I’ve been debating about writing this for a while now. My hesitation stems from not wanting anyone to think I’m writing this in an icky way, in a way that I’m asking for hand outs, in a way that suggests I haven’t been helped enough. I know, to my clients/brides they might not be aware we are going through something. Please feel free to ask questions, I’m an open book.
Another thing a friend (who’s child had health issues as well) pointed out was, in the midwest we are raised to be tough and have grit. I think we fear if we accept help we appear greedy or weak. It’s so backwards, when in the midwest is where you will also receive the most help (IMHO). It is so so hard to accept help. But when you are going through things, just accept it, just take it, people want to not feel helpless when they see you going through something rough. Help them help you :). When my cousin’s came back for my grandma’s funeral a couple months ago they were AMAZED at everyone stopping by with casseroles upon casseroles, deserts, breakfasts, and even an amazing homemade fruit basket! This small town hospitality is not something you see everywhere.
In all honesty, people have been falling over themselves to ask if there is any way they can help, if not just helping without asking. We’ve had lasagna left in the snow on our porch, cash dropped in our mailbox, gas cards and other gift cards in a heartfelt card, loving letters, messages, and hugs. The list goes on and on and on. Let alone the MASSIVE amount of lifting up we’ve had by the prayers of many. We are so blessed and I feel so humbled by it all.
I write this because until I was in the situation, I didn’t know how to help someone. I googled to find other posts like this and all, while helpful, were left wanting in one way or another. I wanted to put this on the internet to help people help others. To help fill the gap of “how can I help my friend?”
To have a quick recap. Kyle and I are dealing with a high-risk pregnancy, that will probably end soon here with them taking the baby a couple months early and spending a lot of time in the NICU. Babe is physically fine, but very very small due to a bad placenta and umbilical cord (velamentous cord insertion, for those wanting more info). That’s our story in a nutshell beyond the fact that we tried for this sweet little one for almost 5 years.
Ok. So what spurs this is the question I’ve asked friends in need time and time again, and now it’s being asked to me. “How can I help???” or “Please, if there is anything I can do, let me know.” For me, this is incredibly hard to answer. Telling someone we need help with gas, food, getting to the hospital etc feels icky. It feels like I’m asking for a handout. So my response has been “Anything you can do is amazing”. Which is true! But then the person who truly wants to help is usually left with no answers and no way to help, and in the end probably can’t think of anything because this isn’t happening to them.
Here are a few ways you can help someone, someone who is in the hospital, going back and forth to the hospital, dealing with grief of the loss of a loved one, dealing with depression, even someone who is overstressed with the work of being a young mother with too many responsibilities. Note that below, I’m talking from my perspective of the current situation I’m in. This is in no way me saying “do all these things for MEEEEE”. I just… I know people struggle with this. I’m only trying to help you help others. My own way of paying forward the love that has been shown to us. Take all of these suggestions while thinking of the specific person you want to help. I’m a little different than most. Most people don’t open their soul for everyone to see inside like I tend to do, probably too much.
- This might be the most obvious thing, but if anything, pray for the person you want to help. They can feel it. I definitely do. I feel stronger, empowered, and enveloped by all the prayers people lift up every day. I know it’s happening, and I know prayers are being lifted by more people than I could even imagine, people I don’t even know. Put a sticky on your work computer, or where you brush your teeth, just to remind yourself. The power of prayer is amazing.
- If prayer is all you’ve got, that IS good enough. In fact, it’s amazing. And paired with Checking in (read below) you are a rock star, man.
- Gas Cards
- Dude. I never would have thought of this until we started receiving a few. Within weeks of our trips to Sioux Falls we quickly busted through our budget for gas for the month (and groceries), it’s insane how much a gas card can give relief! Not everyone has cushion to fall back on, and if they do, it’s probably really hard to use it and admit that this is the emergency situation they were saving for.
- Restaurant gift cards
- Holy cows, same note guys. I’m overwhelmed by these. We normally do not eat out often, but these trips to SF that have had to be quick due to Kyle’s need to leave and return to work, and my inability to plan or do anything productive, we end up grabbing a bite, which is NOT cheap ugh. No matter how hard we try. I keep saying we need to just make PB and J’s but just getting on the road on time (and having our bags packed every week) has been a struggle for me. I’m sure this goes the same for anyone with frequent trips to the hospital.
- Homemade freezer meals
- Before having any type of issue myself I always thought “oh that’s nice of people”. I never quite realized HOW nice it is. When you are grieving the loss of a loved one (even a miscarriage y’all), or dealing with any of the issues I listed above and more, grocery shopping, meal planning, cooking, and CLEANING UP after cooking is really the last thing you want to do. Serious bonus points for HEALTHY freezer meals, too. Anything of course is super super amazing. We’ve even had a friend go so far as to drive HOURS to put freezer meals in our freezer (they were passing through).
- Let me add to the above with an awesome suggestion from a friend I had proof this. Websites like takethemameal.com or mealtrain.com are super popular… letting the recipient putting in fav meals & any allergies or things to avoid as well as the delivery time & frequency (some request daily while others request 3 days a week etc). Not only that but get this, you people who hate to cook you, they can put in their favorite meals at restaurants. Others can then pay for the meal and have it delivered to them! Whaaaaaat? Magic! Her other suggestion that goes along with this? “One family here with a very sick child put a cooler on the front step & people were instructed not to ring the bell just put food in the cooler between certain times. This prevented germs entering the house plus if people were sleeping they didn’t wake to the doorbell. That family also listed their fav delivery order but stated no more than once a week… so people could call the restaurant & order & pay & the meal was delivered to the family… takes a lot of the load off the person giving a meal plus they giver knows it’s food the recipient likes.” Like I said. Magic. #thatwasglitter
- To add to this even more, close friends have been inviting me/us over for meals. If people didn’t know this about us before, free meals can get us to do about anything haha, even before we had issues. (OMG I shouldn’t tell people this! They’ll know the secret!) Pretty sure my parents have this down pat. But if we can save money by not cooking, and get some company while we are at it, unless we have a conflict or truly need some time to ourselves we are THERE!
- How icky it feels to write this one. No one wants to ask for money. It feels gross to be like hey, yeah, money could help. But TBH there are so many unexpected expenses with ANY of the issues above. Even before any medical bills. But every time we received anything I lost it. Even one card with a check in it, I opened it and collapsed to my kitchen floor crying (softly, baby was not hurt 😉 ) Simply overwhelmed by the generosity and thoughtfulness of others. In awe. I won’t be gauche and name the people who have given gift cards and/or money. But YOU…. You…. *shakes head with tears in eyes*
- Sometimes giving money makes people nervous that they are going to offend the person they are giving it to. Try and read the situation, but honestly, if someone doesn’t need it maybe they will pay it forward and give it to someone else in need. I was left a note with one of our financial gifts from someone with this same worry, just expressing that it makes you nervous will help them understand that you just want to help.
- Car rides
- While we haven’t needed it AND the one time Kyle couldn’t come with me I did prefer going alone (it’s emotional y’all) I can see how a lot of people could use the offer of a ride to the hospital or anything like that.
- Books to read
- I saw this on another post. I’ve been given books throughout our infertility journey. People give them with heart, and seemingly with the knowledge that we may not have time to read them. I don’t personally have a lot of time to read unless its an audio book. But I can see how others would really appreciate this.
- Check in, a lot
- Read the room obvs. But anytime someone reaches out just to see how I’m doing is like. Wow. Maybe I don’t want to share with the world that I’m FREAKING OUT right now. But… if someone texts me or stops by and asks how I’m doing I might melt into a puddle of tears and thankfulness for being able to express myself. No matter what journey someone is on, my bet is in some shape or form they feel alone. Help remind them they are not.
- Help around the house
- Cleaning? Yeah? You like cleaning? That’s amazing. Do it. It is something thats hard to accept but like. Sweep their floor, or something. That’s really awesome!
- Offer Your SKILLZ, man
- Photographer like me? Maybe they’d like maternity photos, or photos of their family, or a print of a photo they already have and love! Framed and made easy to bring with them somewhere. My photog friends have gone above and beyond for me. This one is super specific but apply it to whatever mad skillz you have. I don’t always have time to gift my photography to someone in need.. but it doesn’t have to be your main income skill that you are offering. I understand that can be very difficult to do.
- Other skills? Right on! Accountant? Bookkeeper? Mechanic, painter, plumber, organizer, baker, etc etc etc. All crazy helpful for people.
- Handyman? (or woman) see if they need something done! Something they’ve had to put off because ain’t nobody got time for that when life gets real.
OK, Now to be specific to the expectant mother/NICU momma. I may add to this once I’m actually counted as one of these in the near future.
- If you’ve gone through the NICU process, reach out and see if they want helpful advice. That has been one of the most valuable thing for us (Thank you C and T and others!) Just to be able to wrap your mind around the craziness that is the NICU!
- Babysitting. If the parents in the NICU have more than the one child in the NICU I’m sure they are having a heck of a time going back and forth and caring for their children at home, and finding others to help.
- An added note from a friend “our big boys enjoyed getting fun activity type books while the babies were in the NICU. It was nice to have something “new” to entertain them for the times they were visiting the NICU. So maybe an age-appropriate bag of activities and snacks for older siblings?” Awesome idea T.
- Dog/pet sitting. I’m fortunate enough to have had people offer for us, and we hopefully have it all covered. But that can be just another worry that parents shouldn’t have to deal with. Our dog loves walks, what dog doesn’t, but even if one person is watching someone’s dog, maybe they would like a hand with giving the dog some exercise.
- Water purifier (say what?) Yeah. In the NICU a momma is going to be spending all of her waking moments pumping. Which can be soooo unsatisfactory, because she barely gets to even touch her baby, let alone hold it. Or a gift card toward the water purifier of her choice. In the NICU they often have a place where a momma can keep this and have a constant flow of water for her thirsty self. Berkey filters are amaaazing but supes expensive. So really anything like that.
- Snacks. Because she’s gonna be bored and hungry. But also because she’s going to have visitors and it will be lovely to have something to offer them. It’s not like she can throw cookies in the oven quick.
- A blanket maybe? Some hospitals are cold, some of the NICU’s have places for mamma to sleep. Something to make the NICU feel less like a hospital with tons of machines and more like a home. Even if that means noise cancelling headphones haha.
- A hands free pumping bra.
- A soft cooler to help haul that precious breast milk.
- Gift Registry Guess what, no one likes to buy on registry. WHICH IS TOTALLY AWESOME. But, that does leave gaps. And when that momma is looking down the barrel of time in the NICU and medical bills and everything that goes with that (OMG!!!) Get them a gift from their registry, especially something that seems necessary. OR do what my AMAZING SISTER is doing! She is keeping an eye on facebook swap in Kansas City. Amongst other items, she knew I wanted a specific style of crib, and the one that Kyle and I could actually agree on was quickly becoming a pipe dream. So what did she do? She FOUND ONE (this is no easy feat to find a mid-century modern crib in a stained wood finish). She not only did that, but she is driving 40 minutes, at least, one way, to get it for me *shakes head*. This isn’t the first thing of which she’s done this for me. And when I found the stroller we’ve been looking at for 80% of the cost of a brand new one (unheard of) I put on FB that I needed someone to pick it up in Lincoln, NE. A lot of people offered, and God bless that college friend that not only went to pick it up, but looked at it and made sure it was suitable. Amazing. People are amazing. Forever on my knees thanking God for putting these people in my life.
- Visit. Ask them if it’s ok first, but visit. Keep it short unless they ask for it longer. But this is reiterating the fact that a lot of people in various journeys feel alone. If you are sick STAY AWAY. If you’ve been around someone who is sick STAY AWAY. I didn’t realize until we were put in this situation that NICU babies, even for the next whole year of their lives at least, are in extreme danger when they get sick. It can cause lung/health problems fo life yo. This is serious.
- Pamper them. They probably are absolutely not taking time for themselves anymore. But maybe they could use something that is all about them, and not about them as parents. Something that helps them feel human in all of this.
- If this is pre-NICU like it is for us. Something where they have the knowledge that this is coming at them, help them feel normal. Like my friend R, who threw together a fantastic book shower for me last minute because I didn’t know if I would have one while pregnant, and then my sister/cousin/friend who threw my family shower and made it amazing surrounded by family. And all of these people dealt with my panic in the loss of a “normal” pregnancy. And showing me love when all I had for myself was distain for being upset over the little things. It doesn’t have to be throwing a shower, it could be anything that helps them experience the normal aspects of pregnancy.
- Decor for the NICU, signed letters. Drawings from your kids. Homemade whatevers.
- Brightly colored board books for them to keep in the incubator for the babe to help develop their child’s tiny brain and eyes.
- A Lovey for them to get their smell on. I bought one the second I heard about this. I sleep with it and carry it around with me around the house. That way, when the baby gets here and is separated from me for like a week (OMG aaaah awful!) It will still be able to get used to my smell in it’s incubator/giraffe bed. Poor Kyle, I gave him a soft rattle to sleep with, which crinkles and shakes at any small movement haha. Yes Tessa, It’s the rattle you brought over from the Netherlands *hearts for eyes*.
- A suggestion by another friend 🙂 “We had a friend come to our house and make us dinner at OUR home. One of the most amazing and memorable gifts we received! I enjoy cooking but it was SO SO nice to have a break (with company)!
I would also say that a gift card (or money dedication) for something that isn’t a necessity would be nice because there is the guilt of spending on nonessentials when money is tight!! I know this guilt! Examples: Gift cards for getting your hair done, massage, pedicure, new comfy mommy clothes (lulu?? -J) (or nursing friendly shirts) or even for a coffee shop is super lovely. Amazon gift cards!”
As a final note for those who are in need. A friend suggested I say this: If it is overwhelming or anxiety inducing to keep a list of people to thank, and to write thank you’s to everyone, you don’t have to do it. You have enough on your plate, they did not do these things for you so that they could get a thank you. It is out of the kindness of their hearts. That being said, if its cathartic or helpful for you to let them know how much you appreciated their time/gift or whatever, do that thank you note :). Whatever feels best for you!
Ok guys. For now that’s all I’ve got. I wrote from the heart and tried to pick pieces from all over to add into here. If you can think of other ways please let me know. Please forgive me if this came off as asking for me, or in any other weird way. That is not what I meant at all. I just wanted to put this out there for you all to be able to help those you love. Writing these things down has been so humbling. It’s incredibly hard to open this part of my heart. Thank you for reading and understanding.
God is Good. All the time.
xoxo – Jenni O (and sweet Baby Ox)