Sharing Your Stories About The Trauma of NICU Postpartum
No one imagines the postpartum trauma of visiting your baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). No one imagines coming home without a baby. You imagine recovering in the hospital room with your newborn. You imagine bringing them home and fostering them into this new world, not waiting for a cab with baby stuff while preparing to shuffle back and forth to the hospital.
The NICU is an infant and parent holding tank–a site of healing, declining, purgatory, stagnation, hope, and hopelessness. With medical equipment surrounding your baby, heavy security and restrictions on who can visit, the NICU is an intimidating and isolated environment. Not only isolated, the NICU can also be an isolating experience for parents and family. Since family members, friends and other supportive individuals cannot visit or have limited access to the NICU with you, few understand what the NICU experience is like and even fewer stories of the NICU seem to be told.
When your newborn is in the NICU, what are you feeling? Mourning the loss of experiencing your baby’s early days, you might feel angry, confused, sad, excited, relieved and traumatized. Maybe you’re feeling a little of all of the above. Maybe you’re just feeling numb. Are you connecting with your partner or are you feeling disconnected?
Leaving the NICU, there are a lot of assumptions about what you should be doing and feeling. If you take your baby home, you are supposed to be grateful that you have a healthy baby. If your baby has disabilities, you need to focus on their therapy and other doctors’ appointments. If your baby does not make it home, you’re supposed to move on and make funeral arrangements, ignoring the complexity of grieving for a newborn that was in the NICU.
Whether or not you bring your baby home or you have a treatment plan with the hospital, you need to heal and reconnect with your own body, as well as your relationship with your partner, your baby/babies and yourself. Whatever you are feeling, let yourself feel it. Cry in front of the doctors and nurses or privately. Get angry, get information and then, get home.
After leaving the hospital, new parents don’t typically think about calling a therapist. You think about calling a lactation consultant, a doctor friend, minister, rabbi, or even, your mom. But when the dust settles–whether you bring your baby home or not–therapy just might just help. You need to tell your story.
I find in my NYC therapy practice that the telling of our stories helps us process them, particularly for NICU parents who deal with such an isolating experience. Maybe we edit the story or maybe we use free verse. Maybe we write a song or maybe we write a letter. No matter what form it takes, NICU experiences need to be exposed and shared.