Language is a huge theme for #MatExp, and one of our six Heart Values. Francesca Tucker kindly agreed to write this post for us looking at people’s inadvertent language trip ups when talking to parents of premature babies. Francesca is a part-time working Mum, who lives in the New Forest with her husband Murray, baby Harry and their three cats. Harry was born at 28 weeks, whilst his parents were on holiday in France. He’s now a happy, healthy 18 month old!
As I sit and write this now, I can do it with a smile on my face. But 18 months ago, if you’d said any of the following “Top 10” to me, my reaction would have been vastly different. Depending on how my day had gone / how many Brady’s baby Harry had decided to scare us with / how much milk I’d managed to express etc., you may have had a response of tears, anger or stony silence. Because, quite frankly, there are just some things you don’t say to the parent of a premature baby!
Speaking on behalf of “The Premature Club” which no-one wants membership to, we understand that it’s difficult to know what to say. The pure joy of the newborn news is tinged by the elephant in the room- “what if they don’t make it”? We know that as our family, friends and loved ones you are thinking of us (we do appreciate it!) and you want to say the right thing, but we’re not expecting you to – there are no magic words that will break the spell and make everything better. Just being there for us, letting us cry, shout, or just sit in silence helps. And that silence can be golden – far better than the following “Top 10 Things not to say to a Preemie Parent”! (As compiled by myself and another Prem-Mum whilst we were in neonatal, both with boobs out, trying to get our babies to practice their breastfeeding!)…..
1. You’re lucky! You got to meet your baby early!
Yep, at this time, we’re feeling really lucky-said no-one EVER! Last time I checked, there was no calendar hung in my uterus, so I’m pretty sure the baby had no concept of ETAs.
2. Your baby was just keen to meet you.
I was creating quite a nice little home in my womb which I was quite proud of- food on demand, good thermostat, nice sounds, and a lovely landlady who was providing everything. I think my baby was quite happy to stay put for a while longer, and wasn’t that eager to meet me. He/she had heard me chatting enough already, so I’m pretty sure the baby knew me already!
3. Oooh, having such a small baby must have made labour easy!
Putting aside the obvious fact that childbirth is painful, what a lot of people forget is that Prems often arrive in emergency situations. This may involve tearing, C-sections, episiotomies as well as the wider delivery tool-kit of forceps, ventouse etc. This is NOT easy! (And don’t even get me started on the emotional aspects of labour)
4. Lucky you! You’ve got less baby weight to lose!
Why is it that when someone has a baby, everyone feels it’s acceptable to start commenting on your weight?! It’s no-one else’s business that you weigh, it’s the last thing on your mind whilst listening to the endless beeping in neonatal. And chances are that with the stress of the situation, you’ll be losing weight anyway
5. Well, at least with the baby in hospital, you get a good night’s sleep!
Erm, no!! At night, most Prem parents are trying to cram in a day’s work of general life into a couple of hours (unfortunately bills still need to be paid, housework done etc.), prepare supplies that need to go to the hospital the next day, express milk through the night to keep supply up, and are generally stressing. A good night sleep is not anticipated for months!
6. With those nurses around, you’re getting far more support than most Mums.
Yes, the nurses are a fantastic support (they become your extended family!), and it’s a hard job to do, but they are by no means doing it single-handedly. They encourage the parents to get involved wherever and whenever possible. I can’t think of many parents that have a baby just to hand them over to someone else to look after – you are the parents, and you want the job! But also remember, the medical team is desperately needed- many Prems need a lot of medical support…surely no-one can begrudge a baby that?!
7. But tiny babies are so cute!
True, but would you swap your baby being dangerously small for “cute”? I thought not. And trying to find the “adorably small” premature outfits is tricky…and very expensive!
8. When will the baby be coming home?
We don’t know, and if we do, we often won’t want to say. It is upsetting thinking you’re about to take your baby home, only for your child to take a downturn and your excitement turns to disappointment and fear. Sometimes it’s easier for the parents to say nothing, rather than having to explain why the baby is remaining in hospital. And when we finally take our little family home, we may well want a day or two to take it all in-it’s a long journey to get home!
9. How are you doing?
Mmmm, a tricky one. Some days will be good, some days will be bad. With 1001 thoughts and emotions running through a Prem parents head, it’ll probably take too long for them to give an honest answer- default option is option to be “Okay, thanks. You?” A better thing to say if the offering of help for a specific thing e.g. “Would you like me to bring you a meal around, so you don’t need to cook?”
10 Will he/she be okay?
A very personal question, and again one that is completely dependent on individual circumstances. Define “okay”? The baby may have long-term health issues, but with the prospect of excellent quality of life, the outlook is overall positive. Or the baby may be going through a serious complication, where the outcome is an unknown. No-one wants to answer “No, he/she is not okay”, as it’s upsetting for all concerned. I personally think such questions are best avoided, and simply substituted by as much love and support as you can provide.
These are some of the favourite options I had for you from our early days of the neonatal journey. Now, a favourite is “Isn’t he walking yet?” – nope! But bear in mind, his peers have a 3month developmental head-start! Maybe I should do a Top 10 comments for the “Advancing Prem Baby”?!……….
But to anyone reading this, currently supporting a neonatal family – thank you. Even though the family may not show it (they are probably too overwhelmed presently), having you present in their lives is helping them more than you’ll know. And if you’re the parents of the little baby/babies lying in hospital- I welcome you to “The Premature Club”- it’s tough, and at times you may feel so wholly overwhelmed it can engulf you. But remember, you are doing a great job and making the best of your situation. I send my love and support to you.
For more “What Not To Say” and other Preemie Top Tens please visit The Smallest Things website.