A friend of mine gave birth early.
She and her husband brought a beautiful baby girl into the world at 4.9 pounds, 16.5 inches long. Their baby girl was diagnosed with Gastroschisis, which is a birth defect of the abdominal (belly) wall. The baby’s intestines were found outside of the baby’s body, exiting through a hole beside the belly button. For 4-6 weeks following their daughter’s early arrival, the proud and humble parents traveled back and forth daily to the NICU at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Their life was put on hold as they waited for news each day. They went home and slept in their beds while their baby spent nights being monitored by nurses and doctors in the hospital. When they woke, they would return to spend the days with her. This left little time to care for themselves as their world was turned upside down. It was as if time was standing still.
As a friend watching the strength of this family enduring such a scary and challenging time, I wanted to help but I didn’t know how.
I was at a loss for words and actions to show support. One of their loving friends set up a meal train for them. I had never heard of this before and it seemed so simple yet so incredibly helpful; the perfect thing to support a family struggling with the complications that come with having a preemie.
Here are her words:
“Some days I didn’t go home. I either slept in a recliner so I could be there for her when she woke, or I “slept” on a cot in a family room, still waking every few hours to express milk for her. It was the only thing I could do for her, especially before I could hold her.
Some of the family rooms were close to her NICU bed, and I could tell her cry from the other babies. Immediately, I knew her.
The best thing I could do for myself and her was trust in her medical team to give her the care she needed, and keep my head on straight to ask questions and give sound feedback where needed.
I’d say I had to stay strong for her, but she was born so strong, yet so sweet. She’s always had the same sweet, happy disposition since birth, which the nurses called my attention to. I thought all babies were born the same, discovering themselves and their personalities from their environment. The nurses heartily disagreed saying all babies were different, some more sweet and curious, some angry and temperamental.
Everyday I was amazed by this little girl, confined to her bed for the first week, unable to be held until her intestines settled into her tummy, and surgery to close up her abdominal cavity. I learned quickly to follow her lead, give her a chance to show her strength and resilience. I learned to trust her. Trust her medical team. Trust myself that I was doing enough, all I could for her.
The meal train from my friends and family reminded me that I needed to take care of myself so that I could be there for her, to be at my best for her. Without the meal train, I know I wouldn’t have eaten or eaten the right things to keep me well nourished to make milk for her, and to keep my head in the game.”
A meal train is a program where friends and family can sign up to deliver a meal to the family.
One less thing to worry about during a time that is so incredibly taxing. The program also lists the families favorite restaurants, meals and any allergies to be aware of. You can select breakfast, lunch or dinner and then pick from wherever you choose or even send a gift card. The program they used for this meal train was called Give in Kind.
Their daughter is now stronger than ever and growing perfectly.
That doesn’t lessen the memories that go with having a premature baby – such a dark and challenging time. You have small windows of opportunity to help friends when they are struggling. Organizations like Give in Kind and Lasagna Love are helping to make helping easier. Lasagna Love aims to eliminate stigmas associated with asking for help when it is needed most.
In honor of World Prematurity Day, set up a Give in Kind page for a family in need, send a meal through Lasagna Love, or donate to March of Dimes.
These are a few of the many ways we can show up for the people who need it most.
Drop a comment below sharing some of your favorite ways to help families with preemies.
If you had a preemie, what were the most helpful ways your friends and family showed up for you?