NICU Families NW
Self Care

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to share my thoughts on taking care of your emotional self after the NICU. I hope my thoughts resonate with some of you and that you take comfort in knowing that it’s okay to struggle.
So I’ve always been a big proponent of mental health self-care and have been in and out of counseling since I was a teenager for run-of-the-mill depression with occasional anxiety. But the NICU experience tested me in way I hadn’t experienced before. I expected to be depressed… I just assumed it was a given considering the near tragedy we lived through. I could easily recognize elements of PTSD in myself but I genuinely believe I was too preoccupied to register feelings of depression at the time. I was too preoccupied to register most feelings apart from fatigue, relief (when we came home and could finally breath), and irritation with the rest of the world for not understanding my experience. And I saw a counselor for a long time after Miranda was born, but it felt like it was more to process the trauma and grief than to manage depression.
After having my second daughter, the feelings I had were complex. First I thought everything was easy. I was genuinely confused because I felt so good and it seemed like having a term baby— a healthy, gigantic (compared to my preemie), sweet natured baby, was just… easy. Then fatigue set in. And the reality of two children, one still toilet training. And I started losing steam. I started feeling like I was slipping and my patience… my ability to stay on course, my ability to stay calm starting diminishing. I was angry. A lot. Angry at other drivers, angry at my husband, angry that Miranda wouldn’t cooperate. I found myself regularly losing my temper with Miranda, and it made me feel awful. But worse was the frustration I felt at not being able to just deal with it. I wanted so badly to be able to cope. I felt like having a term baby after my NICU experience should have felt like a gift and that having lived through the NICU, I should be able to manage regular old postpartum life. I felt like anyone who saw me from the outside would have asked, “What does she have to be so upset about?”
I finally realized I needed some help when I thought to myself, “I’m really not a very nice person right now, and I don’t want that for myself, for my husband, or for my kids.” So I met with my doctor and tore through half a box of kleenex, and I told her about the arguments I’d been having with Peter, losing my temper in the grocery store parking lot with Miranda, and feeling like Winona’s crying made me want to climb the walls. And I emailed my counselor and said, “I think I need to start seeing you again.” And before I even began taking the medication I’m now on, I can honestly tell you I felt a release. Just by admitting to someone else that I felt out of control and sharing how sad it made me to feel like I was being unkind to the people I love… the pressure eased, and I began to regain my equilibrium.
This is all to say that the experience of having a child is hard on you: mind, body, and soul. The experience of having a child in the NICU adds another dimension that is hard for non-NICU people to understand, and you may find you need some help to cope or process the experience. It’s okay to struggle because the struggle is part of the process. And every birth is different. Every marriage (or relationship) is different. And every year of your life brings new challenges unique to where you are at that moment. I was shocked to feel so at a loss after Winona’s birth after weathering the storm that was 80 days in the NICU.
The truth is we are a lot of things for our children. We are their shoulder to cry on, we’re their advocates, we’re their educators, we’re their cheerleaders, we’re their champions, and so much more. But we have to save a little something for ourselves, and if you feel that slipping away- if you feel depressed, or anxious, or irritable, or angry- I encourage you to ask for help. I sincerely believe that one of the best ways to take care of my children is to take care of myself, because I have more of me to give when I am at my best.
I’m glad to say I feel more like myself these days. Thanks to counseling, medication, and a great number of encouraging memes and posts about the almost hilarious/maddening/joyful/annoying experience of parenthood that circulate amongst my friends, I feel like I’m able to be the mom I want and need to be for my kids and the partner I want and need to be for my husband. If you’ve ever felt adrift emotionally I hope this helps. Thank you for reading.