Life as a NICU Parent: Coping and Anger

small premature newborn baby in NICU incubator with loving adult hand by head

Welcome back to our
Life as a NICU Parent series.

When you become a parent to a NICU baby, you become part of an exclusive club no one wants to join. While every birth and baby are different, it’s possible to find some comfort in sharing your experiences with others who have been there. NICU parents often go through a process similar to grief even though their babies are born living. These feelings may ebb and flow depending on the day and even the time of day. They may even continue after parents are able to bring baby home. This is normal and nothing to be ashamed or afraid of.

“I should have paid a little more attention to my healing.”

The birth parent may deny their own need for recovery, telling themselves and their caretakers, “I feel fine,” in order to get out of bed and see the baby. Exhausting yourself, though, won’t help you help your baby and may cause more stress for you, your partner and/or other children. It’s okay to ask for help even if you haven’t brought the baby home yet. It’s even more important if you are also recovering from a difficult pregnancy or birth. Ask someone to drive you to the hospital to see the baby or drop off pumped milk for you. Enlist friends and family to take care of other children or household errands so you can rest. You may have a long journey ahead of you, and you will need all the strength you can muster.

Parents of NICU babies may feel angry.

They may feel angry at themselves for not being able to deliver a healthy baby or help their child in this time of need or at doctors and nurses for spending more time with the baby than they can. They could be angry at well-meaning friends offering congratulations when they don’t feel like celebrating or trying to comfort them by saying, “It could be worse…” or even resentful of healthy babies who don’t have to struggle. Anger is a normal emotion that needs a safe outlet to prevent destructive outbursts or chronic stress.

It’s often helpful to redirect your attention from angry thoughts and emotions to physical sensations. Concentrate on sensory information: sight, sound, smell, touch. Go for a walk outside if you are cleared for exercise. Journaling or art can help process negative emotions. Write down all your feelings and thoughts; you can keep these entries or destroy them as a way of letting go. Talking to other NICU parents can validate your experience and reassure you that what you feel is normal and you are not “crazy.”

“The NICU is such a roller coaster. It can be the worst place in the world AND the best.”

Check back soon for our third post Life as a NICU Parent: What to Do When You Feel Helpless or Hopeless in our four-part seriesMiss the first part? Catch up with Part 1: “Finding Out”.

If you or someone you know is in need of doula support during or after a NICU stay, please get in touch on our Contact page or by phone. We would be honored to provide support during this emotional time.