One of the moms on the CCF listserv I’m on sent an article out and I thought I would share it here. The NY Times recently had an article, “For Parents on NICU, Trauma May Last,” that discusses research that shows that parents who have babies in the NICU often suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder after they bring the baby home. The mom on the CCF listserv correctly pointed out that many of us who have had babies or even older children in the PICU (or like us, both in the NICU and then in the PICU) are also definitely at risk for this. I think the important thing to take away from this article is realizing that even when your child gets out of the hospital and is home with you, there may be lasting psychological effects for which you should seek help. The article is careful to point out something that may surprise some people – the PTSD is not correlated to the amount of time in the NICU or how sick the child was, but simply the parents’ coping style. I think this is important to realize.
If you are someone dealing with a sick child or who has dealt with a sick child, you should pay attention to yourself and how YOU are feeling as much as you do your child. It is difficult sometimes, but as the article clearly states, if parents allow themselves to get to the point where they are suffering from insomnia and/or depression, it has a very negative impact on the child. So, although you may not see taking care of yourself the same way you see taking care of your child, it not only is as important, it IS a way of taking care of your child!
I know that sometimes I would feel guilty about leaving the hospital and returning to the RMH at night instead of sleeping there with M. But, I am a light sleeper and I would wake up everytime someone came in or left the room, everytime a monitor went off, and everytime M made a noise. I realized that if I got sick, not only would I not be able to stay overnight, but I would not even be able to visit M, so I made the decision to sacrifice staying there at night to insure that I was able to be there during the day and evening.
I am glad that researchers are starting to look at the way sick children can impact the parents. Hopefully, insurance will cover treatment and parents will be willing to seek help when there are lasting effects from a child’s illness. Know your coping style. Know the signs that you are not coping well. And be willing to seek help if it becomes apparent that you need it. If you are a friend or family member of someone who has a sick child, be willing to listen to them, watch for signs they may need help and be supportive of them seeking help if they do need it.