How Do You Spell S*T*R*E*S*S? The Preemie Experience

How Do You Cope With the STRESS of Having a Baby in the NICU? Part 1


Buzzers and bells and loudspeakers, oh my!” and “How can anyone get any sleep in here?


Do you remember your first peek in the NICU? A recent ad hoc survey of family, friends and healthcare workers turned up some rather frightening adjectives when asked: In a word, what was your first impression of the NICU ? Responses included : scary, surreal, torture chamber, bizarro, Orwellian, hell, warzone, and heaven.
(I understand most of the sentiment. But, heaven? That mom added,“’cause that’s where my baby is.”)


Heavenly sentiments aside, how do you cope when life deals you the NICU card? How do you manage the STRESS? Can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t see the sun, the trees, the flowers in bloom. Having a child in the hospital rips through emotional defenses. Many call it the roller coaster. Quipped one father of a preemie, “Can you say, trainwreck?”


According to this week’s podcast guest, Danea Gemmel, mother of 24 week twin girls, the secret is to “manage the minutes.” Wise advice from a mom who had cause to wonder if either or both of the twins would survive what we in the NICU refer to as a patient’s medical course. (Sometimes it seems more like an obstacle course.)


“First you manage the minutes, then you manage the hours, then the days, then you get to when they’re 11 years old!” beams Danea.


Adequate rest and good nutrition is the key to mending. Moms need to recover from the birth and build back the blood lost in delivery. Estimated blood loss for a normal delivery is 250 cc, or about 3 cups; double that for a cesarean. (When you donate blood to the Red Cross, they take less!) Dads need to provide a calm atmosphere for mom, who is physically spent and now must also pump her breasts, ad nauseum, often while recovering from major surgery.


Of course, dads don’t get off so easy, either. Many parent partners won’t readily admit it, but they also have to cope with the emotion-commotion that accompanies the whole premature baby package. There’s the financial stress on top of the concern for mother and child, and despite The Family and Medical Leave Act, (which provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year) many breadwinners opt to keep working, to keep the tummies full. That daily service, in the best of work environments, requires a certain amount of sleep. Ha! Sleep takes on an ethereal quality during this time of worry and every four-hour breast pumping. Add other children to the household…well, I don’t have to tell you.