How can we honor friends and family who helped during our NICU experience?

August 30 | Guest post by Keren
Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.
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When a handmade sign won't do…. photo by Torley, used with Creative Commons license.
After the birth of our twins at 27 weeks, our friends, family, and coworkers really banned together to help us get through what was the worst period of our lives. Our twins spent 3 months in the NICU growing and recovering from infections, a collapsed lung, and heart surgery. Like almost every parent of a NICU baby, we went into shock (or zombie-mode as we call it). We were pretty much solely focused on our tiny babies and forgot about everything else.

Immediately after the twins were born a close friend created a Google Doc and circulated it to everyone she could think of. These people signed up for shifts to walk our dog, clean our apartment, drive us to and from the NICU, cook, anything they could think of to help us out.

Our friends provided the emotional support that kept us relatively sane during those stressful months. To pay rent and the ever growing pile of hospital bills my husband had to start working a lot (A LOT) of double shifts. This unfortunately meant my husband and I rarely got to see each other. Once our friends found this out they again jumped into action. One friend would stop by the hospital almost every evening on her way home from class just to check in on me and the babies. Another friend would sit with me at night so I wouldn't have to be alone.

Our twins are now five months old, and we want to do something to celebrate the people who are still very actively involved in all of our lives. How do I ever thank them and make sure they know that they are our babies' extended family?

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  1. Have a cookout and simply tell them…..Maybe you could take handprints/footprints fro
    The twins and make a card/print to give out at the party with an individual loving thank you….

    1 agrees
  2. My first thought was how my sister took a one year birthday cake to the NICU for her son's first birthday.

    Perhaps you could throw a Thank You party?

    1 agrees
  3. Nothing is necessary, but a note is nice. I helped out some friends in the NICU — watched their older child a lot (same age as one of mine), brought a meal, helped family understand complicated paperwork, etc. — and, really, no thanks necessary. I certainly know from having observed how they're six times as tired as I was, and writing thank-you notes was hard enough for my full-term, healthy baby. I didn't help out because I wanted thanks or anything, just because there was a family and a baby in need. There but for the grace of God …

    An invite to the first birthday party would be nice, since you have a whole community invested in these children now who want them to grow and thrive. 🙂

    1 agrees
  4. I'd say give them all a chance to meet the babies, but that may not be an option, health wise if exposing them to lots of people and lots of germs isn't an option.

    I think sending a thank you note is so simple, yet so wonderful. You could write your a note letting them know how much you appreciate all they've done and of course, include pictures of the babies.

    Perhaps even make it an IOU invite- and tell them there will be a party to celebrate their generosity when the babies are healthy enough for it.

    3 agree
  5. NOT thank-you notes. They're too much work for you–I'm sure it wasn't your friends' intention to make work for you. A thank-you cookout sort of thing if you're up to it would be cool; but I think a nice idea would be a journal for your twins, that the friends who helped out can write in about what they did, what they saw, what they felt (kind of like a guest book). That way, the twins will know who helped their family through the first difficult weeks, and the helpers will feel like they've got a connection to the older kids the journal is for, as well as feeling like their contributions were acknowledged.

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    • "NOT thank-you notes. They're too much work for you"

      I disagree. Writing a thank you note takes about five to ten minutes. If someone has done hours of work for you, you can repay them with ten minutes. There's no rule that they have to go out now, they'd be just as good six months from now.

      But, yeah, I think you should write people notes individually thanking them.

      8 agree
    • Agree! No thank you notes! It's hard enough with ONE baby and is dictated as "Proper" by an outdated generation. I don't think these friends did any of this with the thought "ooooh! and maybe i'll get a THANK YOU note if I do this!" A small get together in their honor so they can fawn over the babies would probably make them feel appreciated.

      3 agree
      • You may not like Thank You notes, but I don't think it's fair to dismiss them as a generational thing. To each her own, of course — but don't go dismissing a concept as dated just because you don't like it.

        1 agrees
        • I agree with Ariel. Thank you notes go a long way and though they may seem antiquated, in my opinion its one of the few ways we can hold onto personal contact and appreciation in the world of email and facebook thank you's which feel a little impersonal to me…

          In this instance with the limited time you have I think a wonderful (and inexpensive) way to thank everyone would be a bbq (maybe even pot luck) where you and your husband could take a minute to thank everyone would be fun, and appreciated.

          THAT being said, everyone is right that these amazing friends of yours did not help out to get a thank you card or party, they did it because they're awesome! Since you want to thank them, I'm sure they'd love it 🙂

          1 agrees
          • I'm a big fan of thank you notes. Mostly because I really like to send and receive mail. We kept a pile of thank you cards in our "parents drawer" in the NICU. Each night we'd write out a few thank you notes. It's taken us 5 months but we think we wrote to everyone. I guess since we write thank you notes for everything we just didn't feel like they were special enough.

            4 agree
    • I love this idea of the journal! Your helpful familiy and friends will feel so appreicated by the fact that you want to make sure your children know how loved they are. And as your kids grow, the will always know how important those people are.

  6. I love the journal idea as mentioned above. If the twins are 5 months corrected, that means you've only been NICU free for 2 months, so I would relax a little bit more. I don't think your friends are under any kind of impression that you now have abundance of free time now that you're home. Heartfelt verbal thank-yous, an e-mail or expressions of gratitude are often all that is needed.

    Perhaps when the twins turn 1 or whenever becomes BBQ weather appropriate, you can have a party then. And take pictures with all the special people so that your kids understand how important these people were in their lives as (extremely) tiny humans.

    And also, congrats on coming home!! 😀

    2 agree
    • Ooh, if you do the journal, it would be AWESOME to put pictures of the helpers in the journal–either with you, or with the babies, or in the hospital, or whatever. Maybe ask them to submit favorite pictures. I'm all for user-generated content in this case: gives them a place for a say AND makes it less work for you.

  7. When the babies are well enough, if you have a baby blessing or similar ceremony, you can include a moment where you acknowledge and thank everyone for their love and support.

    I would even suggest printing out a copy of that google doc and putting it in the baby book so you can show your kids how loved they were by everyone from the very beginning.

    3 agree
  8. How about throwing a small, casual *half*-birthday party for your twins, and inviting the support network? Keep it low-key and don't give yourself too much work. Heck, you could make it a potluck.

    I'm pro-thank you notes, too, but only if they're your thing.

    1 agrees
  9. I'm very pro-thank you notes, but I also understand how, with having twins that are fresh out of NICU, the thought of writing a few dozen (or even just ONE dozen) thank you notes seems daunting. I echo the many comments about having a party, once you feel the twins are up to having a lot of people around at once. Maybe semi-potluck so you don't feel you're making the people you're thanking throw their own thank-you party.

    And, maybe print the GoogleDoc and write 2-3 notes a night. You'll feel less guilty. I love receiving thank you notes, even though I never expect them.

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  10. As a fellow mom to preemie twins (who are now 5 years old), reading this totally brought me back and made me tear up.

    Thank you notes sound really nice, but I can't imagine finding the time or energy NOW to write a lot of thank you note, much less when my kids were infants. I probably would've abandoned them after the first few were done. To me, having a group event where you can give a personal verbal thank you (and a hug!) actually sounds more personal and like something that would actually get done.

    Maybe you can send out a Save The Date for a first birthday party with a quick note to thank all those who have helped? In-person thank-yous could be expressed both en masse and individually at the event celebrating their first year.

    1 agrees
  11. My son was born at 27 weeks back when there wasn't the technology or know-how that there is today, though light years more knowledge than just five years before that. Astin is 23-years-old now and grown into an amazing man! I'm telling you all of this because, I know how you feel. No matter how long its been since those moments in the NICU, I never stop remembering how it felt and am exceedingly grateful for him and those wonderful nurses who saved him! In fact, years later, when Astin was 16, he played on the Warped Tour (see link to the offbeatmama post about him) and it was featured in the Washington Post. That night, I had a phone call out-of-the-blue from one of his NICU nurses who saw the story and still remembered him! We're Facebook friends to this day. And every year on his birthday, I send her a thank you note because, as I said, you never stop being grateful.

    1 agrees
  12. I have a friend (lets call her Alice) with a child in the NICU right now. My husband and I and our circle of friends have been making dinners and doing a bunch of other things for Alice and her family. All of us, we really don't want or expect thank yous or thank you cards – we would rather that Alice and her husband focus on themselves and what their family needs. We explicitly let them know this so they do not feel obligated.

    We do however really appreciate updates on how the baby and the rest of the family is doing (yea email!). Being invited to a first birthday party (if the baby makes it) would be awesome too.

    This topic made me think of this article, "What to Say To Someone Who Is Sick" : http://nyti.ms/loV6Tz

    1 agrees
  13. Maybe you could start a blog with a post to thank each persona individually? That way everyone could read it, and it would be community oriented, so to speak. You could also include pictures of the babies with each post, to keep them updated. You could also line them up to publish one a day, and that way if you do get some "free" time, you could write more than one.
    Then, if you want, as the babies grow older you could also use it as a general way to keep people updated.

  14. I have been both the helper and helpee. As a helper all I wanted was to be there for my friends, I didn't want anything but a picture of Miss B when she was out of the NICU. When baby bot was released from the NICU I was totally overwhelmed, two months later I am just coming out of that fog.

    1 agrees
  15. i love doing stuff with photos, i.e. design a calender/photobook/mug with baby pictures online, let the title be "happy because of YOU" and have one made for everyone.

    if you have the time, leave the first page blank and insert a seperately printed out picture to personalize, but honestly, i think everyone will understand that theres no time or energy for a letter to everyone just yet…

  16. First off all, let me say lucky you in so many ways! The healthy twins and the good friends. I had a preemie at 31 weeks, and felt like no one really did anything to help us. We didn't really ask, but we did both work 50 hour weeks to keep up with the med bills and then go spend about 3-4 hrs @ the NICU, come home to a messy, foodless home, sleep 4 hours, and do it all over again. I would have loved at least an offer to help.

    That being said, I think thank you cards are a great idea. They don't take that much effort, and I think your friends won't be expecting much more. Maybe throw in a pic of the twins and that's that.

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