A couple nights after Charlie’s birth, my husband and I were up late in my hospital room discussing what we should do about birth announcements. He was showing me a beautiful picture he had taken of her resting comfortably in her isolette.
We had a few concerns. People were not used to seeing an extremely premature baby. We feared that their discomfort would result in unfavorable and critical feedback. Second, we wondered how to handle questions and comments if she didn’t make it home from the NICU. In the couple of days since her birth, we’ve also discovered that many people can’t accept that bad things can happen for no reason. They are quick to theorize or assign guilt. We did not need that either.
Together, we decided “Screw those people!” Charlie deserves to be loved and celebrated just as any newborn does. We were going to love her and celebrate her no matter how long she was with us. We sent out a Facebook posting with her picture and birth statistics. We braced ourselves.
The people who always know the right things to say… didn’t disappoint My favorite comment on that post is “With all sincerity, congratulations! Amazing. Life will find a way. Awesomeness.”
In addition, I appreciated the people who spoke candidly. Even though, it may have been a clumsy and awkward attempt. Nevertheless, I understood the sentiment.
The least helpful were the cliches. At the very least, they were trite and wearied. To me, they are escapes or a way out. It’s a way of not having to deal with a situation. They minimize the gravity and reduce the amount of consideration involved.
Later on in Charlie’s NICU stay, I had an out of town friend text me “I want to help but I don’t know how. Please tell me.” The text, in itself, helped. Almost any NICU mom can tell you that they would love to receive that text.
Sitting in the NICU, I watched Hunger Games. My ears perked up when someone said to Katniss “I’m sorry that this happened to you.” That is perfect! That is what I needed to hear from people who spit out an adage because words had failed them. Why can’t that phrase be commonplace?
So what is the right thing to say?
First, there are lists online of what not to say to preemie parents. Take the five minutes to read one. Here is one of the many http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2011/06/insensitive-remarks-preemies Don’t say any of those things. Second, know that silence is just as hurtful as the worst thing that can be said. Third, if you are not close then don’t inquire about the situation every time you see them. It is painful and exhausting to restate troubling information repeatedly. Don’t make commitments that are conditional or you don’t intend to keep.
Say something honest, sincere, and from the heart. The attempt will be appreciated even if it is gauche. Actions (or non actions) can mean as much if not more than words. Finally, get over yourself. When being supportive, it is not about you. The right thing to say and meaningful actions flow easier if there aren’t preoccupations with one’s own comfort level and their appearance.
Life can be messy, maladroit, and uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid to get a little grimy. It will be appreciated and may be desperately needed.