How do I help a friend who just gave birth prematurely?
December 31, 2004 3:35 PM   Subscribe

A friend just had a premature baby at 32 weeks (just below 4 lbs), and to complicate matters further, she was on vacation with family out of state and will likely be stuck there until the baby is healthy (if they were home, I could go right over and help make food, etc). I'm kind of feeling paralyzed wondering what an appropriate gift would be though. Small baby clothes? Send money/gift certificates to help offset travel bills? Flowers? I'm guessing it'll be a month or so before she comes home.
posted by mathowie to Human Relations (15 answers total)
How 'bout a nice flatscreen TV? :)

Seriously, if they're in the US (you just said out of state), arrange for meals from local restaurants to be delivered wherever they are. After the birth of our daughter, my wife and I didn't have the energy to cook anything or even go out to get takeout -- delivery and friends were the answer.
posted by aberrant at 3:38 PM on December 31, 2004

Food (things like muffins, English muffins, fruit, etc.). Gift cards for Target and other national stores, unless you really know them well enough to send cash.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:39 PM on December 31, 2004

Eric Snowdeal and his wife had a micropreemie son just about six months ago, you might want to drop him an email and ask what was helpful to them on the preemie angle. My suggestions include phone cards, food delivery, gift certificates someplace online they could purchase diapers and other baby junk [they may have a ton of stuff at home, they'll need stuff where they are, maybe even duplicate stuff] delivered to where they are, housecleaner for wherever they are staying [is she in a hospital or staying at the family's house?], maybe a digital camera & Flickr pro account if they don't have that. A lot of the dozen or so friends of mine who have had babies in the last two years have HAD all the clothes and gear, they mostly need pampering stuff for the parents, simplification/safety stuff for their house, and often someone to come in and hang out with the sleeping baby so Mom and Dad could get some alone time. If you know someone in the area you trust, or know if they have friends/family/clergy nearby, a home visit might be a good idea, though always ask first, sometimes it's really not a good idea.
posted by jessamyn at 3:51 PM on December 31, 2004

Oh, if you're feeling REALLY generous, hiring a doula for a week would probably be greatly appreciated.
posted by aberrant at 3:54 PM on December 31, 2004

A friend of mine was laid up for almost a month in a distant hospital during a business trip. Her best gift, she claimed, was a bunch of prepaid phone cards, since she couldn't use her cell phone in the hospital.

And I add my voice to the meals idea. I had to spend an extra week in the hospital after the birth of my son, and if my husband hadn't made frequent runs to the bakery down the street, I would have starved.
posted by bibliowench at 3:55 PM on December 31, 2004

Phone cards would probably be appropriate. No doubt she's feeling very isolated from her support system and long distance is expensive.

Baby's don't generally wear "clothes" in the hospital, like gowns for grown up patients, they'll have something specific they want them dressed in.

Also, if you're close friends, can you offer to look after the house/informing local friends/sending her things she might need from her home/picking up mail/any other things that might need doing locally?
posted by jacquilynne at 3:55 PM on December 31, 2004

The important this isn't now, it is later.

Make sure that you keep up this caring in 3, 8, 16, 32 weeks. A card every week, or a call, asking how they are doing goes far more than most realize.
posted by sled at 4:25 PM on December 31, 2004

How about forwarding some personal comforts of home, to make their long stay feel less sterile/alien. Perhaps some family photos, or a favorite old blanket? Or could you make them a fun home video of other well-wishers who are unable to visit in person?

Flowers may not be the best. Unless they're lucky enough to have a large room, a deluge of flowers quickly overtakes the limited space and the senses. Nice as it is to get flowers, this time it might wind up being one more stressor for an already overwhelmed couple.

If they haven't had the baby shower yet, they may be pretty lacking in the basics right now. You might ask them or their parents what supplies are still needed, and then offer to take on the task of getting the word out.

Frankly, a phone card sounds great. Something that simple and practical often gets overlooked, yet will surely be much appreciated.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 7:39 PM on December 31, 2004

Second what sled said. (Say that five times fast.)

We have three kids. Each birth was accompanied by more people offering help and stuff than we could use. Flowers are nice, but in a hospital room there's usually no place to put the second arrangement, much less the third. So you chuck the $50 gift in a wastebasket and shrug.

Months two through six are harder, especially if it's the first kid. So cash money and stuff is always appreciated, but don't forget to offer your assistance then.

If I was at the hospital out of state looking after my wife and preemie child, I'd want someone back home to take care of all the shit that needs doing. From collecting the mail to the yard to cleaning the dead stuff out of the fridge.

My wife says that if you have the money and the energy, her wildest dream would have been a tab at a local restaurant that delivered to the hospital. (Obviously, you'd need a helpful resto.) Set it up with the resto, give them a credit charge or whatever, and fax the menu to the hospital for delivery to Mom, who is no doubt despairing of Jell-o squares by now.
posted by sacre_bleu at 7:44 PM on December 31, 2004

Second, third and fourth on the meals and the phone cards.
A niece had her baby at 6 months [24 weeks] earlier this year, and while she was out of the hospital within days, the baby stayed there [50+ miles away] for 6 weeks. [She's fat and healthy 8 months old now]

Since your friend doesn't have the luxury of going home until they let the baby move to a hospital closer to home [and I'm sure they will as soon as it's stabalized] having the meals that she won't have to worry about, and phone cards for calls she won't have to worry about, will make her stay much easier.
posted by kamylyon at 9:54 PM on December 31, 2004

Send her your thoughts now, but wait the month until she is home to do something more concrete, unless you can be 100% sure what you can do at a distance is worth it. Restaurant delivery is a good idea *if* it works and is good food. But to fourth the point made, she needs you even more in a month and three months and a year than she does now when it is largely between her and the health professionals anyway.

My friends had a 2.5 pound preemie a few years ago and the prognosis was bad for several years - it looked like there was significant brain damage. But then, around age 4 or 5 she pulled out of it and is now quite the bright spark, top of her class, etc. So also, if it doesn't go well at first (fingers crossed) encourage her to be positive - these things can take a while to resolve.
posted by Rumple at 10:09 PM on December 31, 2004

Besides the great suggestions about, another thing to consider is offering to help whomever is taking care of their home responsibilities right now. When they do get home, it'll be much more pleasant if their house is clean, their bills and errands have been handled, they have a fridge full of groceries, and the nursery has been set up. The family is focused on their immediate emergency needs, so some local help would probably be very appreciated. You can coordinate such matters with them once things have settled down a bit to make sure you're following their wishes as much as possible, as jessamyn suggested. Good luck to your friends.
posted by melissa may at 11:44 PM on December 31, 2004

I think you are on the right track with the small baby clothes Matt, do you know anyone that can knit or sew?

My daughter was born at 28 weeks (1lb 8oz) and weighed 5lbs when we brought her home at three months old and absolutely nothing fitted. My Mother knitted and sewed 18in dolls clothing for her and the garments fitted my daughter for two or three months.

Also please don't let your feeling on not knowing what to buy stop you from sending something. After having a roomful of flowers, gifts and cards when my son was born it was a shock not to receive even one card for my daughter as people waited to see the outcome. We were just happy she was alive and it was devastating to realise no one thought she would pull through.

At this present moment, said daughter is currently feeling a little fragile courtesy of New Year's eve partying :-)

Good luck to your friends and their new daughter.
posted by Tarrama at 2:30 AM on January 1, 2005

Or good luck to her son. When you said about a month till she comes home I was thinking of the baby.
posted by Tarrama at 2:58 AM on January 1, 2005

i just discovered this this thread, so hopefully you're still taking a peak at it. these suggestions are in no particular order.

i might be a little biased but a digital camera and a flickr account are really nice ideas. not only do lots of special moments occur while you're in the intensive care unit, but i found that almost any time i spent on taking and uploading photos was more than saved by not having to repeat the same information over and over ad nauseum to family members.

phone cards are nice, but i found that getting help managing phone calls was even more helpful. it might sound strange, but help organize contact points who will relay information to larger groups of people. it's draining to have to keep dozens of people updated each day with the same information.

ditto, ditto, ditto on taking care of the house and related mundane things while she's out of town and after she gets back. we lived four blocks from the nicu and had two people immediately available for cooking, cleaning, dog walking etc and it still seemed overwhelming at times. help early and help often.

you didn't mention the health of the baby; although the prognosis for 32 weekers is generally quite good it's still likely that the baby will be in intensive care for about a month; your guess is pretty good, but it's important to remember that it's *impossible* to say for sure though and bad, bad things can happen if your friend sets up the expectation that there's a certainty that they'll get their walking papers on x,y, or z date. i'll repeat it for effect. *nobody* can tell your friend when the baby will be released. nobody. not the nurses, not the neonatologist. it's almost impossible to do, but it's best to try to achieve a zen-like state of acceptance and focus on each day as it comes and not spend any energy on thinking about release dates. for otherwise healthy 32 weekers things are really, really, really dependent on how well the suck-swallow-breath reflex matures at around 34 weeks ( assuming that everything else is looking good on the respiratory and infection front ). some babies born at that gestational age get it down right away and can get out quickly (2 weeks ) and some just take their sweet time getting it all together. regardless, she'll definately be released well before the baby is and will probably need ongoing help coordinating issues on the home front for at least 4 weeks.

this might be obvious, but even if she has the healthiest 32 weeker, being in the nicu is scary. you're in an intensive care unit. for children. if you're in there long enough, you see the cruelest blows dealt to parents when they least expect it. if you have children or someone you care about, think about the first time they got a really bad cold or sick or hurt. amplify that feeling by 10,000 and mix it together with the fact that your friend is slowly coming to grips with that her pregnancy hasn't tuned out at all like she planned. after a month or whatever this mix of feelings can grind down even strongest characters. it's important to be there for the long haul. despite their best intentions people tend to zone out after a couple of weeks and replace concrete offers to help with phrases that really mean nothing to a nicu parent. this is a touchy subject because people obviously mean well, but when the mail and laundry are piling up and you haven't had a regular meal in three months and your baby might be taking a step or two backwards- hearing "he/she is such a fighter! everything will turn out for the best!" for the ten thousandth time makes you want to gouge your eyes out with a spoon.

obviously the experiences of being in the nicu is quite fresh in our minds, if your friend has any questions please tell her to not to hesitate to contact kris or myself.
posted by snowdeal at 11:06 AM on January 4, 2005

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