Emerging from Trauma: Stephanie’s NICU Journey

November 13, 2017

I had my daughter 17 months ago, but it seems like a lifetime. We didn’t have a hard time getting pregnant. It was almost instant.

But staying pregnant was a different story for me.

Skin to skin time in NICU, trauma, prematurity

I ended up in the hospital at 27 weeks, 4 days with preterm premature rupture of the membranes (pPROM). My water had broken. My job now was to try and stay pregnant until 34 weeks. Sounds easy right? Not so much.

After numerous days of magnesium sulfate to stop labor, antibiotics, fluids, and a full round of steroid shots to strengthen the baby’s lungs I was on bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy. Every minute I was pregnant was giving my daughter better odds of survival on the outside.

The morning my daughter was born at just 29 weeks was terrifying. There was nothing normal or beautiful about that experience. It was abrupt and recovery was long and hard. But my daughter came out breathing on her own and crying. We endured 50 long days in the NICU, and then we finally brought her home.

Going home, trauma, NICU, prematurity My husband took time off to help me when we first brought her home from the NICU, and even throughout my hospital stay. Between pumping, trying to figure out how to breastfeed, and barely sleeping, we really had our work cut out for us. It was overwhelming. It was scary. We were so used to having a team of nurses to rely on, to answer every little question for us. Coming home, it was just us.

We remained in isolation for about a month or so to minimize our daughter’s exposure to different germs. But within that “alone time” there were so many normal experiences or rights of passage that we missed as a part of bringing home a new baby from the hospital. We didn’t get that warm welcome reception of people taking care of us, bringing food, or just checking in. We were pretty much alone, even after the isolation period ended. Every expectation that I had of becoming a new mom and welcomed into motherhood was out the window.

I am pretty sure that’s when I started to feel off, like something wasn’t right. Life around me was resuming to a new normal. My husband was back at work, and trying to adjust to my new normal of keeping a five-pound human alive was consuming all of my energy.

On the outside I seemed to have it all together. On the inside I was falling apart. I felt like a failure because I couldn’t stay pregnant. I felt robbed of a typical birth experience.

Slowly, I began to take my aggression and frustration with what had happened to me out on everyone, especially my husband. I was mean, and sometimes downright cruel. I wanted him to feel the wrath of my emotions, to feel the hurt I felt, I was jealous that he “got to go to work,” envious that he didn’t have someone attached to his breast constantly or wasn’t sporting a 6 inch slice in his stomach. I realized that taking out my emotions on him wasn’t the solution, and that maybe talking to a therapist would help me. But it didn’t. I sobbed every single time that I left my appointments. I eventually decided that maybe it was too soon to talk about what happened. But when would I be able to talk about it without having a flood of emotions?

I needed to make a change that would ultimately help my marriage and allow me to be the best version of myself in order to to set a good example for my daughter. I needed to be kinder to myself and allow myself to feel all of the emotions that I had blocked out.

So much of my life has changed, but for the better. As women we are expected to bounce back to our pre-baby selves, not carry the extra weight, and be able to balance our new roles as mom, wife, and friend. I know I have changed. I am not the overly thoughtful person I once was, I have lost friendships that I simply didn’t have the time to maintain when we first came home. In time I would like to think that maybe those will friendships will come around again. But 17 months later I think that I am finally starting to feel better, maybe even back to my pre-pregnancy self. Maybe even starting to wonder if I would be crazy enough to want to go through all of it again.

The anger from missing my third trimester, watching my daughter grow in an isolette, and having to leave her behind every night for 50 days is fading. We survived a very traumatic birth experience, a long NICU stay, becoming parents, and ultimately I am proud of our journey. Even though we had a rough start, we are proof that with dedication and a partner who lifted me up when I needed someone the most, anything is possible. I can appreciate that even though I didn’t have that picture perfect pregnancy, I have the prettiest little girl who happily greets me with a smile when I pick her up from her crib in the morning, and the chubbiest little cheeks that fall asleep on me at night. If there was anything in my life I thought I was good at, being this sweet girl’s mom is the most fulfilling job ever.

trauma, NICU, prematurity