Parents of Premature Babies Could Use Help from Family and Friends

The impact that a special-needs child has on a family is enormous.

By Diane Maroney

The impact that a special-needs child has on a family is enormous. Most of the energy parents have is taken by the needs of the child or children. There is little energy left to keep parental relationships healthy. Although the effect of chronic illness on divorce rates can be debated, it is safe to assume that marital stress increases in families with chronically ill children.7 Admitting the impact of this stress on a marriage or relationship is crucial. Through counseling and a great deal of work together, we have kept our marriage alive.

Having other children can add a great deal to the intense stress of daily life. Often there is very little energy left to handle the day-to-day needs of siblings, let alone meet their need to understand and cope with an ill brother or sister. Just at the moment when there is nothing left to give to them, they are demanding something from you, and they cannot understand why there is so little left for them. I frequently asked myself if I had enough energy to cope with our 4- and 6-year-old sons' needs and whether there would be problems that stem from this in the future. My husband and I often feel that we missed a very important year in each of our sons' lives.

Talking with other parents of premature infants, I found that the dynamics of the relationships between parents and extended family and friends often become problematic. Already dysfunctional relationships can become even more dysfunctional and therefore more painful. Many people have a hard time hearing about a life that is constantly overwhelming for a long period of time. They often will just stay away out of their inability to absorb it all or because of feelings of inadequacy about not knowing how to respond.

Beyond the difficult relationships, there are very special new relationships that form out of an incredibly compassionate understanding between two people who share similar circumstances.

Diane Maroney is an experienced former NICU nurse, a preemie mother and the co-author of Your Premature Baby and Child : Helpful Answers and Advice for Parents