Tag Archives: Attachment Disorders

Reflections on NICU Trauma

My birthday is coming up on Friday. It was another Friday 28 years ago that I was born at somewhere around 26 weeks gestation. The doctors determined my gestational age to be 26 weeks four days based on what my mother told them and whatever measurements they took. Based on my date of conception, my gestational age may’ve been as young as 25 weeks two days. When I was a teen, this “mistake” led to extreme turmoil, for I thought babies before 26 weeks gestation were at the time not treated. The reality of my birth story is that the neonatologist, now a proponent of leaving micropreemies to die, informed my parents that they were simply keeping me alive and not to interfere.

Times have changed since 1986. For one thing, more is known about the effects of premature birth on health and development. For another, more attention is paid to parents’ and babies’ mental health. This doesn’t mean that PTSD doesn’t rear its ugly head at times. Today, I read a story by a mother of a 23-weeker, who clearly says it does. Then again, 28 years ago PTSD was unheard of in NICU parents. Attachment issues were unheard of in preemies. Today, we know better.

I know better. It isn’t my job to diagnose my parents, but they certainly experienced the effects the Mom in the above story describes. Time and time again, they’d re-experience the memories surrounding my birth. They shared with me, and that was mostly good. Some of it was not so good. Knowing my parents had questioned my quality of life and whether I should be kept alive at all, well, that certainly left some scars on my soul.

I learned about the possibility of the NICU experience being traumatic to the baby from another former preemie in like 2006. She was born in the 1970s, and much had changed between than and the mid-80s. Still, when I checked out the “About” page for the above blog, I was astonished to read that Jax, born in 2012, wasn’t first held till he was nearly two weeks old. I probably didn’t have it any better. I don’t mean this to whine, but it is a possible explanation, along with others, for my severe attachment issues. I know that attachment disorders can’t be diagnosed unless there is evidence of pathological care, such as abuse or neglect. The NICU isn’t pathological, but it most certainly is not a normal environment to spend the last three months of your would-have-been-preborn life or the first three months of your life out in the world in.