We have been blessed by so many who have reached out to help us during this difficult time. It has been so humbling to receive service like this. There have been too many things to possibly write down (or remember) for one blog, and knowing that I have somewhat procrastinated writing! But I just know there is a host of people out there who, LIKE ME, when they watch someone they love go through something hard, want to help, but don't know how! So here is a list of some ideas. Some are things that I have learned would be nice, and some are things we have been given that I could never have thought of by myself and that have been such a blessing to our family! Know that if you have done something for us and it's not included here, it's not because we didn't appreciate it!!! It's either because I'm trying to write a generic list, and some of those sweet things are personal and I'm holding them close to my heart; OR because I'm running on next to no sleep and consequently some things just fall out of this brain. By the dozens. hah!
Let's cover the big one, first. Food is the universal service love language, right? And rightly so! We all need it, all the time! We have loved:
- Homemade meals
- Meals picked up from restaurants or ready-made from the grocery store
- Freezer meals
- Money for ordering in.
- The golden combination of a meal that can either be eaten immediately OR frozen according to need. Because sometimes people are bringing all the food and you NEED it, but you can't eat it all at once. So the freezer is a life saver.
- Grab and go snacks. The truth of the matter is, while I usually sit down for dinner, lunch and breakfast are much more haphazard. I'm trying to feed the baby and watch the boys and get kids off to school etc etc etc... ain't no momma got time to eat! So healthy snack options (or lets be honest, unhealthy even) have been a life saver and something I never would have considered giving anyone, before. Think stuff like fresh fruit (or fruit salad), bagels, muffins, rolls, yogurt, cheese sticks, almonds, pretzels, washed peas/carrots, etc. Heck, cold cereal! And I will never say no to some dark chocolate. ;)
- We appreciate every single thing no matter how or when it comes. Truly. Bonus points to those who send it in disposable dishes that don't have to be washed or returned!
It is never too late to offer someone a meal. Really. Just ask them what they need and when they need it and they will use it and bless you forever.
- Going to the grocery store/running errands. One time I was out of toilet paper and someone asked if they could pick anything up for me. HUGE! Sometimes I send my mom with some cash and a grocery list to pick up stuff for me. Even if I don't need anything, I am so grateful when people ask! And Venmo and online grocery ordering services are great tools, too.
- Having a neighbor return dishes/deliver thank you notes for you.
- CHILD CARE. This has been CRUCIAL for us! Lydia is connected to an oxygen machine and we have a two room radius. I can take her outside but it involves loading her up and ordering oxygen tanks and exposing her to germs... so we don't go out, much. But I also have two active young boys who plainly can't live healthy, sane lives in just two rooms! So we have worked out a daily schedule that provides them some stability and home time, and also some outside/play time. We're fortunate to live by family right now, and grandmas take the boys almost every afternoon. After living out of state for the majority of our married lives I understand that this is a complete MIRACLE and a resource many may not have access to. But playdates even just every once in awhile can really help both mom and the kids. If you do have to come up with a long term child care solution, it is good to talk with the care provider (be they family or professional or whatever) about things that are important to you--behavioral expectations, screen time, appropriate activities, routines, etc. so that you're all on the same page and the kids have as much consistency as possible. Even offering someone a new movie to borrow or a new toy to play with so they can have something to do while Mom is busy is huge.
- Shuttling. My kids have places to be, and getting them there can be a challenge. Again we've recruited help from others to shuttle kids to their daily activities. I'm totally up for buying a cheap booster seat for your car or paying you gas money to get them where they need to be. This has been huge for us.
- Help around the house. It’s humiliating for me, so tread carefully here. Offer but don’t push. I asked my mom for, I’m pretty sure, the first time in my adult life to fold some laundry the other day and she did and dang it if it wasn’t wonderful to not have to dig through the basket of wrinkly clean clothes for something for the kids to wear! I’m learning to accept help, too.
- Meals. It is so hard to eat when you're in the hospital all day. You're running on a crazy schedule and you may or may not be sick of/able to afford cafeteria food all the time... Sack lunches/snacks dropped off at your house or the hospital entrance? Amazing.
- Child care. Again.
- Something I learned is invaluable when your baby is in the NICU--button up clothes! There's so many cords and monitors and wires and stuff, and you have to be able to thread them all through to the baby. Once, Lydia had a diaper blowout. So you just change the kid's diaper, right? Except she's in a onesie, and whoops, there are monitor leads on her chest that thread out her onesie at the bottom. So I'll just avoid those so they can stay plugged in and lift the onesie up over her head... except, nope! There's the oxygen tubes! It was a mess, you guys. Haha. Snap up clothing. You'll never look back.
- Thoughtful extras: Lotion. Your hands get TORN UP in that place because you're washing them all. the. time. Lotion is amazing and such a simple gift--just pick a nice scent-free kind (because, sensitive babies). They gave me Jergens Ultra Healing and it is amazing. Another good idea is a journal. Itunes card or audio books or just plain books are also awesome. Several people gave us blankets and I brought some of those because it was something personal, homey, easy, and useful that I could add to her space.
- Oh man. Anything. Are you kidding me? My mom brought me a tiny little paperweight pot of fake flowers when we were in the hospital and it cheered my soul. Others have brought bouquets of cut flowers that brightened dark days. Some have left treats on our doorstep. We have received more than one check. People are amazing.
Other (The stuff that doesn't necessarily fit under a specific category, but has meant a lot to us.)
- Every single text, phone call, email, social media message, etc. expressing love and support. They are invaluable. In the beginning, especially, I cried over every. single. one. Even the ones from strangers. They meant that much to me. They let me know that I was not alone and that I was loved. That my baby was loved. That people are praying for us. It doesn't matter what you say---I've been sent jokes, tender essays, links to encouraging videos, personal thoughts, spiritual messages... It is all meaningful and appreciated, often for the content but mostly because you were thinking about me and loving me.
- The "Get out of jail, free" card. Ok, that's just what I'm calling this one. It's when you do something nice for someone with no expectation or offense taken if they thank you or respond to you immediately, after three months, or never. It is hard to appropriately give back when you are given so much, and you have so much life still on your plate. My heart has ACHED over the emails I haven't sent, the thank you's I haven't written, and the angels who have meant so much to me but haven't been given enough credit!! Sometimes, especially in the beginning, I would be so emotional over receiving a thoughtful note that I COULDN'T respond. It was just too overwhelming and I had nothing left to give. But those notes still meant the world to me! I just needed a little extra grace and forgiveness over the responding to them. If someone started a message with "You don't have to respond to this, but love, love, love, love..." I was especially grateful.
- Those who check in on a regular (not bug you everyday, but more than just a one-time thing) basis. It just shows a special amount of love and care and thoughtfulness.
- Those who have held my baby or just looked at a picture of her and told me how wonderful she is. Every mother needs to hear that. A million, trillion times. And for a mother who was shocked by a birth Down syndrome diagnosis... a mother who is fearing whether the world will ever accept or love her child... someone telling you--and meaning it--that your child is beautiful and special and precious and loved? Priceless.
- Prayers. This one is going to get a blog of its own. Because this is the SINGLE MOST MEANINGFUL AND IMPORTANT AND HELPFUL THING ANYONE CAN DO. Truly.
Really, no act of service is small, as long as it is done with love and thoughtfulness. It may be simple to you, but it will be huge to them. It may be inconvenient to you, and they will know it and it will be huge to them. I have prayed a thousand prayers for blessings to fall on the heads of those who have reached out to us in any way. Your love matters more than how you give it. Just do it.
I'm sure that I'm missing a million things. For all you have done, for all that you do, we thank you and we love you, forever.