She meant well, to be sure. My friend, one of the most supportive people I know, had come to visit me in the hospital as I cuddled my prematurely born son, who was still hooked up to various tubes and looking more like an alien fetus than a baby.
“Oh,” she cooed when she saw him, “he’s a little monkey baby!”
That 4-pound preemie, born two months early, is now quite a sturdy boy of almost seven, but the sting of that long-ago remark came back instantly when I read a new report titled “Insensitive Comments And Their Impact On Preemie Mothers.” Compiled by an on-line community hosted by the company Inspire, it aims to document the emotional damage that wrongheaded remarks can wreak, and help the public do better.
About 12% of American babies are born prematurely — a half-million babies a year — posing quandaries to all who know the parents. If a baby is still facing myriad, potentially life-threatening complications, is it right to say “Congratulations”? On the other hand, will you offend the parents by not saying it? What about commenting on a baby’s size or looks? Mentioning possible silver linings?
At our request, nearly a dozen of the mothers in the Inspire Preemie Support Community have kindly boiled their insights down into their top 10 don’ts, drawing on the report and multitudes of comments in their discussion strings. (At the end of this post, we’ll also share their top 10 most welcome remarks.)
WHAT NOT TO SAY
1. “You’re so lucky that you didn’t have to go through the end of pregnancy!”
2. “At least, with the baby in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), you can get rest at night!”
3. “He’s so small!”
4. “When will she catch up?”
5. “What did you do, that he was born so early?”
6. “Everything happens for a reason.”
7. “Now that you have her home and off all that medical equipment, everything will be fine.” Continue reading