When someone you know and care about goes through a premature delivery, it's natural to feel uncertain how to respond. You want to show that you care, but it's challenging to find the words and gestures to express your support.
You want to exercise sensitivity and tact regardless of the pregnancy outcome. You also want to perform meaningful acts that make what ca be a heart-wrenching time a little less painful. Here are four ways you can support you mom-friends who deliver prematurely.
1. Educate Yourself
If you have gone through a premature delivery yourself, you might feel more at ease comforting your friend. Still, you must remember that everyone's experience is unique - avoid making assumptions.
Even if you consider yourself an expert on all things preemie, your friend might not appreciate your tips. It's wise to ask, "Do you want to vent, or would you prefer advice," when chatting so that you don't accidentally give helpful hints when your friend simply needs to blow off steam.
Does your friend seem different after her experience? It's helpful to educate on how people respond to trauma, including birth trauma. Even if your friend and her baby made it through the experience okay, she might nevertheless bear psychological scars. Remain alert and be empathetic toward signs of PTSD, such as:
- Hyperstimulation: Your friend might find it impossible to relax. They could seem more irritable than usual and prone to angry outbursts. They may develop an exaggerated startle response, jumping out of their skin at your unexpected, "Hey."
- Avoidance/Numbness: It might seem like your friend doesn't seem very interested in her new baby - or life in general. They may seem detached from everyone and everything, unable to express loving feelings.
- Intrusive Recollections: They may experience flashbacks of the birth and related trauma.
- Functional Impairment: Your friend may be unable to function at school or work. In severe cases, they may experience trouble performing daily living activities, like showering.
2. Provide Meaningful Help
Depending on the circumstances, your friend may need practical help the most. If both she and the baby survived delivery, she could find herself overwhelmed between trying to return to work, running her household and caring for other children and making frequent hospital visits.
In such cases, the best thing you could do might be offering to babysit her older children or pick up her dry cleaning from the laundromat. Include her in your weekly meal prep - buy enough fresh veggies and fruit for two and surprise her with precut items she needs only to toss in the frying pan. If you aren't adept in the kitchen or live on takeout yourself, consider the gift of a meal delivery service to make dinnertime less of a chore.
If your mom-friend is also a colleague, offer to tackle some of her work duties if doing so won't overwhelm you. Even offering to do minor tasks like answering her phone while she goes to pump breast milk can make a huge difference in how supported she feels as she returns to work.
3. Keep the Invitations Coming
When one of your mom-friends delivers prematurely, she probably won't feel like socializing for a while. If the birth had a tragic outcome, she'll need time to heal. If she and the infant came through, she probably has too much on her plate with a new infant to paint the town red.
Nevertheless, she needs to know that you still care and value her in your tribe. Keep the invitations coming - include her in things like your first post-COVID barbecue, even if you know she'll beg off out of concern for the baby.
Display extra empathy during holidays and anniversaries, as thee can often trigger painful memories in those grieving. Let your friend know that, as much as you'd appreciate her presence, you understand that everyone mourns differently. Inform her that the invitation stands if she changes her mind, but don't press her to show up to your family reunion because you think it will "do her good."
Perhaps the best way you can support your mom-friends who deliver prematurely is to listen with an open heart and a non-judgmental ear. You might be the only person your friend has to turn to who doesn't respond with platitudes - you have no idea how valuable such support is when you feel all alone in a sea of "there's a higher purpose to all this."
Meet somewhere comfortable where you can chat - their living room might be the best place if you are both vaccinated. Practice not interrupting while they speak and paraphrasing what was said to show you care. Shut down the internal dialogue that has you listen to respond, and instead, immerse yourself in their experience, tuning into both their verbal and nonverbal cues.
Help Your Mom Friends Who Deliver Prematurely These 4 Ways
You aren't alone if you aren't sure what to say or how to act around a friend who has experience an early birth. Help your mom-friends who deliver prematurely using these methods.
Written by Kara Reynolds, Editor-in- Chief of "Momish."