Tiny Inspiration for Big Gratitude

November is Prematurity Awareness Month, and we want to shine a light on preemie moms and dads, who are some of the bravest people you will ever meet!

Author Mary Davis wisely said, “gratitude makes everything grow.” As parents of preemies watch their fragile babies grow, develop, and fight for life, they often feel immense gratitude in witnessing their babies’ strength. It is in moments of gratitude like this that they find hope.

Most pregnancies last around 40 weeks (9 months), but sometimes babies are born too soon.  A baby born before the end of the 37th week of pregnancy is considered premature.  These babies miss out on the important growth and development that happens in the final weeks. The earlier the baby is born, the higher the risk of serious complications. Most premature infants are taken directly after birth to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where they stay until they can safely go home, which is often weeks or even months later.

While recovering from a frightening birth experience, these parents show up for their babies every day, many receiving a mixed bag of medical information, enduring slow progress, and witnessing frequent setbacks. Sometimes parents wait for weeks to hold their babies for the first time.

1 in 10 babies born in the United States are born premature, so chances are you know or will know someone who has a preemie.  If and when you do, it’s good to know that these parents go through a lot of stress. Practical help and emotional support from family and friends can help them cope better.

Some simple ways to help preemie parents:

  • Offer practical help (don’t wait to be asked for help. Offer to buy groceries, mow the lawn, help with laundry and other household chores, walk the dog, help with sibling childcare)
  • Ask what they want and don’t take it personally (parents might want to see people, want to see nobody, want to talk about their baby, want to talk about anything but their baby, and what they want can change from day to day)
  • Don’t downplay their situation (avoid comparing a preemie parent’s experience to someone who you think had it worse, as it will make them feel misunderstood and as if you are not taking their situation seriously)
  • Listen to their story (when preemie parents tell their story to someone who cares, it helps them cope with what they’re going through – avoid advice giving and just listen)
  • Stay in touch (let them know you are thinking of them, not just in the first days or weeks, but throughout their journey – the challenges don’t end when the baby comes home)

A preemie parent’s journey comes with many ups and downs, moments of fear and uncertainty, and yes, moments of gratitude and hope.  Being available and fully present for them can make that journey a little more bearable.