Past trauma resurfaces as my daughter faces another CF setback

When a parent's memories of a child's time in the NICU come flooding back

Jennifer Chamberlain avatar

by Jennifer Chamberlain |

Share this article:

Share article via email
A banner illustration depicting a woman holding her baby daughter at a beach for Jennifer Chamberlain's column

“Direct admission is a possibility.” These words from our daughter’s pulmonologist have been hanging over my head and lingering in my heart for weeks.

Today, our daughter, Claire, is scheduled to undergo a bronchoscopy, a fairly routine procedure for people with cystic fibrosis. Based on the outcome, she may be directly admitted to the hospital for two weeks of treatment with IV antibiotics. Claire hasn’t been hospitalized since she spent a terrifying 68 days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) five years ago.

My initial reaction when I learned of this possibility was fear. We had an extremely traumatic journey during Claire’s NICU stay, which included three surgeries. At the time, I promised myself and her that I would do everything I could to keep her out of the hospital until she was 5 years old. I’m not sure why I chose that number. Perhaps I thought I would be stronger and more prepared for another traumatic experience after we had the time and space to heal. But does trauma ever leave you?

Recommended Reading
banner for Lara Govendo's column

How I cultivated joy and peace amid health challenges

Claire’s fifth birthday is just around the corner in November. We are years away from our NICU journey, and it no longer feels like yesterday when she was fighting for her life. Yet on some days, random things still trigger me. It could be an ambulance from a children’s hospital racing by me on the road, or a mother with a newborn at the park. I can usually recover from these triggers in a few hours or days.

But just because I’m not as consumed now with our traumatic experience doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten it. I’ve done a lot of work in therapy, and I’ve channeled my emotions through writing, which has helped me handle the stress of trauma responses.

However, Claire’s current health crisis is bringing all of that deeply rooted trauma to the surface, and this time, it’s more intense. I’m experiencing significant physical and mental symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The last few weeks, I’ve been having panic attacks nearly every day. I know now that even though those memories from the NICU are less vivid, they still exist.

We have different worries now that Claire is getting older, which makes the challenges from her first year feel more distant and less relevant. But the roller coaster that is cystic fibrosis ensures us that new trauma capable of opening old wounds is inevitable.

I’m not convinced that old adage about time healing all wounds is true when it comes to trauma. But I do believe it’s possible for emotions to cut less deeply as time goes by. I know that some of these emotions will never truly disappear, because they’re too deeply ingrained in my soul. But those memories are also what keep me going. I know that Claire is a fighter. She can face hard things with me by her side and come out stronger.

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


Seth Reno avatar

Seth Reno

Hi Jennifier- I know those feelings well...."Waiting the other shoe going to drop". My experience with our daughter has taught me that working into a positive mindset in the face of these "set backs" really does make a difference not only for your health but as your kids get older, it's amazing what they pick up on that we don't always appreciate. You have my e-mail, would be happy to share my story...I have started to participate in teleconferences with the CF foundation to share life stage experiences on Zoom. Best...Seth


Leave a comment

Fill in the required fields to post. Your email address will not be published.