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Common Feelings of Grief

Help & Support - a quick look

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Parenting a preemie can be tough and it's important to find ways of coping and looking after your own health. It can also make you feel more in control if you can learn some great strategies to help with your prem's learning and development.


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Finding a balance and a way forward

Parenting a preemie can be challenging and is a significant life transition. It is important that you find time and ways of taking care of your own health and wellbeing. Eating well, staying fit and healthy, and getting enough rest and relaxation are vital for optimal health. Maintaining and caring for relationships, especially with your partner is also important. If you need it, don't discard the option of professional assistance. Also, find advice about optimizing development and learning strategies to help with thinking & behavior difficulties.


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Common Feelings of Grief

The situations and experiences surrounding a preterm birth can be many and varied however, many parents of premature babies share very similar emotional reactions - you are not alone.

Depending on the significance or number of losses the more intense and long lasting the feelings may be.

Positive emotions such as love, joy, and pride may at times be overshadowed by negative feelings that become overwhelming while you adjust to being at home. Feelings of sorrow, fear, or confusion can be especially upsetting at a time when you are expected to feel joy and confidence.

Whilst struggling to understand the medical implications of the premature birth it is reasonable to experience many painful emotions. As a premature baby poses many challenges it is natural to feel a mixture of emotions. Being able to recognise and acknowledge these emotions can help with your feelings of grief and sadness.

parents of premature babies common feelings of grief

Shock and Numbness

When faced with emotionally overwhelming situations and information, such as bad news about your critical early delivery, your prem’s fragile condition, following the birth, or each health crisis and/or concern, it is quite normal for you to go into “survival mode.” Survival mode is a term often used to describe people who appear to be coping and accepting traumatic situations, as they arise, without difficulty.

Parents of preemies who have been through challenging situations have described feeling “numb.” If this is how you feel or felt it is natures’ way of protecting you from the full effect of each critical situation, you may not absorb the enormity of the situation for several days.

Experiencing bouts of numbness, during and shortly after birth are quite normal, however as you become more accepting of the situation the painful feelings of grief may arise.

Sadness

Sadness is a very natural emotion, as an early delivery means you miss out on the joyful and eager anticipation of the birth. Instead it becomes a crisis- all you dreams of kisses, cuddles, nursing, and showing off are replaced by fears of suffering, long periods in hospital, lifelong disability and infant death. Should any of these fears be realised that sorrow becomes much deeper and longer lasting.

Persistent Worries

Giving birth to a premature baby can cause parents to experience extreme anxiety about their baby’s well-being. Often parents of preemies are not prepared for the intensity of the anxiety they feel.

Fear and anxiety can become your constant companion as you are forced to deal with many unknowns, such as the technology of the NICU, treatments your baby requires, and how you can contribute to your babies care.

Fathers often focus on their partners’ recovery, which is natural, whereas mothers often feel guilty for worrying about their own health whilst their baby is fighting for life.

Yearning

A feeling of immense disappointment at the loss of a joyful birth is often experienced by parents of preemie babies. Being unable to hold the baby straight away and being separated may make bonding difficult and you may worry about the mixed feelings you have for your baby. You may yearn to be close to your baby but his/her fragile condition, or hospital policies discouraging parents from holding their babies, may frustrate your desires.

Quite often parents of prem’s describe yearning to snuggle their baby close but fear doing so because they are so small, fragile, and/or because they are unwell. For parents whose premature baby is not doing very well, will sometimes struggle trying to emotionally invest in a baby who may die.

Guilt and Failure

As parents of a premature baby you may wonder what you did or didn’t do that played a part in your baby’s troubles. As a mother you, in spite of the reassurance that often there is little you can do to prevent preterm birth, may feel a sense of guilt that you were unable to prevent these difficulties.

Having a state of the art emergency delivery can feel overwhelming and intrusive. Watching NICU workers caring for your baby sometimes makes parents feel insignificant. Many parents of premmies express feeling guilty about how they are handling difficult situations arising from the birth onwards, such as emergency procedures, operations, and receiving information about their health. You may blame yourself for your baby’s distress or suffering.

Powerlessness

Mother’s who feels as though they have lost control of their pregnancy and delivery sometimes experience a feeling of complete helplessness.

The NICU can be confusing, especially the technology and jargon used by medical staff. There are often increasing demands to learn more about your premature baby’s condition with little support and direction as to where to receive, or find out, such information.

It is common to feel powerless as you are the parent and unable to meet your baby’s needs without the assistance of specialist care. This problem can be circular because the more you are experiencing feelings of inadequacy the more difficult it is to take charge of elements of care you can get involved in.

The uncertainty often surrounding preterm birth only serves to increase feelings of powerlessness.

You probably don’t know how long your baby’s hospital stay will be, it is difficult to determine if your prem will have further complications, no doubt you are worried about the longer term impact, and you probably have a list of things that specifically concern you and your partner. These feelings are common even if your baby’s hospital course, growth, health and development were straightforward.

Isolation

Feelings of isolation may occur if family and friends do not understand the emotional affect your baby’s condition is having on you and your partner. Family and friends may be unable to share in the joys and trials with you. They may not be able to understand your grief at not being able to hold your gravely ill baby, which to them seems unrelated to the baby’s survival.

Once home, family and friends still may not understand your on-going sense of loss and expect you to be grateful for the survival of your baby. Communicating and reaching out to others may prove difficult as you are unaware of your own needs and feelings. This can be a very lonely time as you and your partner strive to cope with each emergency often in a very different manner.

Anger

Isolation, powerlessness and anxiety can go together with anger. You may direct your anger at yourself or at your premature baby and feel that no one understands, angry that you can’t make things stop, at the uncertainties, or that it happened.

As you try to cope with everything you’re thinking and feeling and hoping that everything will be fine, you are still entitled to feel angry, and rightfully feel that you, your family, and your baby do not deserve this.

Envy

The sight of women with new babies and pregnant mothers may cause feelings of resentment. You may also notice other parents in the NICU who are more involved in the care of their baby, and you may experience strong feelings of envy. You may even conceal dreams that other premature babies might have a setback so that you are all in the same situation. Even though these thoughts may dismay you and that you think the thoughts are immoral, it is just to protect your fragile condition. The images of parents struggling together and relating your battle to others, makes you feel less isolated and frightened.

Fears about the Future

The more uncertain your premature baby’s circumstances are the more you worry about the future. Bringing your baby home does not relieve you from those fears, especially if the long term outcomes remain unsure. You may feel your baby still remains vulnerable even as your preemie grows strong and healthy. Knowledge that many premature babies are at higher risk of developing complications increases many parent’s fears.

Longing for What Might Have Been

By longing for what you have lost, for example an uncomplicated pregnancy and a healthy full term baby, and expressing your beliefs about your loss are normal and essential steps toward reassessing your initial desires and dreams.

Uncertain medical and/or developmental outcomes may help you let go of your dream pregnancy and perfect child and help you focus on ensuring your preemie has support and access to resources to optimize outcomes. The move from grieving to healing is a forward and backward process that takes time. By recognising and accepting what you have achieved you will be able to let go your hurt, sorrow, and anger, but you must realize them in your time and on your conditions.

 

 



AlbertEinstein_iconOne of the greatest minds in history, Albert Einstein was born preterm.

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Preemie, Premmie, or Prem?

Most babies spend between 38 and 42 weeks in their mother’s uterus. So, technically a preterm birth, preemie, premmie, or prem, is an infant who is born less than 37 completed gestational weeks. 


Read More: Defining Preterm birth


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