6 common feelings of NICU parents
Having a child in the neonatal intensive care unit is an experience like no other. Seeing your baby hooked up to machines with wires attached to their body can be a scary and overwhelming experience.
The majority of babies are in the NICU due to premature birth (born prior to 37 weeks gestation), but babies can be admitted to the NICU for other reasons such as breathing problems, low birth weight, heart conditions and other complications. The experience can bring an array of emotions for parents who are sitting beside their baby's isolette.
1. Fear. Fear is a common and totally normal response to having a newborn in the NICU. Parents worry that their child will have long term medical issues. They also worry about not being able to properly care for their baby when it is time to go home. Since most parents have no previous experience with having a child in the NICU, there is a lot of fear of the unknown. Ask nurses and doctors to explain things you do not understand.Do not be afraid to keep asking questions. The NICU staff wants you to feel more at ease, while they care for your child.
2. Guilt. Many parents have feelings of guilt while their baby is in the NICU. Parents question what they could have done differently to prevent their baby being born prematurely. Mothers, in particular, blame themselves for the situation. Share your concerns with the NICU staff and your partner. Try to let go of these feelings. Most babies are born prematurely for unknown reasons and nothing could have been done to prevent it. The NICU staff will help you work through these feelings and move forward as a family.
3. Loss. It is common for NICU parents to feel a sense of loss after having a baby in the NICU. Like any parents, they dreamt of how the pregnancy would go, wrote a birth plan and envisioned how the first few hours after birth would go. They looked forward to bringing a healthy newborn home, nursing him and doing other normal activities with their child. Having a baby in the NICU is a very different experience. Moms may grieve the loss of the end of the pregnancy and feel jealous of mothers who have typical births. It is frustrating to have to wait for the appropriate time to feed your baby, ask for help picking him up and worry about germs due to lower immunity. It is normal to feel a sense of loss over these things. Be honest with yourself about how you feel, talk them through with a loved one or professional counselor and begin to set new dreams and goals for your family moving forward.
4. Helplessness. In the NICU, your baby will be surrounded by nurses and doctors who are caring for her. It's normal to feel overwhelmed by the medical equipment. Ask the nurses to teach you how to work around the tubes and wires and learn to change diapers, take temperatures, and bathe your child. Once you begin to be a part of your child's care, you will feel less helpless and more like a parent of a newborn.
5. Anger. Some parents may have feelings of anger that their child is in the NICU. It is easy to blame doctors, NICU staff or even your partner for the situation. You may feel angry that one parent is returning to work while the baby is in the NICU, or that someone didn't visit your child. Anger can be expressed in different ways. One person may be rude, demanding and vocal about their anger, while another may retreat from the situation or into themselves resulting in a form of silent treatment. Try to let go of anger and focus on you and your baby. Vent to a friend, write in a journal or use exercise as an outlet. You need all the energy you can get to take care of yourself and your newborn and anger is a huge consumer of energy.
6. Feeling "on display." Many NICU's have open areas with multiple cribs. Parents can feel like they get little or no privacy. Curtains do little to keep conversations private and nursing moms can feel like they are out in the open. Nurses and doctors are in and out and it can feel like they are constantly "watching" you. While uncomfortable, parents should note that the NICU staff is watching to make sure you know how to care for your baby, but they are there to help not judge. Also, the noise in the NICU can be a long term blessing as NICU babies quickly learn to sleep through loud noises and distractions. As a NICU parent, let family and friends know if you need some alone time to unwind. They will likely be happy to give you the space you need.