Emotions run high in the NICU. Sadness, worry, grief, frustration... these are some of the obvious feelings people express. But there are a couple of emotions that are incredibly common and yet not talked about, usually because families feel bad about having these feelings.
Firstly, there's jealousy. Parents in the NICU often find that they're jealous of the other families in the NICU. Why? Another baby is healthier, another baby is closer to going home, another baby is less fussy, cuter... they have a better nurse that day than you do, they live nearby and can visit their baby more often than you can... the list can go on and on. I think it's important to simply understand that it's natural to experience jealousy while you're in the NICU, and it's ok. Find support people you can talk with about how you're feeling (social worker, partner, friends) and go easy on yourself.
The flip side of this jealousy is when you find yourself feeling guilty that your situation is better than another family's in the NICU - your baby is healthier, coming home sooner, less fussy....Again, it's natural and it's ok. There really is no way around the fact that within the NICU there will be more tragic situations and more fortunate, and likely you will be somewhere in the middle. Many families offer their support to fellow NICU families, either offering to drive or help deliver milk for a family who can't visit often, and often just talking with the other families is incredibly healing. I know, because of health privacy laws, the hospital staff will not share any information about any other babies, but they do not need to prevent families from talking with each other, and fellow NICU families are often one of your best sources of understanding and support. One mother describes this type of situation so well in this touching blog post, Preemie Survivor Guilt.
There is another type of guilt we see often in the NICU - when parents blame themselves for their baby's illness. Mothers blame themselves for baby's premature birth, parents blame themselves for a genetic defect - whatever it is, parents painfully place the blame squarely on themselves. I wish I had the power to stop these unproductive and harmful thoughts from occurring, but I don't. I have seen that mothers who feel a lot of guilt do tend to feel better after talking about it. Finding support groups, online or locally, can be a wonderful way to deal with these feelings. Again, hospital social workers and supportive friends & family can do wonders. And try some of the mindfulness practices for the NICU I recommend when you find yourself getting carried away by these feelings.
One of the worst things to do with guilt and jealousy is to suppress it, ignore it, keep it all to yourself. Lots of moms & dads say that they are worried that they are weird or mean or strange for having feelings like this, and they are relieved when they realize they are not alone. You are NOT the only person with raging crazy feelings about what's going on - I guarantee other families have shared your emotions. So don't be embarrassed or afraid of your feelings, share them. It will help.
Photo Credit: Leannz0r