September is NICU Awareness Month. Raise founder and NICU mom Jessica Butler shares her advice on how best to offer support to NICU parents.
The worst question you can ask a NICU mom is, “How are you?”
On her best day, any woman whose child is in the hospital is shitty.
When your baby is living in a plastic box, unable to be touched for more than 30 minutes twice a day, it’s impossible to describe your emotional state in anything less than 1500 words. It’s impossible to indulge in any sort of self-care, let alone self-awareness.
She’s not okay.
I was not okay. I was so not okay that on the twelfth day of my son’s NICU stay, I drove my car into a cement wall. With my best friend in the passenger seat, I drove through a red light at full speed, T-Boned an oncoming car, and slammed us into a cement barrier head-on. I don’t remember if I hit my breaks. I don’t remember much of anything except that I couldn’t hear, but I could see people shouting at me to get out of the car because it was filling with smoke.
Shortly after Levon was born, my sweet friend Jess sent me a text, “What are your days like? Jess and I have known each other since kindergarten. Our parents live on the same street. We hadn’t talked in months (because, life) but when she heard of Levon’s birth, she immediately texted: “What are your days like?” It was the first time anyone asked me a question that I could actually answer.
My friend Stacey, a fellow NICU mom, called me daily. “Do you need me to send you anything? Where are you in the adoption process? What tests is Levon having today? When is the last time you ate?”
The most helpful thing you can do when checking in with NICU parents (or anyone experiencing any kind of trauma) is to be specific with your questions.
“I’m running to Target. Do you need me to pick up anything for you?”
“I’ll bring you lunch today. What sounds good?”
“I’m sitting in the parking lot. Bring me your laundry. I’ll bring it back tonight.”
If you do want to ask how they’re doing, say “How are you doing this morning? How are you doing this afternoon? In the NICU, things changed hour to hour. Horrible mornings followed by magical afternoons followed by so-so evenings. The only thing we know for sure is how we’re doing at this very moment. And no matter how the moment is going, we’re always appreciative of hair ties, lotion, mouthwash, gum, and coffee. All the coffee.
Share your advice for NICU parents in the comments below.
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of Raise, stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to Raise, she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.