Congratulations, you’re expecting. You get excited on your way to the obstetrician’s office for your prenatal checkup. You can’t wait to hear the heartbeat or better yet, see your little one’s first ultrasound pictures. You have so many hopes and dreams for yourself, your baby and your family.
Then rather unexpectedly things change. Your OB informs you that something isn’t quite right. Maybe the baby is measuring smaller than expected. Maybe your blood pressure is elevated. Or maybe lab tests or ultrasound results are abnormal. It may be that you are having contractions and it is too early in your pregnancy. There are many scenarios that could bring you into the hospital. You are now considered a “high risk pregnancy” with a high likelihood of premature delivery.
The journey you are about to take is not the one you were expecting. You are vulnerable. You are about to take a crash course in obstetrical and neonatal medicine. You don’t know where to begin.
As you desperately try to cling to your dreams, they are shattering right before you. You feel the rug being pulled out from under you. You are meeting doctors, nurses, technicians; just to name a few of what may seem like hundreds of medical staff caring for you and your baby. Your emotions are taking a rollercoaster ride. You’ve lost your footing and are trying desperately to hold onto something familiar.
2: Information Overload
This can be compared to riding the subway in New York City during rush hour. I used to ride the subway in New York after a shift in the hospital. Every now and then I might be lucky enough to get a seat and drift off to sleep. During rush hour, passengers pack into the subway car shoulder to shoulder, with no personal space. I wake up startled, straining to see past the people to figure out the station. In my flustered state I’d jump up, trying to muster the strength to get past the people blocking the door. Cries of “excuse me, please’ go unheard as I squeeze to get through before the doors close.
So how is this experience similar? It is an experience of sensory overload. At the hospital multiple people ask the same medical questions. You then have blood drawn and IV’s inserted, sometimes while someone else is gathering information from you. Then, there are the sounds of the monitors for the baby’s heart rate and any contractions. And in the midst of it all, your doctor may ask for someone from the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) to speak with you about what happens should your baby deliver prematurely. Suddenly you are being asked to learn an entirely different language with words made up of abbreviations for things you may have never heard of before: NICU, TPN, IVH, PRBC, NPO, etc.
And most mothers are asking, “Why is this happening? How did this happen?”
“PLEASE STOP THIS TRAIN. I WANT TO GET OFF!”
3: Making Sense out of the Numbers
All parents want the best outcome for their baby and their family. The most common question asked by expecting parents is, “What is the outcome for my baby?” NICU consultants share percentages of babies that survive at a certain gestational age, the percentage of intact survival, meaning no developmental abnormalities, the percentages that have developmental delay, etc. The next question is, “How do the numbers apply to my situation?” There are great advancements in the medical treatments available for premature babies, but there is no method to predict the exact outcome for your baby before it is born. So, here you are in a survival mode, having received a lot of new information in a short period of time, and being asked to make critical decisions.
3 Ways to Combat the Overwhelm
1. Connect to yourself and your source
This step is all about YOU. What do you want for yourself and your family? No one dreams of having a premature or sick newborn who is unable to come home for weeks to months. Parents don’t imagine they would be spending their postpartum days traveling back and forth to the hospital rather than bonding with their newborn in the comfort of their home.
What hopes and dreams did you have that may now seem unachievable?
“What you resist persists”. Most people do not adapt to change quickly. They resist it and fight it, especially when it is unplanned. They spend more time looking at the door that is closed rather than being willing to see the window of opportunity that has opened. How are you doing that now? How are you stopping yourself from seeing the tiny miracles unfolding?
If you stay in a place of disbelief and why me, you are not able to embrace life in the moment. When you are fully present in the NOW you are able to:
a. Make decisions
b. Incorporate your hopes and dreams into your new reality
Remember this is a process that involves grieving what is lost, accepting the present reality, and gathering your strength and will to begin to live again. This process requires that you are gentle with yourself.
“If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again.” – Flavia Weedn
2. Choose an Advocate
Identify a person who will be at your side, not just to give you emotional support, but to be another set of ears for you. This may be your spouse or significant other, family member or friend. There are key characteristics you want to look for when choosing your advocate.
Your advocate should be an active, objective listener. We receive information through our own filters. That’s just the natural way we listen. The objective listener is listening to information without filtering or judging what is being heard. Why is that important? You want your advocate to hear what you may be too emotional to hear.
Your advocate takes notes for you. I’m not suggesting that your advocate frantically write down each word the doctor says, but listens for key phrases that can be referred to later. Is the doctor using a phrase or diagnosis that needs further clarification, or maybe the doctor gave a superb definition that you may want to remember later. When information is written down, it allows your mind to focus on the present, rather than trying to commit everything to memory.
Your advocate is emotionally detached. Of course your advocate loves and cares for you and wants the best for you when they are not functioning as your advocate. When your advocate is present with you speaking with the medical team, emotions are checked at the door. This allows the advocate to be present to receive information without their own filter. Strong emotions cause us to hear what we want to hear and that is sometimes quite different from what is being said.
3. Ask questions
You are being given a great deal of brand new information. Even if you had read every book on this topic, asking questions allows for clarification, focus, and better understanding. Repetition is linked to comprehension. I often encounter moms and dads that are just too overwhelmed to know where to begin with their questions, so instead they remain silent. There is a riddle that asks, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”. Asking the first question unlocks the gates for more. Asking your most urgent, pressing question is better than wondering or making up a story out of misinformation and confusion.
About The Author
A physician, certified professional coach, speaker, and mom Dr. Stephanie Wellington partners life coaching with her medical career. She is the founder of NurturingMDs.com, the premier coaching program for doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to realign their priorities so that they have a career that is fulfilling and a life they love. Dr. Stephanie Wellington offers speaking, workshops, and coaching programs for prenatal and postpartum families, and lectures on staff development for NICU teams. The coaching programs are uniquely designed to support, inspire, and empower parents as they transition home with their new baby or as they cope with the separation from their newborn who remains hospitalized in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). Visit PostpartumNeonatalCoaching.com to receive your free report: Breaking Through The Emotional Barriers In The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
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