Although we were on the receiving end of the support, we found a number of things very helpful during our stay in the NICU.
Pray. I never knew the power of prayer, until we were in desperate need of it. I always knew that the Lord answers prayers, but when prayer is ALL you have - when you are dependent on the Lord for your babies life - the power of prayer comes alive in a whole new way! I personally will never look at prayer the same.
Visit. Knowing what to say is a challenge that many people face when their loved ones are facing difficulties. Please don't let the lack of words keep you away. If you are allowed, and if the family has an open schedule, GO to the hospital. We treasured each visitor that we got in the NICU. The love and support that is conveyed in a face-to-face meeting is unmatched by any other form of communication.
Listen. Everyone has advice for new parents, whether they are healthy or in the NICU. Some of the most treasured conversations were when no advice was given. Sometimes no words were said at all. One of the darkest nights, I called my sister and cried over the phone - no words - just uncontrollable sobs. She cried with me from 100s of miles away, and it felt like she was on the bed right beside me.
Forgive. The days in the NICU are stressful on everyone. Please have mercy and patience with NICU parents. They may not want to talk, they may be crabby, distracted, only focused on their NICU life, or just want be alone. Don't take it personally. Be there unconditionally - ready to help when the parents are ready.
Hugs. The kind that make you feel so safe and loved that you forget about all your troubles. Hugs meant so much to me. There is something about hugging that speaks volumes - without words.
Don't shy away. Typically when a newborn baby arrives, people can't wait to get their hands on them. To snuggle them, kiss them, and check out their tiny feet and hands. In the NICU, however that is not always possible. It is an intimidating environment, and it can be hard to see the little babies hooked up to machines. When the babies are so tiny that touching them isn't possible, just talking to them is enough. If you can touch them, and the parents are okay with it - go for it!!! It made my heart sore when guests would reach out and lay a hand on our sweet boy's tummy.
My cousin, who is in the medical field, found where Gavin's heartbeat was, placed a finger on that spot and had me do the same. When I could feel his heartbeat I began to feel connected to the little boy I couldn't hold. One of Jason's aunts came to visit and spent the whole time talking to Gavin - checking everything out around him. Oh how it blessed my heart to see people connecting with my son, even if holding him wasn't a possibility.
Pitch in. Since our son was the first born, we were fortunate to be able to devote all of our time to him. Talking with other NICU mommies with other children at home, they treasured when friends and family would watch their kids so they could be with the newest member to their family. If the baby was a preemie, most likely there are a lot of things that didn't get done in the home. Offer to help set up the nursery, do laundry, or run errands for things they need.
Meals. Another great way to help - FOOD! Our family would bring us meals in the NICU almost every day. It was a wonderful break from cafeteria food. If the parents are at home with the rest of their family, there is a phenomenal website that our church used called Take Them A Meal. It is an easy way to set up meal deliveries to families.
When in doubt - a hug followed by "I am here for you" will do wonders for a weary mom or dad.