Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that's triggered by a traumatic event, most commonly associated with surviving war but now being recognized in parents of premature infants. Parents of premature children usually suffer from three of the most common symptoms of PTSD: avoidance or numbing, anxiety and flashbacks or nightmares, however, there are broad types of symptoms for PTSD listed below.
In my reading and research, symptoms of PTSD typically start within three to six months after a traumatic event. That timeline made perfect sense to me because those feelings wouldn’t be recognized until they could be processed, which for myself was once my son was out of the NICU and home. Learning that forced me to reflect on possibly where my distress stemmed from, and it didn’t take me long to figure it out. I have often described that time in my life as “the great sleepwalk.” Even to this day it’s a bit hazy because I was on auto-pilot, my actions mechanical in nature until I reached the door of the NICU. Once inside, the ritual of taking off my coat and washing my hands couldn’t happen fast enough. The walk towards my son’s isolette seemed to take ages, the pang in my stomach ever present until I could see my son, so tiny, so fragile but alive. It was only then that I could feel myself “thaw,” my spirit coming back only when I could hold my micro-preemie son and see that he was okay. That conflict inside of me happened everyday, multiple times a day. That type of repetition was a constant rollercoaster of emotions and frightening unknowns. If I had to pin it down, that’s where I would nail my anguish.
Although there is no one study that gives a specific number, it is estimated that anywhere between 60 - 70% of women who have a child in the NICU will experience PTSD. Men also don’t go unscathed - it is estimated that up to 33% of men with a child in the NICU will experience PTSD, although it may affect them differently. Some preemie moms have described feeling panicked by any type of “beeping” noise, as it reminds them of the monitors and the constant sounds of the NICU. Some preemie moms feel panicked by their child having a minor cold or bout of loose stool because it takes them back to when those types of medical events were life-threatening. Others may struggle with feelings of anger towards family members and friends that can have healthy, full-term babies while their child is struggling to survive in the NICU. This only leaves them to feel more shame and guilt, creating a vicious cycle of low self-esteem. If left untreated, over time PTSD sufferers may develop severe anxiety, panic attacks, depression, insomnia, numbness to feelings and anger at others who can have healthy pregnancies. These symptoms can sometimes impair their abilities as parents.
That’s why I wanted to share my experience with PTSD. Although I am in therapy and journal to help with my PTSD, it’s still something I struggle with every day. Just like any other ailment I have my good days and my not so good days, but that’s what makes it a process. I know there is a lesson to be learned here; that’s why I wanted to share what I used to be so ashamed of. I wanted to offer the followers of His Middle Name these simple words: you are not alone. No matter where you are in your journey, I hope that His Middle Name has helped you heal or at least validated you and your experience. If you believe yourself to be suffering from PTSD, I encourage you to get into individualized or peer to peer therapy. There are also many hospital-based parent support groups and online groups where you can jump in and share your experiences. Believe me, the emotional relief is worth it!
His Middle Name was started with a small hope that sharing my experiences would resonate with another parent, another woman. It is my continued hope that His Middle Name be your personal support network and community. To become more involved with the efforts of His Middle Name and share your story and pictures, please visit the Facebook page here.