Life as a NICU Parent: Finding Out

NICU stonesprings parent dad and newborn baby's fists unite for first bump with confidence not hopelessness.

Welcome to our Life as a NICU Parent series.

We hope to offer a glimpse into shared sentiments and experiences of NICU parents. In this series, we’ll talk about how it feels to join these ranks, the emotional and physical struggles, finding a silver lining and eventually moving forward. We hope to shed light on the difficulty of being a parent to a NICU baby, and to bring hope and validation to anyone who may be on or have previously shared in this not uncommon journey.

Some families learn during pregnancy that their babies will need care by a hospital’s NICU team. Instead of looking forward to birth with eager anticipation or anxious excitement, many expectant parents find themselves worrying day in and day out about the birth of their baby. When will it happen? How long can we delay the inevitable? If I’m this scared already, what will the birthing day be like? Another specific concern we heard from people who had been in this position was how to make the separation of the birthing person from their family work. Some parents said they worried just as often about the impact of their separation from either partners and/or older children on the family unit as they did the health and well-being of their unborn baby.

Other families find out their babies will need NICU support during the birth or shortly thereafter. Regardless of the labor (long, short, induced, spontaneous, drug-free, medically-managed, etc.), finding out your baby needs medical attention during an already incredibly vulnerable, emotional time is intense.

We asked parents to use one word to describe how they felt when they learned their baby was going to the NICU, and the resounding answer was scared. The other most commonly offered words were:

Heartbroken. Helpless. Devastated. Guilty.

Many people told us the time from finding out to it actually happening was a whirlwind and that the experience generally caused a lot of confusion. I thought I had had a normal, low-risk pregnancy. The baby had just had a normal non-stress test that morning. The doctors didn’t seem concerned before. We thought we’d make it to 37 weeks. They just took my baby from me. I felt like the staff betrayed me by not telling me. I was devastated that my body had let him down. 

No one can tell you how to feel and none of the things you feel are wrong. You can also hold two seemingly conflicting sentiments at the same time (like being grateful for modern medicine and feeling robbed of the birth experience you wanted).

You are allowed to feel all the feelings – or none at all. This step in the journey is a massive one and not everyone has to experience it the same way, not even two parents of the same baby.

Keep reading about Life as a NICU Parent in Part 2: Coping and Anger

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.