The NICU can be a very lonely place. It’s one of those places where there are people around all the time, but yet can still feel all alone. So I sat, mostly alone due to the hubs still needing to work, in our girls’ room for 12+ hours a day. I didn’t turn on the TV, because I didn’t want the extra noise to stimulate the babies and keep them from sleeping. I tried to read, but couldn’t focus with all the monitors constantly beeping. I did talk to my babies and sing to them a little through their isolettes, but for the most part they didn’t respond to much. We were told at the very beginning by a nurse that I’m sure had the best intentions, that in order to go home as quickly as possible and get out of there, Blondie and Brownie needed to sleep as much as possible without being bothered. That every time their isolette was opened in the earliest days, it could slow down their development by messing with their body temperature. (Then they would have to spend energy to warm themselves up.) The goal was to have them resting calmly as much as possible so that they could grow as optimally as possible. Their lungs had more developing to do and they needed to learn how to suck in order to eat. In my PPD fog, I didn’t question any of the nurses. Looking back, I wish I would have had the strength to advocate for the 3 of us and insist on letting us figure out the whole breast feeding thing. But again, I was told that the fastest way to go home would be to get them to drink out of a bottle because it didn’t take as much effort from the babes. So, as stated before…. I sat and I pumped every 3 hours.
When I was thinking about what to include in this third part, I discovered that I had several different directions that I could go. Please bear with me as I attempt make things flow all together. Let’s get a little “technical” and define PPD before we go any further. According to psychiatry.org, if any of the following symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks, one should contact their physician for an official diagnosis:
- Sluggishness, fatigue
- Feeling sad, hopeless, helpless, or worthless
- Difficulty sleeping/sleeping too much
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty concentrating/confusion
- Crying for “no reason”
- Lack of interest in the baby, not feeling bonded to the baby, or feeling very anxious about the baby
- Feelings of being a bad mother
- Fear of harming the baby or oneself
- A loss of interest or pleasure in life
These symptoms can last for weeks, months, and even years. I read somewhere that 30% of the individuals diagnosed with PPD are still receiving treatment after 3 years. So which of these symptoms did I have? It’s easier to say which one I didn’t have. I didn’t have a fear of harming the baby(ies) or oneself. So I was in a fog… a going through the motions, trying to do the right things, fog.
The healthcare that Blondie and Brownie received was top notch. The hospital that they were born at is ranked as one of the best in the country. I have no complaints about the direct care towards them. However, I do feel that more of a focus should be made on the family as a whole. I do not blame the staff that we encountered directly, but rather see it as negligence on the healthcare system in our country. The medical needs of my children, who were the patients, were always meant without question. But what happens when those patients get to go home? Who is checking in with their parents to make sure that they are okay and can handle taking care of them 24/7. I did fill out the depression survey before my own discharge. But that was basically just to screen for thoughts of self harm. I know that there are families which require more attention due to the level of “drama” in their lives. Overall, from the outside, I suppose we appear to be fairly “drama-free”. I was sinking in a fog, but I was able to go through the motions and did have a support system. This is the population, that I feel goes most unnoticed. If you are able to do the motions without incident, there simply are not enough resources to stop and check in to see how things are really going. This is where the healthcare system needs to step up and add more resources to be able to assist individuals all over the spectrum. In the first couple of days of the girls being hospitalized we had a wonderful nurse who responded to my questions about whether or not I would be able to bond with my babies and if there would be any long term attachment disorders with a suggestion to go to a support group that was held in the hospital for families of those in the NICU. It was nice of them to notice that I may benefit from some kind of intervention, however the support group was the only thing that was suggested to us the whole 37 days that we were there. As someone who is depressed, already going through the motions, and a suffers from social anxiety…. I wanted to scream “THERE IS NO WAY I AM GOING TO A SUPPORT GROUP! I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH ENERGY TO DEAL WITH PEOPLE MORE THAN I ALREADY AM!” But nevertheless, I was appreciative that he cared.
So what is my proposed “solution” to this whole in the healthcare system? A resource, maybe a social worker or counselor, who is assigned to each family. Technically I believe that there is a social worker assigned to each family, but because we were “drama-free” and we had a good home to bring the girls to once they were discharged, she met with me only to fill out the required paperwork. So this additional resource would be someone that would check in daily or every other day with the family to get to know them and look for signs of PPD or unspoken needs. This person would build rapport with the family/caregivers and become a support system during the hospital stay. They could assist the family member in securing the services that they may need once they head home. Looking back, it does seem that the nurses kind of, slightly attempted to fill this role and build rapport. However, every existing position in the health care system already has responsibilities, many more than they can handle. So this needs to be a dedicated resource to start helping families and moms like myself stop from falling through the cracks. Look, I’m a trained counselor. If someone would have suggested counseling to me during those 37 days, I would have jumped at the opportunity. After all, I was just sitting there staring into space waiting for the next alarm to go off to tell me to pump. But no one did. No one even mentioned it. Instead there were some unwelcoming comments like “why aren’t you… (basically initiating more of the care) because you’re going to have to figure out how to do this at home”. HELLO. I WAS TOLD NOT TO ROCK THE BOAT, AKA, JUST LET THEM SLEEP AND GROW. So they slept and grew and I sat and the word around me became foggier and foggier.
Tomorrow, I will share how things are better. In what should be part 4 of this 3 part series.