Excerpt from Navigating the NICU (BLOG PART 1)
Section 1: Processing the Birth
Here you are, on the other side of your pregnancy. Whether expected or unexpected, your baby needed enough support after birth to be transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and you have been initiated into a group you never asked to be a part of. It’s scary, overwhelming, and almost too much to take in at this time.
Let’s first, take a deep breath. (Really!)
You have just transitioned from one intense experience to another without any pause, so stop and take a deep breath as often as you remember. In these first few days in the NICU, you are going to hear a lot of instructions, protocols, updates, expectations, and plans of care. If you have to, set an alarm on your phone to remind you to take several deep breaths throughout the day.
You are in a state of information overload, your hormones and emotions in a constant state of flux. It feels like you’re doing everything you can to keep your head above water. Your body, mind, and spirit are trying to process the birth and outcome. With the NICU experience flooding at you so quickly, it is easy to put the processing behind you and just try to stay afloat. I get it. It is going to take time, and often support, to process all of it. But I do encourage you to grasp onto the emotions, memories, and sensory information that comes to you in these first few days. Begin the process. You will be grateful that you have some record of your thoughts during this time.Jot things down in a notebook, the notes app on your phone, a voice recording. Talk about your birth experience to someone you trust who is tuned into you at this moment. I say that because you are going to have a lot of people who are 100% overwhelmed with their concern for the baby right now and will not be a safe container for your story. You might reach out to your partner, or best friend, or even someone you didn’t know before you gave birth, like one of your nurses. It’s important to just begin this process.
Without judgment, tell your birth story. Even if it is only one time. Your story is important and deserves to be told. The healing begins here. Telling your birth story, from YOUR perspective, allows you to start identifying the uncomfortable emotions you are sitting with so they don’t silently take up residence in your body, unacknowledged and unspoken.
This experience holds many opposites that you will have to balance. Allow yourself to speak or write all of it, as messy as it is. There is space in your story for great joy and utter heartbreak. Examine the anger, grief, disappointment, fear, anxiety, gratitude, elation, and mystery of it all. Let it be named. Let your sense of loss, joy, and transformation take up space.
You will hear many well-meaning comments during this time. “At least the baby is stable”, “it could have been worse”, “we did that c-section or started that med ‘just in time’”. The gratitude for stability and making it through the experience does not always overshadow the grief you may feel in a difficult outcome, or even just simply being separated from your newborn baby. That is 100% okay to feel.
We tend to comfort ourselves (and each other) in a way where we downplay the trauma and build on “well, at least…. xyz didn’t happen.” I encourage you to let yourself grieve, to cry, and to speak your feelings and your perspective, even if you don’t feel like it’s acceptable to feel that way.
Speak it, write it, whisper it, record it, tell it to a stranger, tell it to the sky. Just let that story be told so that you have space to create the resilience you will need for this journey, whether it lasts 3 days or 300 days.
Here at the Center for Sacred Window Studies, we share voices from many perspectives and backgrounds. We believe that the sacred weeks post birth, and the experience of humanity is experienced in countless ways. We learn by listening to one another and honoring our stories. The views and opinions of our writers do not necessarily reflect the mission, viewpoints or opinions of the Center for Sacred Window Studies.