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Everyone knows that PTSD is usually used to refer to those who have previously been in combat. Throughout the years, it's been found that other traumatic events can cause PTSD as well, including having a premature child. Kara Wahlin discusses her trauma in her article on About.com.
She's the mom of 26-weeker twin boys, one who didn't make it. She and her husband spent three long months traveling to and from the NICU. She probably lost count on how many hours she'd been there per day, forgotten if she'd eaten, and quite honestly, probably held her breath hoping the other shoe didn't drop. Feelings I remember too well.
My eldest child is also a 26-weeker. At 24 weeks I developed preeclampsia, and by the end of that week it had caused my blood pressure to go out of control and I was admitted to the hospital. At 25 weeks, I was informed that I would be in the hospital for the duration of my pregnancy – that only lasted one more week, unfortunately.
Reading about Mrs. Wahlin's baby boys reminded me of the reality all parents face when we enter those NICU doors. Every time I left, I hoped and prayed I didn't get a phone call. No news was good news. That meant nothing had gone awry in my absent hours. Even now, as I read and type, I get kind of emotional with all of the what if's.
What if my mother hadn't noticed I was particularly sluggish that Saturday evening and take my blood pressure? The thought of that alone scares me more than anything. Besides being tired, I didn't have any other high blood pressure symptoms, and, had it gone any higher, I could have had a seizure with very little warning. What if my daughter hadn't thrived once she got here? I literally just broke down into tears imagining if she was not a success story.
I get anxious when I walk in to Akron Children's hospital, it doesn't matter for what. They have a brand new NICU, and my daughter is on their Wall of Hope. Going into a brand new building that I've never stepped foot in put me on alert. When they opened and had the ceremony for all the Wall of Hope families, I was pregnant with my son. Being in there, even for something happy, put me on edge hoping that I would not end up making this my home away from home, again. I saw the struggle other families dealt with having older children to care for, while trying to keep up with their premature baby.
My emotional experience could have been worse, but I was consistently being seen by a counselor and put on prescription medicine. Before my pregnancy, I was already being treated for anxiety and depression. So naturally, once I was slated to stay in the hospital for the duration of my pregnancy, my doctors were on heightened awareness.
NICU staff are major players in looking after not only to the babies, but the families. And I would like to say the staff at Akron Children's NICU do exactly that. Even past and present NICU families try to help one another through their various situations. Those two months were the most stressful times of my life, but I'm so thankful I was at a place that fully cared about not just my child, but me as well.
I honestly never thought of my feelings as PTSD. I just figured my anxiety was kicking up, but it seems to fit the description...
Photos courtesy of Makita Gulley
(Thanksgiving 2013.) I wasn't allowed to see her for 4 days until I was granted a pass to leave the hospital. This is usually as far back as I go with her pictures, her very first pictures when she was born still upset me slightly.
Christmas gifts from past NICU families.
(1/23/13) The Great NICU Escape! They told me to anticipate at least a 3 month stay; she was discharged a day before she turned 2 months
This is her Wall of Hope plaque in Akron Children's Hospital NICU.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.