Tuesday, July 14, 2009

NICU Parents Seem to Be Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

One of the things that stuck with both my husband and me after our NICU experience was the feeling that something else was going to happen, or to use the old expression, we kept "waiting for the other shoe to drop" or waiting for something else to develop, something else to show up that was initially missed.

For me getting back to normal was gradual. When my NICU survivor was 2-years-old I started working on an article on "Identifying, Understanding, and Working with Grieving Parents in the NICU" that was published soon after she turned three. Writing about the experience was a way for me to put it into some perspective.

By the time she was in preschool we were able to see that she was meeting her milestones and not suffering from any undiagnosed learning disability.

We had a couple of scares along the way, but with time eventually began to realize that she would not "break like a China doll" and that the other shoe was not going to drop.

Others Feel the Fear and Anxiety as Well
Part of what helped me in getting over the feeling that something else was going to happen was discovering others also felt the same way. Over the years I have discovered that it is common for NICU Parents to continue to feel anxious and fearful that something may happen to the NICU child or to others in their family. It is also common for parents to experience flashbacks to their time in the NICU. Unexpected, sudden losses do that to people. They leave us feeling afraid and even vulnerable.

Former NICU Parent and NICU Parent Researcher Dr. Michael Hynan answers the question often asked of parents "Will I ever get over this [NICU experience]?" in this way:
No, you will not get over this completely. It is normal for you to feel the after shocks of this emotional earthquake.

Many of us high-risk parents have this vulnerability and these flashbacks to the NICU. And we also know that terror usually returns only briefly, and most of the time we can manage it as long as we realize that it is not unusual.
Dr. Hynan and colleagues in their research over the years discovered that these flashbacks and vulnerability are more common that most professionals expect.

Story Behind the Expression
I've often heard the expression "waiting for the other shoe to drop" and wondered where it originated. On the alt.usage.english website I was able to confirm that the phrase means "to await an event causally linked to one that one has already observed". In the form "drop the other shoe", meaning "say the next obvious thing" or "end the suspense."

The best explanation for the origin for the expression was it was based on an old joke.
A guest who checked into an inn one night was warned to be quiet because the guest in the room next to his was a light sleeper. As he undressed for bed, he dropped one shoe, which, sure enough, awakened the other guest. He managed to get the other shoe off in silence, and got into bed. An hour later, he heard a pounding on the wall and a shout:

"When are you going to drop the other shoe?"
Ending Our Suspense as NICU Parents
We were luckier than many NICU parents in that our NICU survivor did not have any major residual or ongoing problems. Her lungs were fine, her eyesight was good, she was meeting her milestones. I think by the time she was three we stopped worrying all of the time that something else would surface and slowly stopped listening for the other shoe to drop.

The scars from her IV's have begun fading with time, but will always be there, as will our scars from experiencing the NICU as parents.

Hynan M. Helping Parents Cope with a High-Risk Birth: Terror, Grief, Impotence, and Anger. Parent Care Conference.

Israel M. "wait for the other shoe to drop" alt.usage.english newsgroup.

Image Source: Josep Altarriba. Hanging Shoe. Royalty Free Use.

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