The Trauma of Having a Newborn in the NICU

When Kelli Kelley awoke from her C-section 17 years ago, having delivered her son after just 24 weeks of pregnancy, her husband gave her a Polaroid of their baby. He was tiny, underdeveloped, eyes still fused shut, with translucent skin covered in fine hair, and lying in a sea of medical equipment and lines. To Kelley, he looked like a baby bird. Cut to her first visit to the neonatal intensive-care unit (nicu) to meet him: a cacophony of beeping machines, harsh lighting, “space-age-looking equipment,” and hospital smells, with 40 “tiny, alien babies in boxes.” Her son had a whole team of doctors and nurses working to keep him alive, but Kelley felt frightened and alone. Kelley remembers just one support group for parents, with a chaplain. “Sitting with a man in a collar felt more like a memorial service,” she recalls.

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