At our request, nearly a dozen of the mothers in the Inspire Preemie Support Community have kindly boiled their insights down into their top 10 don’ts, drawing on the report and multitudes of comments in their discussion strings. (At the end of this post, we’ll also share their top 10 most welcome remarks.)
WHAT NOT TO SAY
1. “You’re so lucky that you didn’t have to go through the end of pregnancy!”
2. “At least, with the baby in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), you can get rest at night!”
3. “He’s so small!”
4. “When will she catch up?”
5. “What did you do, that he was born so early?”
6. “Everything happens for a reason.”
7. “Now that you have her home and off all that medical equipment, everything will be fine.”
8. “You’re just being paranoid about his health.”
9. “She needs to be exposed to germs to build up immunity.”
10. “He’s how old? My child is the same age and twice his size.”
What harm can an insensitive remark do? Quite a bit, if you consider that parents of preemies already tend to be under unspeakable stress. In an afterword to the Inspire report, Dr. Richard Shaw, a Stanford professor of psychiatry and pediatrics, writes:
The birth of a premature infant is an extraordinarily stressful and often traumatic experience in the life of a family. Several of the respondents made reference to the trauma of having a premature infant. Unfortunately, while the concept of postpartum depression is now very well recognized in the medical profession, the concept of a premature birth and a NICU hospitalization as a trauma is not one that is commonly thought of by health care providers. Research at our institution has suggested that as many as 40% of mothers may develop posttraumatic stress symptoms within the first few weeks of their child’s birth.
Our research, and that of others, has also shown that these symptoms, if not recognized and addressed, may last many years, and have an impact on the well being of both parents as well as on their developing child.