BACKGROUND: Word-based tools, such as interviews, can only partially provide access to the lived experience of parents of preterm infants. This study explores the lived experience of parents of preterm infants between 3 and 6 months after discharge by means of visual method (i.e., graphical elicitation).
METHODS: A qualitative study with graphic elicitation analysis was used to assess the lived experience of four parental couples of very preterm infants in a home-based session occurred between 3 and 6 months after Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) discharge.
RESULTS: The use of graphical elicitation revealed three dimensions of the experience of being parents of preterm infants. (1) Different use of time-lining elements suggested a different involvement of cognitive and/or emotional coping mechanisms in facing the unexpected birth and NICU stay. (2) The explicit or implicit use of emotional graphical elements and words was suggestive of different degrees of openness to disclose their experience. (3) The role of textual elements in support or substitution of graphical elements indicated different levels of integration of cognitive and emotional representations.
CONCLUSIONS: The use of visual methods holds the potentials for revealing specific aspects of the parental experience of preterm birth and NICU stay. The clinical implications of this approach are further discussed with reference to its potential implementation within parental support intervention.