The NICU And Your Relationship

October 3, 2014

Anger, hurt, joy, fear, excitement, overwhelmed, and happy.  The list could go on forever.  Those are all emotions we may feel while having a baby in the NICU.  I know I felt each of those, along with others, at least once during our stay.  You may hear of time in the NICU as a roller coaster, which is definitely a very accurate way to describe the feelings we experience as NICU parents.

Having a baby in the NICU is a very stressful time.  Stress can have a positive or negative effect on your relationships, particularly with your spouse or partner.  Some relationships will get stronger while others may drift apart.  Whatever the case, the two of you are going through this roller coaster together, and will often see the good, bad, and ugly in each other.

But having a baby in the NICU can strengthen your relationship.  You can learn to lean on each other and learn more about each other through this experience.  My husband and I got very close during this time.  We would go together to visit our daughter in the evenings and it was a great time to spend with each other as well as with her.  We were there with each other to get bad news and good news.  We cried together and rejoiced together.  We had to make an effort to make this happen.  We had to protect our marriage and not allow the stress to come between us.  We had to remain a team no matter what.

One of our evening visits together.

One of our evening visits together.

On the other side, the stress of having a baby in the NICU can cause stress in your relationship.  You may find you are angry and take it out on your spouse.  You may find that you just don’t have the time you need to give to everyone who needs your time.  In some cases you may blame your spouse for what happened (I don’t recommend this at all).

It takes work to ensure that the stress doesn’t divide the two of you, and I want to share some ways to try and help this very difficult experience strengthen your relationship.  Once your baby comes home, having two parents to love him or her will greatly help.  Having someone to share in the parenting will also help you as a parent.  Here are some ways you can try to use your experience to strengthen your relationship.

  • Visit together and separate.  Visiting your baby by yourself is nice.   You have him or her all to yourself.  It is also wonderful to visit together if you can make that work.  We found going in the evening was a great time to go together.  Our son was already in bed so our babysitter just needed to be in the house and we could go spend time with our daughter.  It was also just after rounds we went so we could get updates on her care.  The drive to and from the hospital was a time we could talk.
  • Talk through your feelings.  No matter what you are feeling, your feelings are valid.  Even if you feel like you are crazy for being angry about having a baby in the NICU, talk about it.  If you feel your spouse or partner needs professional help, encourage them to seek out help.
  • Don’t blame each other.  This is no one’s fault.  Preemies and sick babies are often a surprise and not something we expect.  You cannot change it and most times it can’t be prevented.  Placing blame doesn’t help anyone.  Focus your energy on helping.
  • Ask for help.  You both have so much going on.  If someone offers you help, take it.  Make a list of things you would be ok with someone else doing for you and then when someone asks if they can help say yes and tell them what they can do.  It is ok to ask for help or accept help!

Having a baby in the NICU is hard, but if you are married or in a relationship you don’t have to do it alone.