Dealing with Insensitive Comments, part 4 (weeklong series)

As you leave the NICU with your baby, you will most likely be extremely excited and also a little nervous. You’ll have a lot of cheerleaders in your corner- family, friends, NICU-buddies, medical staff. You’ll worry about a lot of things but one thing you might not even consider are some of the remarks you may receive from all manner of folks now that you have your baby home. Here are a few that you may hear and some possible replies. (Please always remember, too, that especially if the comment comes from a stranger, it’s sometimes best to completely ignore the individual. Don’t waste energy with replies to each and every opinion you’re bound to hear.)

Insensitive Comments You May Hear Upon Homecoming:

“What is WRONG with him/her?”

I shuddered typing this. Far and away, this was the most horrible thing I would hear. I think people were just shocked by all the equpiment I had to cart around along with my baby girl. Nonetheless, this is an inappropriate, hurtful thing to say and my recommendation is that you either completely ignore the ignorant fool who asked it or reply “Not a thing” and walk away. Do not dwell on this type of comment. Your beautiful child is home and that’s a wonderful achievement!

“What’s that thing sticking out of your baby’s mouth/nose/stomach/etc.?”

Ah, the joys of this query. Most people take for granted that they will leave the hospital with “wireless babies”. Not so with tiny preemies. It is not only not unusual but in fact quite likely that your baby will have some kind of tube sticking somewhere out of his or her body, be it a nasal canula, an NG-tube, a G-tube, a home vent tube, etc. If a child asked this question, I would answer very simply and politely, “Oh, that tube helps her breathe” or “That tube helps her eat.” That’s enough to satisfy the curiosity of a child. For grown-ups, I’d usually explain what it was, but I was perhaps not so patient and polite. It might sound more like this: “That THING is a nasal canula which provides oxygen so that she can breathe.”

“Were you a heavy smoker through the pregnancy?”

This question popped up because my daughter came home on supplemental oxygen (as many very premature babies do). Not surprisingly, it came from a stranger. I’m hoping those of you reading this blog can guess what the answer to that is but, if not, oh well. I didn’t answer the random woman who asked me because it was none of her business. Heavy smoking during pregnancy is more likely to lead to low birth weight and asthma conditions than it is to result in a baby being on oxygen. But it’s not your job to tell people that. My advice? Walk away.

“What do you mean she’s FOUR MONTHS OLD? She looks like a newborn.”

People like to ask about the age of your child. This is just a fact of life. They ask me about my 2- and 3-yr olds all the time. There are two schools of thought on this one. The preemie book I read while in the NICU advised that you give your child’s corrected age. So, for example, at Easter time I would have told people my daughter was one day old when, in fact, she was almost four months. Personally, this seemed too weird to me and invited a whole host of other problems if the conversation continued. So, after people reacted in shock, I would say very simply, “Yes, she’s still very small, she was born very early.” End of story. Either one works; it’s a matter of what you’re comfortable with.

“You don’t need to be so rude! I’ve certainly been around babies before!”

This comment tends to be heard after you’ve requested that an individual either a) wash their hands before touching your baby, b) wear a mask around your baby, or c) simply NOT touch your baby. No matter how kindly you phrase your request, some people will be offended by these stipulations. My recommendation? Tell them your child’s doctor insists that’s the only way to keep your baby healthy and out of the hospital. If that’s not a good enough reason, walk away.

I don’t have any “new” recommendations for friends and family members today. By now, you’re probably pretty comfortable with the preemie idea and you’re most likely super excited that the baby gets to come home!

My advice today is for all of us and it has to do with just thinking before you speak. It is one thing to be curious about something; it is another to be rude, blunt, or accusatory. Comment only if you have something positive to add. One of the nicest things anyone said to me after I brought my baby girl home came from a woman I’d never met while I waited outside an ice cream shop. As I stood there with my toddler son and my infant daughter, the woman smiled, first at C., then at me.

“My daughter had an NG-tube too,” she said, “She just got her driver’s license.” And with that, she smiled and left.

Now THAT was a welcome comment.

If you’ve missed any of the earlier segments of this series, you can find them here, here, and here. Don’t miss tomorrow when I’ll share some insensitive comments you may hear during life at home with your preemie. That will be the last post in this series.

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4 comments to Dealing with Insensitive Comments, part 4 (weeklong series)

  • Sarah A

    I’m new to your site and bouncing around a little but so encouraged by your story!! The “NG tube…drivers license” comment gave me goose bumps. That’s the kind of thing that just makes you smile for the rest of the day!

  • Beth

    We have a micropreemie too who has been home for just a little over a month now so most of these comments sound familiar. (They made me laugh. Been there, heard that!) Especially the one about looking like a newborn. (My daughter was born at 27wks 5 days and is 4 months old and about 9 lbs now so everyone who doesn’t know her gives me strange looks when I’m out with her, almost as if they’re wondering what I’m doing outside with a baby that small.) I think the comments I find most refreshing are the ones from other people who have had preemies. They’ll recognize the NG tube sticking out of her nose and say things like “my son had that and he’s great now.” Those are the comments I love to hear because it lets me know that more people than I would think have gone through this before.

    • First of all, congratulations on being home– that alone is such a huge milestone!! I will, for the rest of my days, never forget the woman who smiled at our little girl with her NG-tube and said, “Our daughter had an NG-tube. She just got her driver’s license.” It was one of the simplest and most beautiful things anyone ever said to me. Wishing you only the best in the months, and years, to come with your precious little girl!

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