Hand to Hold's Official Blog: Written by Parents for Parents

Stress, Grief and Mental Health

Someone once told me, depression doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you’ve tried for too long to be strong. Months after my daughter came home from the hospital, those words resonated with me so much.

My pregnancy had been plagued with stress. At 12 weeks, we had our nuchal translucency screening and were told our child was high-risk for Down syndrome. I was told I was a carrier for cystic fibrosis, and my husband would need to be tested. I was told that the baby might have a congenital heart defect. For months the anxiety was nearly unbearable. I researched like a maniac; I cried and I worried. After genetic testing and a fetal echocardiogram, I was finally in the clear at around 22 weeks. For a blissful month, my pregnancy didn’t have a dark cloud looming over it.

Then at 26 weeks along, I was at work and sitting at my desk when I started to hemorrhage.

My OBGYN’s office was located right across the street, but by the time I made it to the exam room and changed into the paper gown, blood was streaming down my legs and forming a pool at my feet. I left there on a stretcher.

I spent the next two weeks in the hospital confined to a bed, sorely in need of a shower, arms black and blue from IVs and daily blood testing. Every couple of days I would bleed again and go into labor. Each time, I would be wheeled to the Labor & Delivery unit and be given a 12-hour IV dose of magnesium sulfate that made me deliriously ill, but it helped to calm the contractions. I had an ultrasound three times a week, but nobody could locate the precise source of the bleeding or discern the reason, other than to tell me it was “probably” a placental abruption.

NICU bonding, two weeks after birth

NICU bonding, two weeks after birth

One morning, at 28 weeks pregnant, I began to have especially strong contractions at around 4 a.m. This time, my water broke. Within the hour, my daughter was born via C-section. I remember the moment they pulled Evelyn out and held her up for me to see. So tiny and fragile. She weighed 2 pounds, 7 ounces and was 14 inches long. She had a black eye from the delivery. She let out a little cry that sounded more like the “mew” of a kitten, and then, because she was intubated, it would be a month until I heard her cry again, and a week before I could hold her.

The doctors praised me: I had held onto the baby for an extra two weeks and given her that beneficial extra time to grow. I just couldn’t get my mind around that concept. I was supposed to give her 40 weeks to grow, not 28. My body had failed her. She was encased in plexiglas with wires attached to her and a tube down her throat, being touched, poked and prodded. I had failed to do something every other woman seemed capable of doing. I wept and punched the pillow of my hospital bed, desperate to find an outlet for my anger and grief. I remember the hospital asking me to fill out the standard post-partum depression checklist. I don’t know why they bother giving them to preemie moms.

My daughter spent 68 relatively uneventful days in the NICU. At nearly 5 pounds (we thought that was so big!) she came home with an oxygen concentrator, apnea belt and pulse oximeter, and was on six medications. That was the last week of August, 2012. By December, she was off all the medication and equipment. She was doing great.

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We’re off oxygen! Christmas 2012

And that’s when things started to go horribly wrong for me. It’s hard to describe exactly, but it was like someone clicked a switch in my brain and my grip on reality faltered. I remember suddenly having a full-blown panic attack – I couldn’t breathe, my vision became blurry, and I thought I would fall down. I started having horrifying intrusive thoughts that would take over my brain, and which was later diagnosed as obsessive compulsive disorder. I had a constant feeling of impending doom. I didn’t eat; in one week I dropped five pounds.

The worst part was, Evelyn triggered my panic attacks. I had this sweet, precious daughter, such a little fighter, and at times I couldn’t bear to be in the same room with her. I fell into a deep depression. I looked forward to going to sleep at night, and I dreaded waking up in the morning. If I had to run out to do errands by myself, I would just sit in my car in the parking lot, staring forward, not wanting to go home. To make things worse, I felt guilty. My daughter had gone through so much, and now I was failing her again.

Thankfully, I took myself to get help. It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. I began seeing a wonderful psychiatrist and a therapist, and gradually I could feel things improving. My “bad days” began to wane, until eventually I had only a couple of them per month, and then they went away altogether.

I’m not sure if my condition would fall under the category of post-traumatic stress disorder, but I’m certain it was the result of the many months of fear, sadness, and guilt that I had experienced. I was always a sensitive and anxious person, but I believe I had reached my breaking point. My tired mind had had enough, but I’m grateful it held out long enough for Evelyn to get through her medical issues.

I won’t sugar coat it: For me, getting help was embarrassing. I had to talk about my intrusive thoughts. I broke down in front of people I really didn’t know. I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t as impervious as I had always thought I was. You know what? None of that mattered. What was important was healing so that I could once again be a good mother.

Like my therapist told me: if you broke your arm, would you feel ashamed getting medical attention for it? Depression and anxiety are no different. They’re medical conditions affecting the mind, but they’re not taken as seriously as physical ailments. Why? Probably because people can’t see them.

If you’re struggling with your mental health and it’s affecting your ability to be a good parent, it’s imperative that you put aside your reservations and get help.

For most of us, becoming the parent of a preemie was beyond our control. However, the choice to get help is very much our own. No matter how much things have spiraled out of control, how low you feel, there are people out there who know how to help you.

Kristin Beuscher About Kristin Beuscher

Kristin Beuscher (NJ) is the mother of Evelyn, born prematurely at 28 weeks due to chronic placental abruption. Evelyn weighed 2 pounds, 7 ounces at birth and spent 68 days in the NICU before coming home on oxygen. Today she is a perfectly healthy child. Kristin spent 10 years in journalism, most recently as editor of two weekly northern New Jersey newspapers, before becoming a stay-at-home mom in 2012. She seeks to provide hope for parents still in the NICU, as well as for those struggling with PTSD, anxiety or depression following the experience. Connect with her on Facebook.

Comments

  1. Such a powerful article. I am the grandmother of twin 26 preemie granddaughters that spent 96 days in the NICU and are now both perfect 19 months old. Yet, with the great news of the babies thriving and are perfect in every way, I struggled with unexplained panic attacks, sleeplessness, lack of appetite and feelings of impeding doom. Having spent 12 hour days in the NICU, most of their 96 days, with my daughter and son-in-law, I lived with the daily fears and roller coaster experience that parents and grandparents of preemies face. I have three other full term grandchildren from my two other children, so as an experienced grandparent, these feelings caught me off guard. Why would my days and nights be filled with these feelings, after we had two beautiful, healthy miracles at home – why couldn’t I just relax and enjoy the babies as they are – two healthy babies? This article addresses this. After being on hyper alert in a helpless state of the unkown minute to minute life of two babies for 96 days in the NICU, I could not exhale. I saw my two perfect granddaughters right in front of me, yet still buried in my mind, were two fragile babies hooked up to many beeping machines. Knowing that this is normal gives me hope that I can seek help and not continue to have these fears. Thank you for writing this amazing article and helping so many.

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