“I Hyperfocused on My Tiny Baby’s Survival… for Four Months”

In 2020, my son was born prematurely, weighing a tiny 600 grams, or a little over a pound. He was what they call a micropreemie. I had never seen a premature baby before, but there he was, so tiny he fit in the palm of my hand. Upon his birth, I was suddenly flung into the world of neonatal intensive care.

The trauma of an early birth is incredibly extreme. It’s being thrust onto a high-speed, rickety roller coaster with dangerous ups and downs. My baby was tiny, but he was breathing. Around a sharp turn we went as we were immediately separated after birth. The intensity of the separation was so great, it could have shattered me into a million pieces right there. He was perfectly proportioned – up, up, up – but he needed life support – down, down, down. He was a fighter, but we’d plummet as he’d battle infections. He needed so many blood transfusions. He had a good heart, but some other organs were underdeveloped. His lungs constantly collapsed. There were times when we almost derailed completely, like when he’d turned blue in my hands. Like all the times when his heart almost stopped.

The chaos during his time in the NICU never ceased. But each and every day, I was able to be there for my tiny human because I concentrated so intently on him, a phenomenon that has a name, I learned much later on – hyperfocus – and is part of ADHD.

My Son’s Survival: The Object of My Hyperfocus

So intense was my concentration that I was able to retain a barrage of new medical information, administer medicines and feeds, pump milk, sing to him, read to him, advocate for him, and fight for him even when the prognosis looked dire. One of the doctors in the NICU even asked me if I was in the medical field, too. No, I just know how to concentrate when needed and learn everything possible about a situation. My son’s survival became the object of my hyper focus. There was nothing that could derail me.

Even when he was finally discharged after a long four-month hospital stay, with prongs and adhesives on his little face, I still hyperfocused through this new winding valley. After all, there were many medications to prepare and administer, oxygen concentrators and portable tanks to adapt to, and endless invasive and painful appointments and surgeries. Through it all, I researched every aspect of his diagnoses and care, how to help him heal, and how to prepare him for what was to come.

[Read: A Playbook for Post-Traumatic Growth]

The Hyperfocus Comedown

I was in a daze when I disembarked from the rickety roller coaster of the NICU. Absorbed by my son’s health and all things relating to prematurity, I had tuned out the world around me, even myself.

Used to communicating with nurses, doctors, and others in the NICU, I had to re-learn how to communicate with others who were outside of this world. I learned the hard way (as is my tendency) that not everyone wants to hear about our journey not because they’re disinterested, but because talking about trauma makes others acutely uncomfortable. Hyper focusing on the particulars of my son’s health, it seemed, almost detached me from the pain of this harrowing experience.

The aftermath of months of hyper focus was a rubble of burnout, depression, confusion, unhealthy coping mechanisms, and loss of self-worth. My introduction to motherhood had been as a bystander. I was a nurse and an advocate for my son, but I still had to learn how to be his mother, which brought me so much guilt. I was drowning.

I drew upon all the strategies I could muster from years of therapy. I reached out to others, I asked for help, for company — even just a cup of coffee. Some told me that I was “too much” while others didn’t seem to take me seriously because I seemed fine enough.

[Read: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Hyperfocus]

If I didn’t do something, I knew I’d be at the bottom of the ocean quickly.

So, once again, I grabbed on to my hyperfocus wire. I researched and researched all things medical trauma and traumatic birth, and I came out on the other end with diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), postpartum depression (PPD) and ADHD.

I found a community group that sent volunteers around a few times a week to just sit with me, have a cuppa, and hold the baby while I took a shower. Such simple things gave me the space to breathe and finally steady my feet enough to get the help I needed.

Hyperfocus Saved Me – and My Child

When I’ve hyperfocused previously – before I knew it had a name – it was often a draining experience that, like other aspects of my neurodivergent brain, was hard for me to understand and embrace.

But after my diagnoses, I have a greater understanding of how my brain works, and more grace for myself and what I’ve journeyed through. The ability to hyperfocus, as I now know, can be an incredible strength. I’m thankful that my resilient neurodivergent brain forged a pathway through trauma and saved me and my little human.

Birth Trauma and ADHD: Next Steps

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