Navigating Your Feelings in the NICU
Having a baby in the NICU can cause much stress and anxiety. And it’s understandable. You’ve waited so long to meet your little one, and now you have mixed emotions of joy and perhaps uncertainty about what’s next. You will no doubt be worried about your baby’s condition and eager to know when you will be able to take him or her home. You may feel pressured to be by your baby’s side at all times, which may also cause guilt about missing out on time with your other children or having others cover for you at work. You may also feel helpless and frustrated because you can’t do more with your baby and take him or her home immediately to meet the extended family. But you may also feel joy as your baby makes progress and happiness for the love that grows deeper each and every minute you spend with your newborn. A myriad of emotions will take place during this time—some low and some high—and many things will be competing for your time. It’s okay to have these mixed emotions and to feel overwhelmed. Know that all these feelings are normal and that many parents with a baby in the NICU have felt this same way.
Dealing with Stress
Taking care of yourself during this time is important for both your mental health and your physical wellbeing. Sticking to a daily routine to make time to eat and shower regularly and get a good night’s sleep is important to ensure your mental and physical health. Connecting with other families in the NICU can be emotionally rewarding; it lets you know you are not alone on this journey. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from other family members and friends during this time. Accept their offers to run errands, take care of your other children, or help with more simple things, like bringing a meal or snack to you and your family while at the hospital.
Know you are not alone
One out of every 10 babies in the United States is born prematurely.1 That means that every day, families just like yours are confronted with the challenges of premature birth. As you navigate new and difficult emotions with your little one in the NICU, it may be comforting to know that many other parents share your experience. One of these parents, Melissa Kirsch, shared her poem “If NICU Walls Could Talk,” to speak to parents like you.
If NICU Walls Could Talk
Melissa Kirsch (NICU Mama)
If NICU walls could talk, they may first speak of doubt and fear,
But if you stick around a while, you’ll find there’s much more to hear.
The walls would speak of heavy heartbreak, unfathomable to most,
But also, of the miracles that those rooms are privileged to host.
Within those walls, anticipation lurks with each new procedure and test,
Oh, how sweet is the relief that’s felt, when the outcomes are at best.
Hope is held within one’s heart when things are going well,
But disappointment swiftly enters when there’s another frightening spell.
There’s defeat and then there’s victory, and round and round it goes,
Parents try to shield their hearts from all the highs and lows.
A blissful scene of calm and beauty can quickly turn to chaos,
Reminding their littles they must breathe before their life is lost.
A sacred dance of grief and joy within each room takes place,
A circumstance no one would choose, but these parents are forced to embrace.
Frustration, anger, and confusion, expressed through the language of tears,
Melt away with the grace of a smile, even laughter is medicine here.
Surely, you can see this NICU roller-coaster, is one no parent ever hoped to ride,
but this journey is one they’d never trade for what it built inside.
It’s here, within these walls, they learn the depth of love and all its conquering power.
For when a love like this exists, doubt and fear it will devour.
Within the 4 walls of a NICU room, a training’s taking place,
The babies and the parents too, overcome each obstacle they face.
Inside these walls, faith grows strong, and courage soon develops,
For showing up when they’re afraid feels like a mountain they had to climb up.
Yes, if NICU walls could talk, they’d tell you when those families exit,
Out from their room walks a band of soldiers that refused to surrender or quit.
Melissa Kirsch, author of the NICU children’s book, Hello, Little Love!, is a mom to micro-preemie twin girls. Her girls were born at 25 weeks gestation and spent 198 days in the NICU.
Poem and picture courtesy of Melissa Kirsch.
1Preterm Birth. CDC.gov. Accessed January 10, 2023.