“And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in”.
Parents shouldn’t have to weather the NICU storm alone. Yet we know, after discharge from hospital, many of them do.
That is why The Smallest Things is launching a new mental health campaign, addressing directly the lack of understanding among primary healthcare professionals of the mental health needs of parents after premature birth.
Having a baby in neonatal care can test you to your very limits. The uncertainty, the shock; the highs and the lows.
As your body recovers from the physical realities of birth, your mind tries to piece together the medical world that surrounds you. People would often ask how I managed to get through our time in Neonatal Intensive Care; “You must have been so strong”, people would say, “You must have been so brave”. The truth is I was neither of these things. Like thousands of parents, I simply had no other choice.
Lost in a sea of emotions, the rituals of NICU soon took over. Expressing, traveling, incubator nappy changes, kangaroo care and hours and hours of watching and waiting. Your life becomes neonatal care and in the agony of leaving my baby each day I would turn to the advice of Piglet and Pooh – “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” AA Milne.
The sun was shining on the day we left the hospital and I still remember the feelings of relief and hope for the future. The days of NICU would soon become a distant memory – or so I thought.
I quickly came to realise that our journey as prem parents had only just begun, only now the safety net of the neonatal unit and of other NICU parents who ‘got it’ had gone.
Questions about how I’d had made it through NICU became redundant – I’d made it this far because I had to. But I was still battling; just about holding on, trying to make sense of all that had happened. Rather than well-meaning comments from my health visitor such as “I bet you’re glad you’re home” and “it must have been difficult” (as well as other ill-informed comments about expressing, breast feeding and corrected ages), I was crying out for someone who understood. Someone who knew and would tell me that the overwhelming emotions of grief, loss, guilt and jealously, the anger, the anxiety and worry were completely normal for a NICU mum.
The support for parents following neonatal intensive care is limited and The Smallest Things have received countess examples of where primary health care professionals such as GP’s and health visitors simply do not understand the needs of premature babies and their families. And yet, we know that more than 40% of mothers go onto experience post-natal depression following NICU, and that more than 50% show signs of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. More must be done.
In launching our new mental health campaign, The Smallest Things will call for GP’s and Health Visitors to be trained to recognise and support the needs of parents following neonatal care. Will you help to raise awareness too?
SIGN NOW! – https://www.change.org/p/the-nursing-and-midwifery-council-gps-and-health-visitors-please-recognise-the-mental-health-needs-of-nicu-parents?recruiter=83525408&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=share_email_responsive