The diagnosis of a birth injury following childbirth is understandably shocking and painful for new parents. Many parents don’t expect lingering emotional pain after the fact. However, many new parents do feel these emotions; according to an article on HealthyChildren.org. Parents commonly experience anger, guilt, fear, loss, and powerlessness after learning that their newborn requires medical attention and has to stay in the NICU.
Parents commonly feel fear regarding things like the NICU environment, their ability to care for a sick baby, and what their child’s future looks like after a diagnosis. Anger is also common and can be directed at medical staff, family members, or at themselves. Many parents experience feelings of loss in regards to missing out on the birthing experience they had planned or on the chance to take a healthy baby home.
Parents of sick newborns also commonly experience feelings of powerlessness. They may want to comfort their little ones but not know how to make them feel better or calm them down. Perhaps the most commonly overlooked emotion felt by parents of sick newborns is guilt surrounding birth. They may blame themselves for their child’s illness, especially since babies can be born premature or sick for a multitude of reasons.
All of these feelings are common among parents of sick or injured infants, though they may not be well-known to parents at the time. How can you overcome these feelings if you have a sick or injured baby in the NICU?
Next Steps: Connecting with Other Parents
Many people who experience these feelings try to hide them or avoid confronting them. Suzanne Swanson, a Minnesota-based psychologist who works on the board for PATTCH.org, advises that parents who face these struggles, “let yourself have all your feelings… and remind yourself to cultivate kindness toward yourself even as you live with those feelings.” She also suggests mothers and fathers revisit the positive aspects of their birth experience instead of only focusing on the negative ones. Time, however, is also an incredibly important aspect of the coping process, she explains. “There is time to work with your feelings, but you don’t have to work with them all right now,” she says. Instead, she suggests focusing on overcoming one at a time and making notes to yourself to talk about each thing you are feeling when you are able to spend alone time with a partner, friend, or therapist. For more tips from Swanson, click here.
Accepting your feelings is a step in the positive direction, but discussing them with others is a proactive step as well. It may be difficult to want to talk to people who have never been in your situation before, however, so Jennifer Gunter, author of “The Preemie Primer,” suggests to Baby Center that NICU parents befriend one another. “Parents who get a preemie parent buddy cope better, even if it’s just a short conversation once a week,” she explains. Parents of term babies who are sick would benefit from talking to other people going through the same thing too.
Letting Go of Guilt
According to BrainLine Kids, a website whose focus is helping kids with traumatic brain injuries, “excessive guilt can eat away at your self-esteem and even get in the way of being an effective advocate for your child.” For this reason, facing the guilt you may be experiencing is imperative toward making progress in your life and your child’s life.
They encourage parents to overcome guilt in a few different ways. These include avoiding letting other people’s comments affect your feelings, apologizing only where it is appropriate, and replacing the word “should” in your mind with phrases like “I will try to…” or “‘I plan to…” This way, you can remain an active participant in making progress for you and your child without dwelling on what you think you could have or should have done in the past. It is also advised that parents forgive themselves for their role in what happened (whatever that role may be), focus on what they accomplish moving forward on a daily basis, and change their perspective to cater to their child’s needs.
Who Can Help
There are many resources on the web to help parents facing difficulties after birth. Some of these include:
- Solace for Mothers: Healing After Traumatic Childbirth
- The March of Dimes NICU Family Support Group
- Graham’s Foundation NICU Ambassadors
- NICU Awareness Regional Resources
- NICU Helping Hands
- Hand to Hold Ambassador Program
- Hand to Hold NICU Now Podcast
- Mommies of Miracles Virtual Support Group
- The Arc
- Complex Child E-Magazine
- Caregiver Action Network
Michigan-Based Counseling Options:
- University of Michigan Postpartum Depression Counseling
- Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Free of Low-Cost Mental Health Care
- C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital NICU Resources for Parents
- Beaumont Hospital Parenting Program
- Baby Center: 7 Common – But Confusing – Emotions You Might Feel in the NICU
- Baby Art: Emotional Support of Sick Newborns
- Mom 365: 10 Ways to Heal From Birth Trauma
- BrainLine Kids – My Child’s Brain Injury: Coping with Guilt
- HealthyChildren.org: Common Parent Reactions to the NICU
- Bayada: Eight Support Groups for Parents Raising Children with Special Needs