First, I think it’s important to mention that when you are living through unimaginable times, despite people’s intentions, no one really knows how to react or support you. As I mentioned before, I am a people pleaser by nature and I’m pretty crapping at advocating for what I need. In reflecting on my experience and what I wish I would have asked for, here are my tips and ideas for family or friends wanting to support their loved one in the hospital:
1. Books: for me books were the best gift and I found myself buying a lot during our stay. A close friend of mine purchased the book “Wherever You Go My Love Will Find You” by Nancy Tillman. To this day, this book still makes me tear up. This book was incredibly powerful because it reminded me that even though I was not physically able to be with my baby for most of the day, I was enough in just being his mother. I loved reading books to the boys especially before leaving the hospital for the night. Even though there were times when my boys were completely sedated, reading a book helped me feel like I had a role other than pumping and this helped me connect to my boys
2. Untraditional gifts that made a world of a difference such as gift cards and MONEY!
We lived at Ronald McDonald House with both boys and despite the accommodation being very reasonable, you are still paying for your living expenses at home and usually one partner is working less to be at the hospital with your baby. My husband and I calculated that we probably spent more than $4000 on parking alone between the hospitals. We really appreciated gift cards because they took some of the stress out of the day. Tim’s or Starbucks gift cards are great options because they are both located in the hospital. Uber eats gift cards are also a great option. A lot of time is spent driving between home and the hospitals so gas gift cards can also be really helpful. Also I know money can be an untraditional and sometimes awkward gift to give but at the end of the day a monetary gift was extremely helpful as again it just took some of the burden off the daily expenses.
3. FOOD: The best thing about being in downtown Toronto is all the different food options. But for someone like me that has Crohn’s disease, I need to eat a specific diet. Eating out would be quite distressing for me as my body does not always agree with the food choices available. Due to my Crohn’s disease, I cannot eat a lot of raw food so my parents would often make a huge tray of grilled vegetables for me and drop them off at the Ronald McDonald House so I could add them to my meals. Some family members would cut up fresh fruit and veggie slices to take with us during the day. My husband's grandparents were very sweet and would just show up with homemade meals that were warm. They would even bring plates and forks from their house so we could feel like we were eating a normal meal. Friends/family would sometimes quickly stop by and just say I’m bringing you dinner or homemade cookies. When people just showed up with cookies, muffins or a tea just to say hi, these gestures made a world of difference.
4. Showing Up! As I mentioned above, I always had an excuse when someone asked to come and visit. However, parents NEED breaks out of the hospital and need to be supported by the people that love them the most. We were lucky that we only lived an hour away from the hospital and had many friends that live in the city.
5. Clothes: I highly recommend not bringing clothes. My boys couldn’t be dressed until they were 2 to 3 months old and getting clothes was just another reminder of the normalcy that I was missing because my baby was in the hospital and very unwell. The only exception are clothing items such as hats or socks because these items were useful and helped me to connect.
6. Stuffed Animals: Despite the best intentions of a personalized stuffy the space you have in the NICU is unimaginably limited and precious. While stuffy’s are cute and can be comforting, the space available was limited to essential items.
Lastly, I realize that many of the suggestions provided may not be possible due to Covid -19. These are recommendations solely based on my experience with both boys. Kayla & I continue to brainstorm & network with parents currently living in the hospital. If you read this & have any tips or suggestions that could help during the pandemic, we would LOVE to hear them <3.
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