By Dr Frankie Harrison (@miraclemoonuk)
Deciding to have another baby often isn’t a simple task. Having another baby after NICU when your first (or previous) was sick or premature is a whole different – incredibly complex – ballgame, with no rule book. We asked Dr Frankie Harrison, a clinical psychologist, NICU mama and supporter of fellow neonatal care parents via her platform Miracle Moon, to share things parents should consider before having another baby after NICU.
“When are you going to have another baby?” It’s the question that every mother gets asked after they have had their first baby. For a mum who has been through NICU, the answer isn’t that simple.
There is so much to consider before thinking about pregnancy again. It takes a while after coming home from NICU for the dust to settle, to move out of fight or flight and for us to process our emotions. We may feel okay, but then certain triggers hit; first birthdays, nursery, end of maternity leave, sickness and we find that we are wobbling and needing to make sense of what we have been through.
So thinking about having another baby after NICU can lead to so many different emotions and that is okay. If you think you would like to try for another child after a premature baby or sick baby, there may be some things to consider first…
SUGGESTED: My ‘Big’ Full Term Baby Needed NICU
Everyone has their own story
Some of us may have weighed up the risks and feel ready to have another baby and fall pregnant.
Some may be desperately wanting another baby, but feel the risk is too high and therefore experience the grief that comes with that.
Some may not want another baby but feel the pressure to.
We may be on different pages to our partner.
And there are some of us who feel ready, who pluck up the courage to start trying and it doesn’t work in the way we hoped; we may have issues with fertility or may experience loss.
This is heartbreaking after building that courage and taking the plunge to only have it feel like it slaps you back across the face. It is yet again more loss, more grief, more sadness, more anxiety and that is incredibly painful.
Know you’re not alone in it, there are many parents who are going through what you have been through, it is okay to talk about trying to conceive and having another baby after NICU.
Have you processed your NICU experience?
There might be some things that are helpful to think about…
How do you feel about your NICU experience?
How would you feel if it was going to happen again?
How do you feel about being pregnant again and having another baby?
Do you have any idea of what it might bring up for you?
Do you know what the risks are for having another baby?
Do you know what another pregnancy might look like?
It might be helpful to access a birth debrief to make sense of what you went through or to seek out therapy to process some of your emotions and develop coping skills.
Where is your partner at?
It is important to check in and have a real conversation with your partner to make sure you are on the same page if you’re thinking about having another baby after NICU. Together you can talk about what your fears are, what your worries are, what your hopes are and how you are going to manage all of that together.
Carve out some time, where you don’t have devices or distractions and where you can clearly and honestly voice your feelings.
If they aren’t ready for another baby or if they are worried, it is important to talk through those worries and how you would cope with them together, so that you can move from fear into problem solving as a team.
The emotions you experience in a pregnancy after NICU
Pregnancy after NICU is likely to come with feelings of worry, uncertainty and fear, as well as feelings of excitement and joy. It isn’t straight forward when you have had a previous birth trauma or baby in NICU.
Expectant mothers are often shielded from the reality of trauma and NICU. So when we’ve already been through it, it is like our reality bubble has popped and we are suddenly aware of all the things that could happen to us and our babies.
There are so many different feelings that you will feel throughout your pregnancy; it’s a rollercoaster, so practice acceptance and validation of your emotions… it’s okay to feel however you feel about your next pregnancy.
Plan what is in your control
With so much being out of our control during pregnancy and birth, plan what you can control.
Can you spend some time talking to a professional about what pregnancy may look like, what birth may look like, what your options are, whether there is anything you can do to possibly prevent another NICU stay?
Consider if another NICU stay was to happen, how you might cope and what you can do to be able to get through it.
Think about how you are going to be supported throughout your pregnancy by staff and by your friends and family, be explicit about what you need to ease any anxiety you may have.
Use it as a time to recreate missed moments
You may have had missed moments in your previous pregnancy and have grief attached to that – things like missed baby showers, shopping for the baby, taking maternity photos or decorating the nursery – so try to do these things slightly earlier in this pregnancy so that you get to experience them this time.
Learn to let go of what you can’t control
Tolerating uncertainty and feeling out of control can feel incredibly anxiety provoking. But the more we try to grapple with things we can’t control, the more distressed we can feel.
Learn to notice your thoughts and your feelings; know that they pass, know that they don’t define you and that your thoughts aren’t facts.
Take a deep breath and trust that you can do hard things, you have done hard things.
If you are struggling to do this on your own, it is absolutely okay to access support and get some help with coping.
Access Miracle Moon’s community and resources for NICU parents here.