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Why We Need Greeting Cards for Babies in the NICU

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I stood in the greeting card aisle of our local grocery store and scanned the array of options under the large pink sign that read “Baby.”

There were baby shower cards with images of cartoon storks and excited sentiments like, “Can’t wait to meet your new bundle of joy,” inside of them.

There were congratulatory cards adorned with tiny circus animals all in a row, wishing the new mother and father all the best as they welcomed their new baby into the world.

There were cards for twins. Cards for adoptions. Cards for new grandparents and new siblings.

The words inside of those glittery pastel pieces of cardstock spoke of hopes and dreams coming true. Of kisses placed upon chubby baby cheeks. Of the incredible feeling of holding your baby and rocking him to sleep. Of planning for the future. Of the exciting road ahead.

I took a deep breath and scanned the card selections again. Surely I could find something else. I needed something different.

I needed a card that somehow said, “Congratulations” and “I’m so sorry.”

A card that said, “He’s so beautiful” and “He’s so fragile.”

A card that said, “You can do this” and “I love you.”

A card for a NICU baby and the terrified, broken, hopeful mom and dad who aren’t quite sure how to feel or what to celebrate when their entire universe is currently encased in an incubator and attached to a tangle of electrodes, PICC lines, naso-gastric tubes and ventilator circuits.

A card for the mom who had her baby two weeks ago but still hasn’t had a chance to hold her in her arms yet.

A card for the dad who stares into his baby’s NICU pod and is afraid to even think about playing catch with him in the backyard because it’s still not clear if his baby will make it through the night. Again.

A card for the parents who fight back sharp pangs of sadness as they pass other moms and dads holding full-term, healthy babies in their arms as they exit the maternity ward on their way home for the first time.

A card for the parents whose nurseries remain empty as they make their homes in their local hospital NICU wards for weeks and months on end.

There were none.

I picked out one that was well-meaning enough without going overboard, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of unresolved sadness long after I left the store.

Why don’t greeting card companies acknowledge this very significant reality of so many families? According to the World Health Organization, one in 10 babies — 15 million, if we are counting — are born too early each year. That means there are literally millions of people like me standing in card aisles like this one all across America, desperately searching for a card that will find the right balance of congratulatory sentiment and careful, empathetic concern. Only to find card after card that focuses so heartily on the picture perfect outcome of a pregnancy that it feels like a slap in the face.

To many, the plea for a card section that speaks directly to NICU families may seem insignificant. It’s just a greeting card, after all, and if I felt so strongly about it, I could create my own card on my own. True. But consider the fact that all NICU families feel overwhelming feelings of isolation and loneliness as they adjust to their new lives, their families and friends often finding themselves at a loss for words.

The truth is, no one knows what to say.

And because of this, they often don’t say anything at all.

Imagine finding a card that said everything you wanted to say and giving it to a mom who is currently trying to piece her heart back together while navigating the nightmare of the NICU. And that feeling of relief and hope and yes, even a tiny glimmer of joy that she feels when she opens that card. Finally, the right words — or at least the closest thing to the right words that she’s heard or read in weeks. Feeling validated and understood. Can you imagine what a difference it could make?

Let’s do this, Hallmark and American Greetings. Let’s expand beyond the cookie cutter celebratory new baby cards and include sentiments that are real and genuine for the moms and dads who need it the most.

It’s the least we can do.

Getty image by CristiNistor

Originally published: October 18, 2018
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