It’s a no brainer that there is a right and wrong way to speak to another human being. The quote “in a world where you can be anything, be kind” always comes to the forefront of my mind when I think about this topic.
However, there are people who have absolutely no filter and are unable to see the error of their ways especially when it comes to speaking to someone about their child.
Don’t get me wrong, I am very much an “honesty is the best policy” kind of person, but not if its rude or downright cruel.
So on that basis, as a mum of a NICU baby, I have compiled a list of the big NO NO’s when it comes to conversing with a parent like me:
- “Oh yeah you can tell he was a preemie” – Seriously… like freakin seriously??? Why would you ever say this? Yes I understand that because my baby was very early that he looks different to the average full term baby, but you are basically calling my son ugly in the most underhanded but obvious way!
- “You should really try and expose him to germs, it’ll make him stronger in the long run” – This one is an old favourite and by far the most frequently heard nonsense for me. Firstly, this is factually incorrect. My son was a very medically fragile little baby. Any exposure to the common cold, for example, could quite simply have killed him. Now I’m not being dramatic when I say that… I truly mean it when I say he could have died from the cold. You are not a medical professional and if you are then you really need to go back to school. Yes preemie parents are very overprotective of their babies, maybe more than required. But this is simply because we have watched them face death on a sometimes daily basis within the NICU. Let us be the parents and trust us when we tell you this.
- “He’ll be fine” – This is quite a broad expression but it covers a multitude of ignorance. No he won’t always be fine. Yes, my boy overcame a lot of the hurdles that were thrown at him, but there is simply nothing worse than hearing the nonchalant tone of this phrase being thrown at you when you express any worry you have about your child. I know sometimes that it’s well meaning, but let me tell you, it’s really NOT helpful.
- “At least he’s here” – Now this is a tricky one, because YES in the grand scheme of things we can at least hold on to that fact. But when you’re pouring your heart out to somebody over the pain and heartache you’re going through watching your beautiful baby struggle for life, this is the last thing you want to hear. For me the reason is quite simple. There were so many times I thought we would lose him, and on some of those occasions, we, his parents, were in charge of making that decision. Nobody wants to see their baby suffer and we were asked on so many occasions whether we wanted to continue care. So saying this doesn’t help… at all!
- “He’s home now so you can relax” – No… Just no!!! The nightmare of the NICU doesn’t just end when they’re discharged. They are simply passed over to you, their parents, to keep them alive. Matthew came home on Oxygen, which he was hooked up to 24 hours a day. He was also referred to SEVERAL different clinics, which 2 years later we still attend. He is still a medically vulnerable child, classed as disabled by law, and even in the cases where the child has no other serious illnesses, the NICU nightmare never leaves you. I have been officially diagnosed with Anxiety and PTSD. I don’t sleep and I hear every noise my child makes. Every time he coughs, my anxiety levels reach maximum. I am constantly worried about everything he does, eats, drinks… everything. It never leaves you.
So that’s just a few of the absolute worst things to say to a NICU parent. It really isn’t rocket science, and like I said before I do understand that a lot of these comments aren’t intended to be malicious in any way. I just urge anyone who knows someone going through this to really think long and hard about what you say. It can really make or break someone’s day without you even realising it. If you’re really struggling just offer a sympathetic ear… ask if there’s anything you can do… assure that person that you are there for them. That’s all they need to hear.
“If you propose to speak always ask yourself: is it true, is it necessary, is it kind.” Buddha