Parents who have a critically ill infant can exhibit symptoms later on similar to those who have been through war.
And indeed, this article in The New York Times draws parallels between the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and a warzone, “with the alarms, the noises, and death and sickness.”
Infants in the NICU can cause the parents to experience multiple traumas, starting with a premature birth, where many of the problems stem from. And the potential for bad news hangs over them on a daily, if not hourly, basis.
According to a recent study, “The post-traumatic stress may take the form of nightmares or flashbacks. Sufferers may feel panic every time a beeper goes off in the intensive care unit, or they may avoid the trauma by not visiting the unit or by emotionally distancing themselves from their child. Over time, they may develop depression, anxiety, insomnia, numbness, anger and aggression. These symptoms, of course, can impair their abilities as parents.”
And later on, anxious parents may exacerbate “vulnerable child syndrome,” where the child receives continual attention from physical complaints.
It’s important to provide both social and psychological support for these parents, not only during the ordeal, but for the stress that’s sure to come down the road.