|By: Kerry Bone and Mara Tesler Stein, Psy.D.|
|The holiday season is a time
when familiar rituals bring meaning to your days. Traditions and predictable events evoke
warmth and comfort. But this year, the image you held lovingly in mind for how the
holidays would be celebrated does not match your day to day reality. This year, you have a
baby in the NICU.
Instead of reveling in the last months or weeks of pregnancy, you are visiting your child in the hospital. Instead of anticipating the birth of your baby, you may be torn between wanting to be with your child, and wanting to allow some of your familiar family rituals to comfort you. Instead of celebrating your soon-to-be-born baby (or perhaps, a full-term, newborn baby) with family and friends, you have only a picture, and a heart full of longing.
The holidays, a time traditionally shared with friends and family, can be one of the roughest spots during your babys hospitalization. You may find yourself starting to feel "down" as November draws to a close and December approaches, and you may start dreading the actual celebrations. As all the decorations go up, your spirits plummet. When you have a baby too soon, you are already struggling with how to fit this new experience into the ideas you have about yourself, your family, and the way things are supposed to be in the world. The holiday season tends to evoke a strong desire for familiar ritual and family unity. Having a baby in the NICU at this time means coming face to face some of the hardest elements of having a preemie.
Whether you gave birth weeks or months ago; whether your baby is at the beginning of her NICU stay or at the end, your baby is not where you had planned -- not still growing inside, and not home with you. You are likely to feel disoriented, disjointed and unsure how to fit this turn of events into your vision of how you would spend your days. If your baby is doing better than expected, you may feel and grateful all at the same time. If you have lost one or more in a set of multiples, your feelings may be even more profoundly mixed -- grateful for your precious survivors, but bereaved and missing your lost babies as well.
Your family and friends struggle with how to relate to you. They may wish that you would carry on as usual -- act in ways that are familiar and reassuring to them. Even if you feel grateful about the course that your baby is taking in the hospital, you may find that you do not feel like celebrating in quite the way that your friends and family might. You are still struggling with fears, hopes and losses. Rather than celebrating the holidays, you may find yourself focusing more on the spiritual or religious aspects of the season as you struggle to make meaning out of what has happened in your family.
Despite this, you may still be expected to attend family get-togethers. Having a way to avoid this can be a relief for some parents. As one mother remembered, "For the first time I was glad my family lived out of state so I didnt have to show up at two celebrations." You may find it hard to explain to family why you are sad, upset, grieving, even if your baby is close to coming home and doing quite well. "At the relatives, I sat in a corner and tried to avoid it all." You may feel frustrated when friends and family just doesn't understand why this is so hard. If your family members seem hurt or insulted by your lack of holiday cheer, you are faced with this additional emotional burden.
Others may hope that by encouraging you to join in communal celebrations, you would feel comforted. Instead, you may feel your losses even more acutely. As one mother remembered, "As we sat at the entrance with people coming in all happy and bringing presents, she could see I was fighting back the tears." Spending time around relatives with new babies or babies on the way during these celebrations, highlights the pain you feel, the dislocation of having your baby away from you. You may be only carrying a photo or two of your little one, when other relatives are carrying their children through the door. Says one mother, "I just lost it when I saw her carrying a pink bundle down the driveway, and all I had were Polaroids of David."
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