INDIANAPOLIS , Ind. (February 27, 2014) — Bringing home a baby is one of the most joyful times in parents’ lives, but when medical complications delay that homecoming the emotional toll on parents can be devastating.
Researchers and social workers say parents of preterm babies and babies who spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit often show symptoms of PTSD.
According to the March of Dimes, one in every ten babies born in the U.S. spends time in the NICU.
“Mothers often feel a lot of different emotional things when the baby comes into the NICU, one thing is they feel afraid and they do feel guilt,” said Hiedi Linder, a clinical social worker in the NICU at St. Vincent Women’s Health in Indianapolis.
Those emotions can turn into anxiety and depression months or even years after the child comes home from the hospital.
Kira and Gabe Teare waited nearly three months to take their son Jackson to their Brownsburg home after his stay in the NICU.
Kira had HELLP Syndrome, a type of preeclampsia, and it was affecting her health and the health of unborn Jackson.
“He was born at 26 weeks. My body was deteriorating and it was affecting him, so the best thing to do to was to deliver early,” she said.
She calls the touch-and-go weeks of Jackson’s hospital stay the most terrifying experience of her life.
When she and her husband read about the newly discovered relationship between parents of NICU babies and PTSD, they weren’t surprised.
“It’s the roller coaster, the not knowing is what gets you. A year later you look back at all the things that you went through and it’s very hard,” said Gabe.
“It presents itself with worry, excessive worry over normal routine doctors appointments or normal routine illness,” said Linder.
Experts and the Teares cite a strong support network as a key to coping with the stress.
“What’s been most therapeutic is talking to other NICU moms, parents who are going through the same things,” Kira said.
Many hospitals, like St. Vincent Women’s Hospital, have social workers parents can speak with while their child is in the NICU.
The Teares said building lasting relationships with doctors and nurses has also been comforting. Some of Jackson’s nurses even came to his first birthday party.
“We also found it helpful sharing our story. We documented it on Facebook, that’s really helped us, all the prayers and support, and knowing that we could possibly help someone else going through that journey,” said Kira.
The March of Dimes offers online support resources for parents of NICU babies.
PTSD can coincide with postpartum depression and can be especially dangerous if thoughts of suicide occur.