Things Not to Say to a Preemie Mom

So, I’ve talked a bit about what the NICU is like and how to be a good friend to someone whose baby is in the NICU. Now it’s time to learn some things you should never, ever, ever say to a woman who just had a preemie. And yes, people actually say this stuff. It’s not because they’re horrible people, it’s just that if you haven’t had a preemie, you don’t understand what it’s like or why these comments would hurt a preemie mom’s heart. We all put our feet in our mouths sometimes and that doesn’t make us bad people. It just means we need someone to explain things to us. As always, I’m here to help, not judge. Her we go!

1. “You look like you didn’t even have a baby.” Oh man, where do I even start…let me begin with the preemie mom’s perspective here. When you have a preemie, one of the many awful feelings you have is that you don’t feel like a “real” mom. You’re not doing the things that “real” moms do–hell, you may not even be allowed to hold your child. So, a comment like this adds to the negation of your experience as a parent, that is to say, it makes you feel even less like a “real” mom. Also, I get that you’re trying to compliment the mom on her weight loss, but how about we don’t comment so much on women’s post-partum bodies? How about size isn’t a thing for women, especially when they just gave birth? How about their actions, like their dedication to their child, are worthy of praise instead of their weight?

2. “You’re lucky your labor was so much easier since the baby was so small.” I even said this one to myself, as I was trying to find the bright side of this nightmare I was living. But seriously? Nobody is lucky to have a preemie. It’s not something anyone in their right mind would ever want. And whatever physical pain you avoid by having a tiny baby, you more than make up for in emotional pain. Don’t try to find silver linings. Just accept that having a preemie is a shitty, shitty thing.

3. “I hope my baby comes early.” NO NO NO NO NO. No you don’t. Look, I get that the last month or two of pregnancy sucks. I had a full-term baby too. I know what swollen feet and insomnia and peeing every five minutes and heartburn and baby feet kicking your ribs are like. They suck, it’s true. And none of them is worse than the NICU. You don’t actually wish for the NICU. Complain away about your symptoms and wish it was your due date already and I will be right there with you…but do not say “I hope my baby comes early” or you’ll probably get an earful from a preemie mom about what bradycardia is.

4. “Sometimes it’s hard to understand God’s plan.” I can’t even with this crap. Just go read this and understand it applies to any medical crisis, including the NICU.

5. “I guess the baby just wanted to come out.” Oh yes, The Boy really wanted to be a preemie. He chose this. It’s all his fault. Because babies choose how and when to be born. They sit up in our wombs and say “I think today I’ll tear my mom’s bag of waters so I can live in an incubator for a couple of months.” Because they can talk. Are you trying to express that “shit just happens and this wasn’t your fault”? Then say that instead. Don’t blame the kid. I don’t like it when people blame my kid for things that weren’t his fault.

6. “Wow, you’re really paranoid about germs.” Paranoia means that a person is behaving irrationally. It means they are afraid of something that isn’t really a danger. Preemie parents are not behaving irrationally when they hole up at home during the winter. They’re literally following doctor’s orders. Preemie lungs aren’t like regular baby lungs–they’ve been damaged by the very machines that kept them alive in the NICU. So, they don’t get over colds the way that non-preemies do. The Boy had pneumonia twice before he turned 2, even with us avoiding germs as much as possible. If we don’t bring our lung-damaged child to visit you during cold and flu season, please do not be offended, and please don’t minimize our fears. They are based on medical advice, not paranoia.

7. “You guys are such great parents, you really should have another.” Look, I appreciate you see me as a great parent who you think should have more kids. That’s a nice compliment. But, you’re suggesting I put myself in a position where I may have to go through the worst experience of my life a second time. That’s terrifying. The Hubs and I came to it in our own time, but the pressure from friends to have another was not productive. In fact, it made us less likely to have another. Adding stress to someone who’s experienced a trauma is not helpful.

Preemie moms, got any more to add? Share them in the comments!

7 thoughts on “Things Not to Say to a Preemie Mom

  1. I just randomly stumbled upon this (love the Net), I think by starting out on the The Bloggess.

    My daughter was born at 25 weeks (1 pound, 7 ounces) but came home a month and a half before her due date. Because she was born so early, she shares the same Chinese zodiac sign as I do. She also was born at the exact same time of day as I was. And my “baby shower” was held on the day she was due. So I had to laugh (not in a judgmental/mean way, I promise) at 5. “I guess the baby just wanted to come out” because I say it about her a lot:) She was so ready for this world that she had to get out as soon as possible.

    She’s 6 now, taller than the other kids in her class, smart and compassionate and stubborn and incredible. No one believes how her life began. I’m lucky. But in jumping around some of your posts, I was where you were regarding PTSD. No one talked about it seven years ago in terms of the NICU, but I knew that’s what was happening. (And did you see this:

    I wrote about my NICU/post-NICU experience on my (no longer updated) blog: (read the earliest posts first, if you are interested, lol.)

    Anyway, as I’ve just discovered you, I don’t know where you’re at in the process, but I wish you the best!
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  2. Okay, I CAN NOT EVEN BELIEVE that someone said even one of those things to you!!! WHAT?! OMGoodness, Beth, I had no idea. How awful for you. I am horrified.
    I remember my daughter calling me in tears at the insensitive comments of her co-workers when her husband of 2 months got sent to Iraq for FIFTEEN months.
    1. You’re so lucky, I wish I could get rid of my husband for 15 months.
    2. Oh, the time will just fly!
    3. You will enjoy your peace and quiet! and on and on.
    She was 6 hours away from her family and trying to teach school (she even taught Sat. school to fill up the time).

    I kid you not, Beth! Therefore I believe that there are idiots out there and I’m sorry you had to deal with those comments while you were dealing with such a sick baby. I love you!

  3. People really need to thing before they open their mouths. I know they want to help but the things you mentioned are really destructive. Actually, I think I groaned at each one of them because I can imagine people saying each of those things to a preemie mom. I mean, “the baby must have wanted to come out” or “it must have been God’s plan”?? Sorry, NOT HELPFUL!
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  4. “Enjoy the extra sleep”. Yeah, I got more sleep while C was in the NICU. But I would have traded it in an instant for a baby in my arms. Getting up every 4 hours to have a machine suck on your breasts for 10 drops of colostrum isn’t nearly as cool.

    1. Sweet baby Jesus, yes. Also, one sleeps so well when one is worried about one’s hospitalized child, right? Oy.

      1. “Are you sure you can’t nurse? Are you pumping often enough? Your breasts are so big, your milk should coming in fine”. This from a lactation consultant who had never had a child. No, seriously.

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