Dealing with Insensitive Comments, part 3 (weeklong series)

Once we were settled into the NICU, it seemed like maybe the insensitive comments should stop. By now, I thought, people realized that (for better or worse) my baby was out in the world, alive, and fighting. During our NICU and Ronald McDonald House stays, I met some of the most supportive and helpful people you could imagine. Unfortunately, I was still subjected to some all-new insensitive remarks. In no particular order, here are a few and also some suggested responses:

Insensitive comments you may hear while your baby’s in the hospital:

(courtesy of my wonderful hubby) “This must be so hard for your wife.”

I think perhaps I was more outwardly emotional and approachable through those early days. Because of this, doctors and nurses seemed to be more in touch with my suffering. Trust me when I tell you– he suffered too. Sometimes more than me– not only did he have the same concerns about our fragile daughter’s life, but he also had to worry about me as I recovered from a massive, messy C-section. He simply replied, “Yep.” I would urge you to take it a step further and say, “It’s been really tough on us, but we’re getting through it together.” That should be a gentle way to get the point across…

“If babies can do so well born so early, why do we have to suffer through 9 months of carrying them?”

Are you kidding me with this? I’ve been 7-, 8-, 9-months pregnant before. I’m not discounting the discomfort some women feel during those later months. But I can all but guarantee that the aches and pains of pregnancy are not nearly as devastating as watching your baby fight to live. I suggest simply saying, “I’d much rather still be pregnant; we’re not out of the woods yet.”

“At least you don’t have to be fat and pregnant anymore!”

I really think this person meant to make me feel better. But the fact of the matter is, I wished desperately that I was still pregnant. It took weeks before I’d stop waking up in the morning with my hand on my belly and all of sudden being hit with an overwhelming sense of emptiness and failure. I felt cheated. I really wanted those additional 16 weeks. It was a sore consolation prize to be thin. Because the intention was good, I merely smiled at this remark. But I encourage those of you who are talking to a preemie parent to think very carefully about all the angles.

“Do you think she’ll remember all this?”

Good heavens, I hope not! And that’s exactly what I said.

“It’s so great that she never cries!”

My little girl did not cry because she couldn’t. She had a ventilator tube down her throat. I responded to this with, “Yes, but we’re eagerly awaiting the day we hear her cry again. When she first cried in the O.R., it was the most beautiful sound in the world.” Doesn’t every parent cherish that first cry?

So, what are some better things to say? Nothing incredibly new on this list…

“Is there anything I can bring you?’

“We’ll be praying for you.”

“What can I do for you? Call someone? Write thank you notes? Walk your dog?”

The NICU experience is a roller-coaster ride and often the best thing to do when you’re on the side-lines is just wait it out. Let the parents talk when they need to, but don’t try too hard to make idle conversation.

Be sure to check out parts one and two of this series. Don’t miss tomorrow’s post on dealing with insensitive comments when you first bring your baby home!

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