Last week, I woke up with my almost 2-month-old son for what I thought was a regular bottle-feeding. Everything seemed normal until I picked him up. He was hot to the touch, and after checking he had a 102 temperature. Before I new it we were in the emergency room, then admitted to the hospital for 36 hours of excruciating tests and very little sleep. He's, thankfully, fine now, but I learned there are more than a few things a mom needs you to do when her kid's in the hospital.
I think most people assume they're intruding when they offer to help a parent whose kid is in the hospital, but, at least in my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. More often than not you're stuck waiting around for a doctor or a specialist or a test result, and that time doesn't fly. Instead, it drags on as you worry about your sleeping baby, hooked up to IVs and whatnot. So I was extremely grateful for friends who checked in frequently, and for friends who brought food. Even small things — like figuring out what to eat or where to find food in the hospital or trying to find time to change clothes — was just too much for my brain to handle when I was in crisis mode. I know that if my husband and friends hadn't made some executive decisions for me, I would have survived on the continental breakfast offered in the lobby of our floor and slept in the same clothes for the duration of our hospital stay.
Of course, if stopping by or dropping something off isn't an option, there are lots of ways to help from afar when your mom friend has a kid who's sick. Keep in mind this is probably best for a kid who's in the hospital for a short period of time, or isn't in extremely critical condition. And, of course, remember that every family and every child is different, so families will need different things depending on a variety of factors. But, in the end, I believe the following list is a great place to start when you're trying to support a mom who's focused entirely on her sick child:
Bring Her Food
Yes, there is food at hospitals. And yes, many food establishments also deliver to hospitals. Still, even the effort involved in ordering and/or picking up food can be too much when you haven't slept and you're worrying about your child. I didn't have the capacity to figure out how to get to the cafeteria, let alone make my way down there and get something to eat. Still, I knew I needed fuel. My husband brought a sandwich from our favorite local spot, along with coffee and snacks for the afternoon and evening. That is exactly what I would recommend any friend do for a mom with a kid in the hospital.
Bring Her An Eye Mask, Ear Plugs, & Slippers
I literally would not have survived our stay in the hospital without an eye mask and ear plugs. There are numerous machines, codes being ran in the middle of the night, and nurses coming and going at all hours of the day. I knew I needed to sleep so I could be there for my baby, but that's hard to do when all of the aforementioned is going on around you.
And as for the slippers, well, hospital floors are kind of gross. So, you know, that speaks for itself.
Offer To Watch Her Other Kids
My dear friend who has a 1-year-old and a 4-month-old, and she offered to watch my 2-year-old daughter while I was in the hospital with my son. I wouldn't three children under 3 on anyone, but I was so thankful to know my daughter would be in good hands if I needed someone else to care for her for a while.
Several friends texted me regularly just to check in, and while they prefaced their texts with "no need to respond" it was so helpful to have someone at the other end of a text during the scariest moments of our hospital stay. If your mom friend is in the hospital with her kid, text her occasionally to let her know you're thinking of her.
Offer To Keep Her Company
My husband was taking care of our 2-year-old daughter while I was in the hospital with our son, and so much of our stay was a "wait and see" type situation, so we had no idea when we were going to be able to leave. So I enjoyed a visit from my husband and said 2-year-old, but she lasted all of 20 minutes before it turned stressful. A visit from a friend — for an hour, tops — would have passed the time.
Of course, if you're sick, stay away. You don't want to pose a threat to the child's, or anyone else's, health. But other than that, and if you have the time, a quick visit is always nice.
Offer To Give Her A Break
If your friend's child is stable, it's usually OK for them to take a short break and, in my case, the nurses encouraged it. Sometimes they have things they need to do to your child that are, frankly, better done without a worried parental audience.
When my son needed to have lines changed and blood taken, the nurse encouraged me to get some fresh air. So I called a friend who met me for a walk around a nearby park. It was exactly what I needed to re-energize for another few hours.
Bring Her A Meal On Discharge Day
While my husband and I were juggling a kid each on our own, and with the added stress of wondering if our son was going to be OK, our fridge grew emptier and emptier. When I texted a friend to say we were being discharged, she promptly responded with, "I'm bringing you dinner." Sold. She brought healthy comfort food, salad that we ate for lunch the next day, blondies to die for (apparently from a Trader Joe's mix, who knew?) and wine. Wine was important.
Keep Others Updated
I was only in the hospital with my son for 36 hours, but I can see how keeping many friends and family updated on every change or development would be difficult. You could start a group text, but even that can be complicated because you'll inevitably forget someone. Asking a friend or family member to be a point person can take an enormous load off your shoulders and give you time to rest instead of cutting and pasting the same update into 73 text messages.
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