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What to Say to the Mom (or Dad) of a Preemie

Posted By Jessica Fisher On October 26, 2010 @ 1:00 am In Baby Stuff | 46 Comments

[4]Photo Source [4]

- A post from LifeasMOM contributor, Jessie Leigh [5] -

We’ve all been there.  There are some situations where, well, it’s just so hard to know what to say.  You want to be the person who strikes the right balance… who is supportive and attentive, but not cloying, appropriately serious, but not morbid.  It can be tricky.

As the mother of a baby who was born frighteningly early [6]- at just barely 24 weeks gestation- I’ve been on the receiving end of many well-meaning comments.  I’ve heard some amazing words of encouragement and I’ve also heard some truly horrible remarks [7].

I know it was very difficult for people to know how to approach me, to come up with the “right words”. Having been through it, I’d like to help the rest of you out with how to say the “right thing” to a preemie mom (or dad).

Say something.

This is the very first thing I want you to know.  You might decide- since you can’t figure out what to say- that saying nothing is the best course of action.  Here’s what I want you to know.  We notice.  And it hurts. If you would have said something following a healthy, full-term birth, you should be saying something in the case of a premature one as well. That’s my rule of thumb.

Keep it positive.

Your job is NOT to focus on all the “what could happen” worries.  The preemie mom has enough of those running through her mind already.  Your first go-to phrases should be very similar to those you would have said following any “typical” birth: “What a beautiful baby!”, “She has your eyes…”, “He’s a spunky little guy!”, etc.  Remark on his name.  Admire her tiny toes.  Acknowledge that a precious little life has been born.

[6]Photo Source [6]

Be willing to listen.

While I do not advocate bringing up sad or scary topics, you should be willing to lend an ear should she need to talk about them.  Keep in mind that we preemie moms do not actually expect you to be able to answer our questions or address our fears.  We just want affirmation and your listening goes a long way for us.

Do not make promises you can’t keep.

Do not say things like, “Oh, I’m sure she’ll be just fine!” or “He’ll be ok.  My neighbor had a preemie and he’s HUGE now…” The fact is you just don’t know that everything will be fine and, while we know you’re just trying to make us feel better, you shouldn’t get hopes up when you can’t know the future.

Please don’t blame it on God.

I realize- I really, truly do- that people think they’re making it better by saying, “It was all part of God’s plan” or “This is just God’s will” or “Maybe God needs another angel”.  Someday, down the road, the preemie mom may want to look back at how this was all part of God’s plan.  But, when you’re in the throes of it, it’s a slap in the face.  It is not comforting to hear that God’s plan for the other mommy was a healthy, thriving baby and God’s plan for us was a sickly, struggling tiny baby.  That being said…

Offer to pray.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the greatest thing that anyone ever said to me during our difficult three and a half month stint in the NICU was, “I’ll be praying for you.”  It made my heart happy to learn that different church groups all over the nation were praying for my sweet baby girl.  Even if you are of a different faith, the simple question, “May I pray for you?” is a sweet gesture of caring.

You really don’t have to come up with anything clever or elaborate to be a real comfort to a fellow mommy who is dealing with the challenge of a premature birth.  Simple, genuine compassion and support are all you need to make sure you “say the right thing”.

Do you ever struggle with “saying the right thing?”

What advice do you have for others struggling to find the right words?

– JessieLeigh is the mother of a former 24-week micropreemie [6]and two full-term blessings as well. She is a determined advocate for the tiniest of babies, including the unborn, and a firm believer in faith and miracles.  She shares about raising such a precious, tiny baby over at Parenting the Tiniest of Miracles. [5] She is also a regular contributor to LifeasMOM [8].

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[5] Jessie Leigh: http://parentingthetiniestofmiracles.blogspot.com/

[6] a baby who was born frighteningly early: http://parentingthetiniestofmiracles.blogspot.com/2008/08/birth-story.html

[7] I’ve also heard some truly horrible remarks: http://parentingthetiniestofmiracles.blogspot.com/2008/08/dealing-with-insensitive-comments-part_26.html

[8] LifeasMOM: http://lifeasmom.com

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