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The Emotional Aspects of NICU
by Jennifer Thompson
Roller Coaster of Emotions. Expect your emotions to have wild swings between elation, fear, hope, anger, and confusion, to name but a few. The postpartum period is hard enough emotionally, and to have a baby in NICU just makes those emotions that much more intense. There were days that I thought Grace was doing great, only to be followed by days where it seemed like she would never come home. In fact, just two days before she was released, I had written in her journal that I didn't know when she was coming home, that it felt like it would never happen. There were days when I had it together and other days where I sat next to her isolette crying. It helps to have friends and family that you can talk to, and it helps to have a journal to write down your thoughts and feelings.

"I would have to say to expect the horrible emotional roller coaster. In the beginning when baby does real well there will always be a set back. It takes a long time for baby to stabilize well enough to where the good days become more frequent than the bad ones. Expect to feel helpless. Expect to cry when there is a setback. The staff is used to it. I was lucky and had a very good staff where the doctor would come out immediately if I had any concerns or was upset over anything."

Setbacks. Sometimes, babies in NICU have setbacks, so it's best to be prepared for the possibility. It doesn't have to mean that they're dying, or that they will never come home, but it can feel that way at the time.

"If I had to tell someone what to expect, I guess it would be that it's like a roller coaster, with many ups and downs. We'd think Noah was coming home soon, then walk into the NICU and find out he'd had a bradycardia spell - which meant he would have to be in at least another seven days."

Going home empty-handed. After months and months of waiting for your baby to arrive, going home empty-handed can feel terrible. Expect a flood of emotions - Am I abandoning my baby? Will we still be able to bond? Will she know who I am? What if something happened and I'm not there? And then try to remember that your baby is in the very best possible place and is exactly where he needs to be, and trust in the doctors and nurses to take excellent care. Your baby WILL know you, the sound of your voice, your scent. Bonding will happen; it may just take a little longer than in more conventional situations.

Traveling to see baby. An added stress occurs when your baby isn't just down the street in your community hospital but is two or three hours away, in a specialized NICU. If this is the case, some hospitals have courtesy rooms for parents to stay in. The Ronald McDonald house is another option. For some parents, though, driving back and forth is the only option available, and expect there to be some extra stress associated with that.

"Several hours after his birth, an ambulance came and took him to another hospital about 40 miles away - he was born in a small hospital in my hometown, but needed specialized care he couldn't get there. I was released that afternoon, about 11 hours after he was born, so that my husband and I could be with our son."

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