Even as an OB nurse, I Didn’t Realize it was PTSD

At 35 weeks, I developed severe preeclampsia and had to be induced.

That morning, I left for work not knowing it would be five weeks before I’d come back home.  By the end of the day, I found myself on an antepartum unit, being taken care of by my coworkers. Labs were drawn and a 24 hour urine was started. I wanted to be so certain that I was making the right decision.  I struggled going forth with an induction that I knew would give me a premature baby.  As a labor nurse, I knew my physician was making the right decision. My blood pressure was so high my vision pulsated. Out of nowhere, I would vomit uncontrollably.  I could barely see a foot in front of my face.  And less than 24 hours later, with plummeting platelets and multiple doses of pushed Labetalol, I knew there was no way out of an early delivery.

Knowing in advance that my baby had suffered an intrauterine brain bleed when I was 20 weeks pregnant, I had always expected he would go to the NICU.  My entire pregnancy I fought to give him the very best start in life, and I felt like I had stripped him of that when my body betrayed me and began to fail the both of us. When he was born, I watched as the neo team assessed him. He looked so incredibly perfect, for a moment I really thought everything was going to be okay.  I asked the neo team if I could hold him skin-to-skin, really believing that would solve everything. I placed him against my bare chest and held all 4 pounds 5 ounces of him for only a moment before realizing I wasn’t going to be able to fix him.

Journey

As he started grunting louder and louder, I suddenly couldn’t bear to hold him. I couldn’t stand hearing him struggle for breath.  I distinctly remember looking at his face as I handed him back to the nurses, praying for his forgiveness for having to let him go.  And before I knew it, the neo team whisked him off to the NICU, and I was alone in a room full of people who were still smiling and excited about the birth of my baby.  But I was in a panic.  Frantically, I asked my nurse for a breast pump, knowing it was crucial I pumped as soon as possible after delivery to help establish a good milk supply.  I stared at the Magnesium Sulfate drip next to my bed, aware it would keep me imprisoned in my room and out of the NICU.  And as people began to dwindle out of my room, all I could do was try to remember exactly what his face looked like in those few moments I was able to hold him.

Mom and Link

To this day, I’m so thankful for the nurses and neo team that took care of us. Although I wasn’t able to hold my baby for long, if I close my eyes I can still remember the way his bare little body felt against me.  And those few moments I was able to hold him skin-to-skin were the only moments that I had actually planned and pictured in my mind before he was born.

I suffocated on feelings of guilt, and anxiety ate away any rational thoughts. What no one tells you about having a NICU baby is that suddenly, separation is supposed to become normal.  The only problem is…it’s not normal.  Women have to eat, and sleep, and take care of their other children.  So it becomes this constant inner struggle, an endless loop of guilt, desperation, and bargaining.  Everything becomes “I could have, I should have, I need to, if only…”  And the constant alarms, and lighting, and the endless amount of machines and cords begins to swirl around your head until you’re not quite sure what time it is or if there’s an end in sight.  What no one tells you about being a NICU mom is that you will be forced to allow strangers to take care of your baby. A different level of exhaustion will set in. You will still eat and sleep, but at a price. No one tells you that you will be overly nice to your newborn’s nurses or that you’d remortgage your house if it would just guarantee that his nurses were good to him.

Being a NICU mom was one of the hardest experiences of my life, and I had the absolute best people taking care of my baby.  I just couldn’t get use to the separation.  Even now, when I walk through a NICU, my heart skips around in my chest.  If I were to ever get pregnant again, my biggest fear would not be of torn retinas and throbbing vision from blood pressure so high it could have caused a stroke or a seizure. Without hesitation, it would be of having another NICU baby. Even though I had some of the best nurses and physicians taking care of my son, I was still stripped of the ability to take care of him myself, and I had waited so long to meet him.

To any nurse out there that takes care of a NICU baby, never forget that the NICU might be normal for you, but it will never be normal for a mother.  You may not see the lights and or hear the sounds or notice the monitors, but when combined with exhaustion, they may make a mother feel disoriented and completely out of place.  But most of all, if you are the mother of a NICU baby, know that you aren’t alone. So many women have stood in your place and have walked in your shoes and understand what you’re going through.  Talk to your family, talk to your physician, talk to your nurse. And remember, you are so much stronger than you know.

Until my next delivery ❤

For Parents on NICU, Trauma May Last – New York Times article

The NICU Family Support program – March of Dimes

Pregnant? Have a PEP talk…


25 thoughts on “Even as an OB nurse, I Didn’t Realize it was PTSD

  • February 15, 2015 at 6:21 am
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    Thank you for this post. I had a normal pregnancy and when my full term baby was born she suffered from double pneumothorax. It was heartbreaking to only get a minute or two of skin on skin time before she was whisked away to be stabilized for transfer to NICU. The feeling of her being taken away so soon and it being so long before I was able to hold her still makes my heart hurt. She’s doing well now but I still think “what if. .. “

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  • February 15, 2015 at 10:51 am
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    This is so eerily familiar. With my 4th and last baby she was born at 34&6 due to eve later BP and a 1.0 urine. The difference is I didn’t get to hold her for 10 days. The day I got to hold her was the day of my mother’s funeral. I was mourning both the loss of my mom and the “normal” birth I thought I would have. One thing you didn’t meantion is how the NICU is the scariest place in the hospital with it’s own rules and regulations. I’m a student nurse now and it is still a scary place for me. Thank you for writing this! You will never understand unless you’ve been there yourself.

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    • February 15, 2015 at 1:31 pm
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      I work at Texas Children’s Hospital and there rules and regulations are so different from most places. I held my baby skin to skin even while he was on CPAP

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  • February 15, 2015 at 1:41 pm
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    Thank you for the piece you wrote. Very well written! I have the privilege to say that I’m an NICU nurse but unfortunately I’m also an NICU mom so I can relate! Everything you said is the truth and I even had my own colleagues taking care of my little one. I hand picked who started his IVs, I criticized the doctors and questioned every little decision even though on a normal day at work I trusted them all without a doubt. It didnt matter…guilt, exhaustion like I’ve never felt and this feeling in the pit of my stomach that wouldnt go away were what i felt the WHOLE time I was there. There is nothing to prepare you for it…even seeing it/working it all the time.

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  • February 15, 2015 at 2:56 pm
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    Reblogged this on Sophia's Story and commented:
    As we travel the journey of recurrent pregnancy loss, I have often thought of how my emotions cross into the realm of PTSD. Working in mental health, I know all too well about the flashbacks, hypervigilance, nightmares, and numbing fear that those who suffered traumatic events now deal with. War, abuse, witnessing a murder: all horrific precipitating events. I would never be like that. But I am. With every subsequent pregnancy, each ultrasound paralyzes me taking my breath away until a heartbeat is found. Due dates, loss dates, birth dates, test dates, death dates are all ominous as they approach with a fear looming that the same fate will return. I often awake from bad dreams of loss, the babies that never were, and the complications that have vanquished my life. While my day-to-day functioning remains fairly intact, these PTSD-like symptoms sneak in overwhelmingly.

    As I follow many bloggers at different stages of pregnancy loss, infertility treatments, and pregnancies, I often wonder how many of us can relate to each other on this level. Sadly, I would venture a guess: all of us.

    As this blog post by an OB nurse demonstrates, PTSD-like symptoms lurk anywhere at any stage of having a baby. Bringing a child into the world is one of the most important things we can do as human beings, so it only makes sense that when it doesn’t go harmoniously, we achieve the opposite effect.

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  • February 15, 2015 at 5:35 pm
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    As a NICU mom twice, reading this made my eyes tear up. I totally relate! Thanks for sharing!

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  • February 15, 2015 at 5:52 pm
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    Good and important story that all nurses should read. Not all babies born at 35 weeks, even at 4lbs, will need NICU care. Nurses need to see stories like this to better understand what our Mom’s need

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  • February 16, 2015 at 12:12 am
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    I had preeclampsia twice and ended up with 2 preemies, 11 weeks each in the NICU. I didn’t get to hold either one of mine before they were taken to the NICU. The first was born in a hospital 70 miles away from our Children’s Hospital and was taken by helicopter, and the second was born in the same town but a different hospital and taken by ambulance to the NICU. It is was the hardest thing we’ve ever done, even with the awesome nurses we had at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

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  • February 17, 2015 at 4:36 am
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    My second child came 9 weeks early due to Absent pulmonary value syndrome, excess amniotic fluid, and hydrops. We knew she’d be in the ICN before she was born. We toured the facility and met the doctors. For six weeks we transformed our daily ritual into visiting her side, caring for our older son, and finding time to eat and sleep, basically waiting for the day she would pass away. I went through depression and anxiety and insomnia for months afterward.

    My most frustrating moments were listening to moms who had the opportunity to breastfeed in the ICN complain about the process and give up. I would have given ANYTHING to hold and breastfeed my baby, but the ventilator made that impossible. Ocassionally, we could hold her, but it was an amazing production that was sometimes discouraged by the nurses and respiratory staff. When all the time you have is a few hours each day to look at your daughter, you want the staff to be as supportive as possible.

    A very well written post.

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  • February 17, 2015 at 5:34 am
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    I delivered twins at 33 weeks due to twin-to-twin transfusion. Baby B was the donor twin and weighed only 2 lbs. 13 oz. Baby A weighed 4 lbs. 11 oz. I didn’t get to hold Baby A at all, and barely got a glimpse of her. They did show me Baby B after she was assessed but only for a few seconds. I still am sad that I didn’t get to hold them. I remember my first trip to the NICU – a world I never even knew existed. One of the most difficult things was taking Baby A home after two weeks, but having to leave Baby B for two more weeks. Talk about torn – did I stay with the baby who was home, or visit the baby still in the NICU? (Baby A had excellent home care so that wasn’t a concern) A very trying time in my life, to say the least.

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  • February 17, 2015 at 5:39 am
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    I was an Labor and delivery nurse in the past but the nicu is a whole different world! My son was born at 25 and 3 weeks after I had preeclampsia. My son stayed in the nicu for 179 days-there were many heart wrentching tearful times! I just remember the fear everytime my phone rang when I wasnt at the NICU- It was a constant fear for me! Reading these stories help so much.. I felt so alone in the nicu and one of the nurses gave me this facebook page and it helped so much! So everyone please share your stories! Only we know how this journey feels! #nicugrad we have been home for 1 month today!

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    • February 17, 2015 at 9:45 pm
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      Andrea, hang in there. It gets easier with time. I gave birth to my son at 22 wks, 6 days almost three years ago. He was 4 weeks old before I could hold him (and that was with special permission from his neonatologist while he was on an oscillator) and spent 16 weeks in the nicu. The first year is scary (germaphobia is a major understatement), but in time things got better, and now he’s an energetic, mischievous toddler. I still carry my phone in my pocket at all times, an old habit from the nicu days and I still check his breathing sometimes when he sleeps, but otherwise, we finally reached a sense of normality after the first 18 months. Check out the fb site “peek-a-boo ICU”. It’s a fantastic place to connect with other parents on your journey. Good luck and God bless your little one.

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  • February 17, 2015 at 7:33 am
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    I love this story. My Daughter was born at 26 weeks due to preeclampsia, and stayed in the NICU 5 1/2 months before finally coming home. No parent could ever understand the emotional roller coaster ride parents of preemies go through. I didn’t hold my child for over a month, and then it was with ventilator tubes, IVs and hoses sticking out of every part of her body. That special moment holding my baby for the first time was absolutely terrifying. I didn’t know whether to be happy or grieve. The birth of a child is supposed to be one of the happiest moments of your life, but when filled with so much worry, guilt, and sadness, a Mother tends to grieve and become a confuses emotional wreck. Thank you for posting this. It’s nice to know there are others who understand this feeling.

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  • February 17, 2015 at 9:42 am
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    Hi!
    My son had a similar situation as far as the intracranial brain bleed, but we didn’t know about it til day of life 2 when he started having apneic seizures. He was transferred to Vanderbilt Childrens Hospital from the local hospital where I work as an L&D nurse. They never really figured out what caused the bleed. I was wondering how they found your son’s and did they attribute it to anything? Or was it just found at your routine 20 week US?? My son is healthy and you never would have known anything happened to him! He will be 3 next month! Hope your son is doing well!!

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    • February 17, 2015 at 1:40 pm
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      Yes, it was at a routine ultrasound appointment at my MFM. His was confined to his cerebellum., which was the luckiest part of the whole thing. I had viral meningitis early in my pregnancy and they think that’s what caused him to have it. ..

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    • February 17, 2015 at 1:41 pm
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      And yes, he’s perfect! He someone’s had coordination problems but we don’t know if it’s from that or just being a toddler lol

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  • March 9, 2015 at 12:37 pm
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    As a labor and delivery nurse I experienced the NICU as a “nana”. You see we were told Harper Rane had aborted at 7 weeks and he didn’t. Then at 21 .2 weeks my daughter had pain and bleeding and ultrasound revealed bulging membranes and no measurable cervix. I continued to pray and after being given the choice of 1.AROM with epidural 2. Let your body do it’s own thing or 3.If you show signs of uterine scar pain I will do a csection to save your life and your baby will not survive. So she chose let her body do its thing, she wanted to feel her labor and experience whatever time she could with her baby. As prayers were answered 24 hours passed and I put her on strict bedrest. Put her on her head and prayed on my knees. My daughter asked me more than once how do I go home without my baby. What do I do with him ?
    As God answered my prayers there was enough cervix for a cerclage and 5 days later she did whatever was asked of her. Anything to save her baby. She spent 4 weeks on antepartum and 9 weeks at home on bedrest. At 34 weeks Jan. 20,2015 she started showing signs of preeclampsia and the time had come to deliver her baby. Harper weighed in at 4.15 and spent 16 days in NICU. This experienced has changed me , my life, my family and my nursing . The time in NICU still haunts my daughter and I try to avoid the unit. Yes we were more than blessed to get to have a baby in NICU , we counted our blessings not our trials. The truth is as much as NICU is a blessing it is also traumatic. Thank you for sharing with others the ins and outs from a professional perspective.

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  • March 13, 2015 at 6:11 am
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    I’ve been a NICU nurse for 16 yrs. Three years ago, I joined the ranks of NICU mom. Let me just tell you- it is SO much easier to be on the nurse side. Although I expected my 36.6 wkr to be in the NICU d/t a heart condition, I did not expect 3 NICU’s in 2 states and open heart surgery at 11 days old. To say I was a wreck is an understatement. For a long time, I replayed every moment of our scary journey in my mind. I definitely think the NICU experience can lead to a little PTSD. I only hope I’m a more compassionate nurse & can ease the journey for families I care for now.

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  • April 8, 2015 at 1:22 am
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    Sounds like you had HELLP in addition to your pre-eclampsia? That was our story…delivered at 37 weeks, 5 days with HELLP and pre-e.

    Reply

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