When I had my first baby, I shared my room with a young woman who’d delivered her daughter prematurely. I felt so bad for her; here I was with this healthy, crying baby while hers was stuck in the NICU. When she left the second day I was there, her baby stayed behind. I’ve thought of her often through the years and wondered how she and her little girl fared.
Some interesting new studies are now finding that having a baby endure a long stay in the NICU can actually cause post-traumatic stress disorder in the parents. Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine followed 18 parents, both mothers and fathers, whose children had spent time in the NICU. Four months later, three were diagnosed with PTSD and seven more were considered high risk.
A Duke University interviewed 30 parents six months after their baby’s due date and found 29 had either two or three PTSD symptoms and 16 had all three.
Dr. Richard J. Shaw, an associate professor of child psychiatry at Stanford and author of the Stanford study, said there are several traumas associated with giving birth to a premature baby. First, there’s the trauma of the unexpected delivery itself. The, there’s seeing your baby undergo traumatic medical procedures and life-threatening events. And there’s also the fact that the bad stuff keeps happening.
“It’s different from a car accident or an assault or rape, where you get a single trauma and it’s over and you have to deal with it. With a preemie, every time you see your baby the experience comes up again,” Shaw says.
One of the problems the studies are uncovering is that when the parent is ready to talk about their difficult experience, friends and family often expect them to have moved on and aren’t as willing to listen. Something to keep in mind, if someone close to you has experienced it.