Daphne Schibler experienced her first panic attack driving home after spending the day with her premature daughter in Sunnybrook’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
Violet had been born at 24 weeks, weighing under one pound, and she spent 133 days in Sunnybrook’s NICU.
“[The panic attack] was scary and forced me to acknowledge what a toll it was taking on me,” says Daphne, who booked an appointment with her family doctor immediately. “I felt like a worker bee in the NICU. I wanted to show I could pump all the milk Violet needed. I wanted to prove I was a good mom.”
When she was approached by hospital staff about a study called Coached, Coordinated, Enhanced Neonatal Transition, Daphne jumped at the opportunity. This neonatal follow-up model offers mindfulness-based support and coping resources for parents during the first year of their child’s life.
As part of the study, Daphne began attending Acceptance and Commitment Therapy coaching sessions at the hospital. It’s an approach that encourages families to focus on what’s important to them and to remember that while the experience of having a baby in the NICU can be very stressful, it’s temporary.
“You can live a life that is meaningful, even if there is pain and trauma,” says Kate Robson, project manager for Sunnybrook’s Neonatal Follow-Up Clinic. Kate has two children who were formerly in the NICU.
“The reality of the NICU can obscure what’s actually important to families, so we’re encouraging them to do things that hold meaning for them, whether it’s going for a walk outside or visiting a local coffee shop,” she says.
The coaching sessions helped Daphne better handle the stress of having a premature infant still in hospital. She has since returned to the gym to reconnect with her passion for powerlifting.
“I realized I didn’t need to carry the pain of having a baby in the NICU with me at all times,” she says. “I didn’t need to live in fear; I was going to be okay.”
Daphne Schibler and her daughter Violet enjoy some playtime at home. Photography by Kevin Van Paassen