BAKERSFIELD, CA. — Jessica Doxey, 28, finds joy in the little things, like her son Kaio's laughter. After he was born at just 24 weeks old, seeing him happy and healthy motivates the mother of three.
"There aren't words enough to describe how impossible it feels that he is still with us, that he is doing these things, that he was ever that small," Doxey said.
Even though Kaio is doing well, Doxey said she still deals with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder from when Kaio was fighting for his life in the NICU.
Months of uncertainty, helplessness and images of her micro-preemie son are still imprinted in her mind.
"His skin was so thin, they are so sensitive and they showed me, they were like, look you can see the way he is breathing with his facial expressions. He is crying," Doxey said.
Doxey said those types of memories resurface in her everyday life, where triggers lead to flashbacks and panic attacks.
Doctor Sudhir Patel, a neonatologist at Memorial Hospital, said the idea of PTSD developing among parents following a premature birth is a new idea. Patel said staff at Memorial Hospital are newly trained on how to diagnose patients suffering from trauma.
"We focus on the patients who are here for a long time, because that seems to be where we should be focusing, even though we don't know if those are the only patients at risk, but patients and babies who are here for many weeks, we can see changes in the parents," Patel said.
Doctors have been diagnosing mothers with postpartum depression for years, but Patel said PTSD is different with patients often seeing symptoms later on rather than days after birth.
That was the case for Doxey, who said she didn't see symptoms of trauma until her son's first birthday.
"He was born right around the Fourth of July. I just feel like I can't be around the whole summer atmosphere anymore because it all just brings me back to being there," Doxey said.
But Doxey finds healing in talking about her experiences with others. She hopes her story will unite local parents struggling through the same trauma, working to bring light to dark memories.
Patel said that you should contact a doctor and get treated if you are feeling symptoms of nightmares, flashbacks or avoidance.