|By: Mara Tesler Stein, Psy.D. and Deborah L. Davis, Ph.D.|
When parents deliver their baby early, they are often bewildered by the intensity of their emotions, as well as the abundance of different feelings. While parents may not be surprised to find themselves anxious about their babys well-being, they are often shocked at the wide range of reactions that surface.
Joy, sorrow, hope, fear, pride, failure, delight, anger, confidence, confusion, love and guilt. While the positive emotions such as love, pride and delight seem fitting for childbirth, they are tempered by painful emotions that are so hard to face. Sorrow, fear, failure, anger, confusion and guilt are jarring to feel at a time which you had imagined would be filled with joy. It is these negative feelings that tend to dominate those early weeks or months when the baby is in the hospital or adjusting to home. Besides struggling to understand the implications of preterm birth for their child, parents can find themselves overwhelmed by unexpectedly intense sadness, persistent worries, anger about the situation, fears about the future and longing for what might have been.
If you are concerned about your feelings and reactions, it is helpful to acknowledge that having premature baby does pose a number of exceptional challenges. Sorrow is only naturalyou face many losses when your baby is delivered early. You lose the last portion of your pregnancy, which is generally a time of planning and eager anticipation. You lose control around the birth itself, which becomes a crisis, instead of a blessed event. You lose your hopes and dreams for an idyllic newborn period of precious snuggles, nursing and proud showing off. Instead, you face fears about infant death, suffering and lifelong disability.
Guilt is another normal reactionas responsible parents, you may wonder what you did or didnt do that contributed to your babys plight. Feelings of failure can arise as you watch health care professionals provide for your baby, you may experience injury to your growing sense of yourself as a capable, nurturing parent. Bonding with your newborn can feel especially difficult, and you may worry about having mixed feelings about your baby. You may struggle with how much to invest in a baby who may die.
You may feel confusedshould you celebrate or mourn your babys birth? Both reactions are appropriate, but feeling two such contradictory emotions simultaneously can still seem crazy. You may also feel entirely unprepared for what lies ahead.
In this age of advanced medical technology, many parents expect that the premature baby's hospital stay will be short and without crisis, and that a normal and healthy baby will come home. It is natural to be completely unprepared for enduring a long, complicated and expensive hospitalization, and a baby who may require many months of medical and developmental therapy. Even a child whose hospital course is relatively uncomplicated poses a crisis for the family. You did not expect the first weeks with your newborn to be experienced through the portholes of an incubator.
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