That being said, there were also things said to us that were insensitive and unintentionally hurtful. It is easy to brush it off as being too sensitive, but let's be honest - this is probably one of the most sensitive times in a mother's (and a family's) life. Words are powerful to a vulnerable person.
It's no secret that the NICU is terrifying and overwhelming. I hope you never need this, but should you find yourself face-to-face with a NICU mom, here is a little primer for how to talk to her.
Me and Audrey, April 25
-DO ask about her baby. Congratulate her on the birth of her child. Preemie moms miss out on some of this because people are afraid to ask for fear of upsetting her, but even though her baby is sick it is still her baby. She is proud of her baby and she wants to talk about him. So ask her, and then listen.
-DO also ask her how she is doing, and don't settle for a half-hearted "fine" for an answer. Most people's concern is directed at the baby, as it should be, but someone needs to worry about mom, too. We have a lot of conflicting emotions that we probably need to talk through but won't acknowledge unless we're made to. I will forever hold a place in my heart for the friend who looked me in the eye and said "How are you doing? No, how are you REALLY doing?"
-DON'T try to make light of her situation. You may think that comments like "Sleep while you can!" or "At least you get free childcare for the newborn months!" or "At least you didn't have to go through the uncomfortable part of pregnancy!" are helpful, but really they hurt so, so, much. Because honestly? A NICU mom a) probably is up every 2-3 hours pumping and/or calling for baby updates, so they're not sleeping much anyways; b) babies that come home on or around their due date are still developmentally newborns, regardless of their age, so we still get the newborn stage on TOP of the NICU months; and c) I would cover every inch of my skin in stretch marks and spend years with something wedged in my ribs if it meant trading that for our three-month hospital stay. There is nothing good about having a baby in the NICU, and while we appreciate the effort please don't try to pretend.
-DO offer to help. You can ask what you can do, but don't expect a clear-cut answer. We live in a constant fog with hospital stuff taking up so much of our minds we're lucky we remember our own names. Your best bet is to offer something specific - walk dogs, mow yards, cook meals. These are the things that fall to the wayside amidst the hospital hustle, so it's really nice to not have to worry about them.
I really hope this helps someone out there. Preemie mom friends, is there anything you'd like to add?