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Actress Nails What It's Like Feeling Like a 'Failure' When You Can't Nurse Because of Your Child's Condition


On Thursday, “Boy Meets World” star Danielle Fishel shared in a new interview how she felt guilty for her baby’s stay in the NICU and being unable to breastfeed, an experience that might be relatable for other parents whose babies experience medical complications.

Fishel and her husband Jensen Karp’s son Adler Lawrence was born on June 24. In addition to being a month premature, Adler had fluid in his lungs and was diagnosed with chylothorax. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, chylothorax causes lymphatic fluid to gather in a baby’s lungs. Fishel told People breast milk made Adler’s condition worse so she had to stop nursing and he spent three weeks in the NICU.

“This milk that I’m producing that’s supposed to keep him alive and is supposed to be the healthiest thing for him is the thing that’s keeping him in the hospital,” Fischel told People in a new interview. “I just felt like it was somehow my fault. Even though I knew that wasn’t really rational, it’s hard.”

The grief and guilt Fishel expressed may be relatable to other moms whose babies needed neonatal intensive care after birth. Nearly 40% of mothers who have a baby in the intensive care unit following birth screen positive for depression compared to mothers whose babies do not need intensive care after birth.

Mighty contributor Catriona Ogilvy explained just how traumatic the NICU can be for parents in their article, “We Need to Talk About PTSD in NICU Parents“: 

Given the nature of NICU, the pain of leaving your fragile baby each day, the feelings of emptiness and grief, the uncertainty and ups and downs, the lines, wires, monitors and alarms, not to mention the security buzzers at the entrance of the unit or the constant rigorous hand-washing, it came as no surprise to me that parents who have experienced premature birth are at greater risk of postnatal depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Fishel told People their son is now home and doing well. Though she’s not sure Adler will ever latch to breastfeed, she is hopeful she will be able to bottle feed using pumped breast milk. Fishel also shared for her, “mom guilt” didn’t waste any time kicking in, but she’s working through the grieving process after her baby’s NICU experience. 

“You want your body and everything you do as a mom to be functioning optimally for your baby and when it’s not, you feel like a failure,” Fishel said, adding: 

There was a little bit of a mourning process and a grieving process for me there, but now that I’ve come to terms with it and I know that hopefully the plan is that I get to transition back to breast milk in the next few weeks, I’m feeling much better about that. We’ll see how it goes.

Header image via Danielle Fishel’s Facebook page