Halloween is over, which evidently means it’s past time to start talking about Christmas. It’s also still November, which is Prematurity Awareness Month. I decided to combine the two.
I am forever grateful that our NICU experience did not take place over the holidays. Not only because it would have meant Lorelei not getting to see me or meet her brother for weeks (because kids are not allowed in the hospital during flu season), but also because it would have just sucked to try to pretend to enjoy myself while dealing with the fallout. Rowan was in the NICU for both mothers’ day and my birthday, and that was bad enough.
I love my birthday. One of the first signs that maybe I was not handling myself quite as well as I thought was when I told a friend, “I just really don’t care about my birthday this year.” There was a pause like she was having trouble comprehending what I had just said. I could not manage to think of anything I cared about more than having Rowan at home.
If you or a loved one are riding the NICU rollercoaster this holiday season, I am putting together a NICU Gift Guide to give you some ideas.
For Mom (and Dad)
One way or another someone has just given birth. I’ve done the whole tiny human exiting my body in both ways, and neither was fun. It doesn’t matter if you were just sliced open with your insides out on the table, or had a freight train coming out of a tunnel built for an ant, it is a whole-body experience. Add that to having to sit upright while under significant stress, and the tension can get unbearable.
Parents need a break. Offer to babysit older siblings or to go sit with the baby in the NICU (if that is allowed), so that the parents can go on a date. If they are truly reluctant to leave their little one, give them a gift card for a restaurant and the promise to babysit once they are ready. You can also offer to run errands or research great therapists.
Kangaroo care is a big deal in the NICU world. It has many proven benefits and I simply cannot overstate the uterus-contracting surge of oxytocin when holding the tiny baby you brought into the world. Any roomy shirt with a big enough neckline will work, but there are some that are specially made for this purpose.
Here is a good choice for dads, too.
Whether it is a gift card for a service or an offer to do the cleaning yourself, anything that can help relieve some of the day-to-day tasks is always appreciated. Offer to clean her car, too. Mine ended up full of fast food cups.
It is hard to see your fragile baby so full of wires and tubes, but after months went by I found that I cherished the photos I took. I wish I there were some professional photos of Rowan from during that time. And even more, pictures of Rowan and me together. Everything I have is selfies.
I’ll be honest, sometimes the NICU is boooooring. That is a good thing. But if you can give mom and dad something to let them pass the time, that is even better.
Half Baked: The Story of My Nerves, My Newborn, and How We Both Learned to Breathe, by Alexa Stevenson
Some moms may not want to read a story that will hit so close to home, but I found it so reassuring. For one, her daughter was significantly more sick and tiny than mine and did ok, which gave me hope. Alexa is a sarcastic atheist with an anxiety disorder — basically my spirit animal.
Something completely unrelated to the NICU
Don’t underestimate the present that reminds mom that she is also a human being with her own hobbies and interests.
When Rowan first became a free house elf we had no idea how to clothe him. I quickly learned that snaps and ties are key, and to avoid zippers. Any baby in the NICU is going to have, at the minimum, monitor cords. They may also have IVs, PICC lines, feed tubes, and oxygen. It’s a lot of wires and tubes that can make it difficult to dress them. The more a given outfit can open, the better. Generally speaking, I would go for the larger preemie size, as most two-pound babies won’t be wearing clothes. Here are a few examples for you (most of these have several prints available).
I love that this ornament has a place for a footprint and a picture. It will be so fun for your future big kid to see how far he has come!
If you think the tiny one might be coming home soon, go ahead and get a NICU graduate outfit. It’ll be great for photos later.
You can make one by sewing a couple pieces of nice fleece together, or you can buy a simple lovie. The idea is that mom will wear the item in her shirt, and then leave it in the isolette when she is not able to be with the baby. It’s great if you can give her two, so there is always one with the baby and one with her.
The hospital will do the first set, but if baby is going to be there for a while, it is amazing to see how much they grow.
Look, I’m not one to get all sentimental about umbilical cords and baby’s first bowel movement. But looking at the impossibly small hats, the hospital name bands, and the onesies that fit on a small teddy bear, and I get a little weepy. I love this box because it suits my affection for tiny organization. And it is certainly better than the cardboard box where all of Rowan’s stuff currently resides.
No Bigger Than My Teddy Bear, Valerie Pankow
Waiting For Baby: A Sibling Visits the NICU, Jennifer Bracci
I mostly suggest avoiding giving the big sibling anything related to the hospital or NICU — they already feel overshadowed enough. But these books are great if mixed in with other gifts.
When I was in the hospital my mom took Lorelei to Build-a-Bear Workshop to pick out a stuffie for me to put my voice in. We tried to record my voice over the phone, but it didn’t work. Instead, my mom brought the voice box to me to record, then took it back to Build-a-Bear Workshop for them to put in the cat Lorelei chose. Lorelei also decided to record her voice in a stuffed bear for me, and one for Rowan. They have become treasured items in our house.
Certificate for Special Time
It is hard to be a big sister or brother. It is doubly hard when the new baby is sick and getting all the attention. Mommy-daughter dates were our special bonding moments, even if it was just to the hospital cafeteria. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, as long as it is dedicated time just for your big kid.
The most important gift you can give a parent with a child in the NICU is compassion, understanding, and patience. They may not feel much like celebrating the holidays and may just want someone to offer to deliver a plate of leftovers to their doorstep. On the other hand, they may want to get out for a couple of fancy drinks and appetizers. So make sure to include them in plans, but understand if they choose to lay low this year.
What did you find to be the most thoughtful or useful gifts when your preemie was born?