Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The NICU Stays With You Forever, or Why I Can't Listen to BBC World Service

If you and I ever happen to be out and about together at 10:59 p.m. EST and we're in the car and the radio is tuned to a certain NPR station, there's a good chance you'll see my hand doing a quick reach for the stereo's off button. I'll probably get quiet, too. Depending on how well we know each other, you might even hear a little sniffle coming from my direction.

11 p.m., you see, is when BBC World Service Newshour program comes on, and the 11 p.m. edition of Newshour was what was playing on the radio every night when the BabyDaddy and I would drive the car around the block to the hospital for the last NICU visit of the day.

And you know what? Almost two years later, after what turned out to be a very brief, very upbeat NICU stay of just 12 days, I still cannot listen to BBC World Service Newshour. Heck, I can't even really think about the voice of the man who hosts the program - and, boy, do I ever hear it clearly in my head - without feeling like I just swallowed a few pounds of lead.

Turns out, it's not uncommon for preemie parents to have lasting emotional quirks - or even PTSD - related to the NICU, though these parents are usually the ones whose babies were born sick or much, much too early or were seriously damaged by traumatic births. Not a Babby born six weeks premature but otherwise healthy and strong.

It's so silly. I know it is silly. I'm blowing things out of proportion. I feel this particularly acutely when my research for the work I do for Graham's Foundation takes from hopeful stories of babies born at 26 weeks who've had no lasting difficulties to hopeful stories of similarly early babies who are still facing extreme challenges years later to memorials for preemies who lived three hours or three days or three months.

(It really is impossible to research without encountering these stories, but I force myself because I think it's a really worthwhile organization. Please do check it out.)

So, yeah, I know how easy we had it in the NICU with our later-term preemie who gained weight after she lost it, got her breath back easily whenever she forgot how to breathe, never had a digestive problem or a heart problem or whatever, and would probably be exactly where she is today even if we hadn't used Early Intervention.

But I still can't listen to Newshour, two years later. I just can't.

Which is why I'm wondering if anyone else out there has any little lasting quirks related to an unpleasant birth experience or a child's NICU stay?
I'd love to hear your story - it would even make me feel a little better. Finding support from moms who've been there is so important!


  1. I have a hard time listening to people's birth stories still. I was diagnosed with both PPD and PTSD after Caedmon was born. A lot of scary stuff went down at the hospital but for me I can't stand to have my blood pressure taken. I wore a cuff that automatically took my blood pressure every 10 minutes for 4 days. Even now, my blood pressure is much better, but I can't stand to have it taken and just thought of it raises my blood pressure.

  2. You are not being silly. Even though you had a very positive outcome with Babby, you still experienced trauma with her premature birth and hospital stay. Let yourself have that one quirk. I am sure Mr. BBC Newshour can spare one listener. I applaud you for channeling your healing into a project like Graham's Foundation. chin up. that's how we see angels.

  3. I was just at a friend's house for a playdate and she cautiously mentioned that she wanted to talk about her hopes and plans for her pending birth but was afraid to upset me. Because, like me, she is trying for a VBAC. But I also stress her out because I am exactly what they say will happen if you VBAC - a ruptured uterus. Despite all of the craziness that went down at Del's birth..the only thing that chokes me up is her even needing to be in the NICU at all.The visual of her with the millions of tiny wires all over her and her arms taped to bits of foam board and her body shivering during the 4 day cold treatment is something I'll never shake. But the days I was in the hospital alone while she was across town in another hospital is what gets me every time. Mentioning it makes me catch my breath and I feel the sting of tears. Even though it was okay. Even though I *know* it wasn't my fault and things were really going well up to that point. I don't know if it will go away, but I suspect not. I mean, if I can think about the rush to the ER and the terror of them cutting into me while I could still move and feel most everything without freaking out at all..but that little bit does...then I'm probably not going to get over it, right?

  4. @Erin Ugh, four days?? I can see how that would turn you off having your blood pressure taken for pretty much ever.

    @Teresha Thanks for the uplifting and supportive words :)

    @Audrey Isn't it funny, the various things that stick with us? Like with your experience, it definitely could have been one of so many things that happened that were traumatic.

  5. Have you ever read "Nonsense & Frippery?" Dinei's son was born at 25 weeks and she's blogged pretty extensively about her experiences.


    P was induced at 35 weeks (preeclampsia), but only one night in the NICU. Just thinking of what my body looked like after days on the magnesium sulfate drip will make me feel queasy and bloated and bring back the fear.

  6. @E.H. I'm pretty sure I've read that blog - I find a lot of the micro-preemie parent blogs when I'm looking up newsletter topics and stats. I always end up crying when I'm writing the newsletter because of all the pictures of the wee babies.

    They gave you magnesium sulfate at 35 weeks? Was it for the blood pressure?

    At juuuuuust having reached 34 weeks, they decided against it as a measure to keep me pregnant longer because the Babby's lungs would be okay and the side effects of magnesium sulfate are so awful. Also the fact that the other stuff they gave me did absolutely nothing to stop my contractions unless it was actually coursing through my veins might have had something to do with it.

  7. I am glad to hear your little one is fine. My guy was airlifted to SickKids hospital in Toronto when he was in month old. Thankfully I do not have PTSD, although, two years later, it brings tears to my eyes. On a preemie note, my stepdaughter was born three months early and she has no problems either. In fact, she is exceptionally bright.

    Thank you for popping by my blog on my SITS day.


  8. @LisaDay Glad everything turned out well, especially for your stepdaughter! Outcomes for babies born that early are all over the place - the lucky ones thrive and are perfectly healthy. The not so lucky ones can have health issues that last a lifetime :(


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