Having a child in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) can be scary for many parents. Seeing your child hooked up to monitors, IVs and leads, not knowing what is going to happen to your baby or how you can help, is a terrifying experience. Most NICU parents dream of the day that they can break out of the hospital, take their baby home, and finally be a family all under the same roof. As a mother whose son was in the NICU for 109 days, I can tell you that homecoming day was even more incredible than I had imagined it to be!
At the same time, being at home with your NICU grad has its challenges, as well. Continued medical care, managing monitors, oxygen or tube feedings can make the transition from hospital to home feel more of a continuation of the same, as you spend much of your time with medical professionals and specialists for post-discharge appointments. Keeping up with medical care on top of normal newborn care, compounded with the days, weeks or months you were already in the NICU, can be overwhelmingly exhausting.
The part I see parents (especially mothers) struggle with the most after discharge is anxiety. There’s a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop, not fully trusting that everyone or everything is ok, bracing yourself for bad news. There’s a mistrust of care providers and fear about letting trusted family members watch the baby, even for mom to take a quick shower. One of the most common experiences I hear from my clients is shooting up awake in the middle of the night, running to the bassinet and making sure baby is still breathing. It’s an experience of constant awareness, watchfulness and protectiveness, making it feel impossible to fully rest, even if you have help at home.
What’s worse is, parents feel like they begin to lose support for their worries. “He’s home now,” family members say. “It’s in the past now, let it go!” friends chime in. “Be grateful she’s fine!”
These comments are intended to be supportive but instead alienate the parents who cannot just “let go”. The grips of anxiety feel so strong, the worries and fears so real, that instead of feeling supported, they feel judged, when in fact their experiences make perfect sense.
That is what happened in the NICU. Hypervigilance, alertness, anxiety all played a protective role in the NICU. Once home, those feelings don’t automatically disappear. The anxiety is not a sign that you’re broken, ungrateful or unable to “move on”. Instead, this anxiety is most often a symptom of a trauma response that was activated in the NICU and as such needs to be addressed from a trauma perspective.
If you’d like support and guidance to do this, join me and women around the world in my Healing Hearts program to heal after bringing baby home from the NICU. [LINK: http://bit.ly/healheartati]
Parijat Deshpande is the leading high-risk pregnancy expert, mind-body health specialist, trauma professional, speaker and author who teaches women how to deactivate their stress response before, during and after a high-risk pregnancy so they can give their baby a strong start to life. Her unique approach has served hundreds of women to manage pregnancy complications and reclaim a safety and trust in their bodies that they thought was eroded forever. Parijat is the author of bestselling book Pregnancy Brain: A Mind-Body Approach to Stress Management During a High-Risk Pregnancy. She is also the host of the popular podcast Delivering Miracles®, that discusses the real, raw side of family-building including infertility, loss, high-risk pregnancy, bed rest, prematurity and healing once baby comes home.
Learn more about Parijat Deshpande and her work at www.parijatdeshpande.com.