my husband Bennett and I a full month of kissing up to the nurses to get that prime room. Jill got it on her first day, which was pretty awesome!
2. Deliver a Bed Rest Basket™ or NICU Napsack™. While this may sound like thoughtful gift, it is actually a critical package containing every item a preemie mom or mom-to-be needs to survive a long-term hospital stay on bed rest or in the NICU. The items we include are not provided by hospitals and ensure every patient’s basic needs are met so the patients can focus on a healthy mom and baby. If your friend is ‘lucky’ enough to be a patient at one of HRH’s hospital partners, she will receive one from us free of charge. If not, you can order a mini version starting at $35 from the HRH Store and we will ship it to her!
3. Set up a meal delivery. Hospital menus were not designed for patients who may spend months in the hospital. Even if your hospital offers a gourmet menu (unlikely), the food gets old quickly. Set up a meal schedule with very close friends to deliver lunch and/or dinner each day to the hospital. Home-cooked meals will score extra brownie points, even if you are not the best cook! It is best to set up the meal delivery schedule weekly, since you never know when your friend may deliver the baby. Send out email reminders (bcc to your friend) with the schedule and drop-off instructions. Once the baby is delivered, end the schedule immediately and let the group know you will contact them if the family wants to resume meals.
4. Decorate her new home. Bring seasonal decorations, photos, potted plants and bedding to brighten up your friend’s new home. Your friend’s surroundings have a huge impact on her mood while on hospital bed rest, and you need to ensure her spirits are lifted from the moment she wakes up in the morning. For the NICU, it is best to put decorations in a bag and leave it with a note on your friend’s doorstep, as they may not be ready to have visitors in the NICU.
5. No unannounced visitors. You may think having a friend on bed rest in the hospital is an open invitation to stop by whenever it is convenient for you. It’s not, ‘drop-ins’ are not considerate, and you should always call before visiting. There are many reasons why you should call first, here is one that will hit home. Many patients are restricted to using a bed pan and do not have the ability to lock their door. How would you like to be that person to walk in on her using the bedpan or bedside commode?
6. Become your friend’s personal assistant. Only kidding, but there are many things you can do, or encourage others to do, that will be a help during their hospital stay. A few ideas include: clean their house, run errands, mow the lawn, drop off groceries at home and help set up the nursery.
7. Throw her a baby shower. Who says you can’t have a baby shower in the hospital? If your friend gives the OK, you may be able to arrange a shower through the nurses in the hospital conference room. The friends of one of our HRH twin mommies threw a virtual shower for her where she ‘attended’ via web cam. Her husband brought a few gifts for her to open every day. You can also organize a ‘group gift’ from people who would have attended the shower, and purchase items from her registry.
8. Help her celebrate pregnancy milestones. Every pregnancy milestone warrants a celebration! Bring a cake at 24 weeks, a bagel party at 26 weeks, pizza at 28 weeks, and a doughnuts at 32 weeks. This doughnut inspiration I brought Jill was from a HRH mom, Karyn, whose sister made her “32” out of cupcakes. If it is not too expensive, invite your friend’s favorite nurses and hospital staff to thank them for all of their help and support. The positive energy you create is contagious and will come back to your friend and her baby.
9. Take care of the other babies. Whether it is older children or pets, offer to take them as much as possible. You can help by taking them to school, on play dates, to sports practice and to hospital visits. Offer to spend nights with older children so her spouse can sleep at the hospital. Be creative with your activities, keeping in mind your friend will feel a tremendous amount of guilt being away from her older children. She wants to know they are having a great time while she is in the hospital focusing on the new baby. Also, don’t forget her spouse, who may be in desperate need for a night out and friend to talk to.
10. Start a NICU shuttle. Many preemie moms deliver via C-Section and are not able to drive for two weeks. This presents a huge problem when your new baby is in the NICU. Organize a list (with cell numbers) your friend can reach out to when she needs a no-obligation ride to and from the NICU to visit her baby. By no-obligation, I mean, the driver cannot expect a detailed baby update or visit to meet the baby in the NICU.
Remember, once a preemie mom, always a preemie mom. It is important to realize your friend’s journey does not end when the baby is discharged from the NICU, and she will need your continued support and understanding. Your friend has been in a state of extreme stress because the life of her baby has been at risk every minute of every day for months. That feeling of panic and helplessness does not go away because the hospital stay is over, and can continue for years. My son is 5 and I still have anxiety when I use the soap at my hospital, which proved very difficult to manage while supporting Jill during her hospital stay. PTSD in NICU parents is well documented, a Today.com article published earlier this year stated “The experience can be so traumatic that almost 60 percent of parents whose infants were hospitalized in the NICU were found to be at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder in a 2009 Stanford University School of Medicine study. In another study, researchers from the Duke School of Nursing interviewed 30 mothers of preemies in the NICU and found all of them had at least one post-traumatic symptom more than six months after their children were born.”
Most of all continue to be the great friend you must be if you are reading this blog. Call her every day, even though she may not answer or return your calls right away. When she is ready to talk about her crisis, be there to listen. You will feel an incredible sense of accomplishment with every milestone this baby makes knowing you had a part in ensuring he/she arrived safely. I personally will be shocked if Jill’s baby doesn’t grow up to be the United States President one day! Naturally, I will be campaigning for an invitation to the inauguration.