by Maegan Sheiman
NICU parents are no strangers to grief. In an instant, we are forced to take in the feeling of loss in so many forms it seems impossible to balance. As we watch our little ones’ struggle, we grieve their pain. We grieve missing that magical birthing experience. The moment when the doctor hands you your baby, everything is perfect, and you cry happy tears as love overflows in the room. We grieve the journey home with healthy baby in our arms. We grieve missing milestones like babies first bath. We grieve our life before the NICU. We grieve the daily struggle of 1 step forward and 2 steps back and the possibility of our stay being prolonged. The list of grief can go on forever. What’s even more difficult to grasp is the guilt that may come along with it. This guilt is a dangerous path. It makes you feel wrong to watch your little one fight for their lives while we mourn what could have been or what once was.
I am here to tell you it’s ok to let yourself grieve. In fact, it’s normal, it’s healthy and it’s necessary to let yourself go through this process. Maybe it seems cliché to walk yourself through the 5 stages of grief but with every hit you take while in the NICU going through this process and letting yourself go through this process is what will bring you to acceptance of your circumstance and the things that cannot be changed.
Denial will come as no surprise. You will face challenging decisions, harsh results, unwanted procedures and illness, permanent device implants and so much more. There is so much truth to the rollercoaster analogy and we want to believe the tests are wrong or there are other options.
Anger is always the next natural instinct and often times the medical staff may bear the brunt of this. Luckily this isn’t their first rodeo. They do understand we need someone to blame and they are the easiest targets. Just remember they are there for you and your baby.
Bargaining steps right in when we start researching other options, something else must be out there and maybe there is. It’s always worth asking and gaining as much knowledge as possible but also remember trust your medical staff to give you the information that best suits your babies case.
Depression gets us that much closer to acceptance and it really almost goes hand in hand. You can be depressed because you have come to the realization that this circumstance is what it is. This is where guilt may set in as well. While important and a natural reaction/phase of the process it’s just as important to carry yourself through this and into acceptance. Don’t let yourself get caught in depression for an extended period of time. Sadness plus guilt can be hard to overcome and is a delicate balance to maintain when you are vulnerable. Just remember, if you do find yourself stuck and having difficulty coming out of this phase to ask for help.
Acceptance allows you embrace the full process of what you are experiencing. While it may seem as faint as can be it will help you see there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe it’s not as bright as you hoped, maybe it’s not the same color, maybe it’s not even a light and it’s something completely different! Either way it’s there and it’s a new path. It may be the unexpected path or the unwanted path but accepting it will help you appreciate every small victory gained.
Now you can embrace how far your baby has come as a gift and going through this will only strengthen you for what may still lie ahead. Your will find you get to create your own milestones for your little one and because they have to fight so much harder to reach them, celebrating them is even more exciting. This is just one of the many examples of why you must let yourself grieve. Grief is what gets you to the other side, the greener pasture, the next phase. You will face it so much more than you ever thought you would in a lifetime while in the NICU, but you and your baby will come out so much stronger and more resilient on the other side. You will learn so much about how strong you really are as a person and a parent. Most of all, you will find a strength you never knew you had and all because you let yourself grieve.
You Got This.