Tuesday, August 25, 2009

NYT article: "For Parents on NICU, Trauma May Last"

Interesting article in today's New York Times about the lasting trauma faced by parents whose babies spend time in the NICU. The study cited is a relatively small sample... most of the parents I know whose children spent time in the NICU never took them home :( ... and I never had a NICU experience. But I recognize parts of myself and my own experience here, and it all rings true to me.

I found this part interesting, because it reflects what we see generally among our pregnancy loss support group clients (dad stays strong for mom at first, & then goes through his own tough times further down the road):
The Stanford study found that although none of the fathers experienced acute stress symptoms while their child was in the NICU, they actually had higher rates of post-traumatic stress than the mothers when they were followed up later. “At four months, 33 percent of fathers and 9 percent of mothers had P.T.S.D.,” Dr. Shaw said.

It may be that cultural roles compel the men to keep a brave front during the trauma to support their partners, Dr. Shaw said, adding, “But three months later, when the mothers have recovered, that’s when the fathers are allowed to fall apart.”

And this sure sounds familiar too:
One of the biggest problems for these parents is coping after they finally leave the NICU.

“It may be several months later when they’re ready to process what they experienced, but at that point, family and friends don’t want to talk about it anymore,” Dr. Holditch-Davis said.

Ms. Schrader, in Philadelphia, felt a similar isolation in dealing with her surviving daughter’s health problems. “We got the sense that people just didn’t want to hear about it anymore,” she said.

Read the rest here. And check out the comments (or add your own) on the Well blog.


  1. Good article - you always find the interesting ones!

    My oldest daughter was in the NICU after her emergency delivery at 33 weeks. The NICU experience was stressful to say the least, but I thought I managed it well. It was 2 months almost to the day after her birth and she was home that I went through the folder the hospital had sent home with us at her discharge. I completely broke down and spent the 2 day weekend a sobbing mess - just from looking at some papers. It hit me all that we had been through and because I had "relaxed" - it completely overwhelmed me.

    When my son was in the NICU some 3.5 years later, I was more seasoned and I think too angry with his nurse - that it didn't hit me like it did with my daughter.

    Just talking about those days/weeks, or remembering them can give me the shakes - still, even 9 and 12+ years later.

  2. This was a really interesting article, and one that seems to have comforted lots of the folks leaving comments. I hope hospitals start taking parental mental health--which in the end will impact infant health, too--into account. Maybe there are ways NICUs can be reconfigured, too, to be less traumatizing to all involved. I wonder if that would improve outcomes, too?

  3. I'd say those things are true of any trauma. My dad committed suicide in April 2008 and I fell apart straight away while my husband, who was very close to my dad, took longer. Similarly, to begin with I couldn't even begin to process his suicide and the aftermath and by the time I felt I COULD, it felt like no one cared enough anymore to talk to me about it.

  4. Thanks for posting - that's very interesting. Several people in my family have had babies in the NICU, and I want to be sensitive to them, so this helps.

  5. I had read that as well and felt like thr trauma extends past the NICU. My experience is so jaded that I wasn't too traumatized by Denis being in the NICU. I was thankful he was just alive. I was more traumatized by the death of Hannah. I wish sometimes that these media outlets would also include the trauma of stillbirth. I fully believe that I suffered PTSD from that experience, although my therapist never officially diagnosed me. I still get the flashbacks though and they can still bring me to my knees.