by Clay Nichols, Dadlabs.com co-founder, NICU veteran, & father of three
Listen up, parents of preemies. Take it from a guy that learned the hard way: Do not have sex in the NICU. Seriously. Don’t.
At least we weren’t the only ones. For those four weeks our son was in the NICU, seemed like everyone was was having sex pretty much constantly. Our afternoons were punctuated by the duty nurse yelling, “Get off your husband and pay attention to those Ox Sats!” or “Kangaroo Care is for the babies!”
Finally, the staff posted a note above the sink at the entrance of the unit which read: “Couples caught having sex in the NICU will be required to scrub in three times before their next visit. We would appreciate you people keeping your randy selves in check. Sincerely, the NICU nursing staff.”
In reality, if there is a less sexy place than the NICU, I can’t think of it. Maybe my mother-in-law’s bedroom. Definitely my mother-in-law’s bedroom. But that’s beside the point. For most couples, having just come through labor and delivery, perhaps even recovering from a c-section while simultaneously dealing with the trauma of a NICU stay, sex or even intimacy of any kind, is almost unimaginably remote.
Amid the beepings and bustling of the NICU, it’s difficult to imagine the future, so allow me to help. It’s filled with great joy, but you also face the possibility of significant challenges, so you need to be at your best for the child, healthy as a couple. Couples that have sex are healthy couples. Couples that have a lot of sex are really healthy couples. So make it a long-term goal to have lots of sex. For the baby, of course.
Not right away (plus who needs all that scrubbing in), but how to get back on track? First suggestion: at some point in your NICU stay a wise nurse is going to point out that your child is stable, and that perhaps you should take some time away from the NICU to rest and recover. Take this advice. Rest and recover together. Have a date night. Maybe several. Maybe overnight. You will not have the kind of quality care that your child is getting in the NICU for a long time. Take advantage.
Second suggestion: Touch each other at least as often as you eat. Three times a day, have physical contact. Not just a quick kiss or pat on the hand. Proximity sustained for at least seven seconds. Count it out if you have to (though I don’t recommend that). Feel free to snack between meals. Re-establishing a physical connection sometimes takes a conscious effort. Seven second embraces are a first step.
But, no sex in the NICU, people. Seriously.
Clay Nichols is the chief creative officer of Dadlabs.com, a start-up company dedicated to providing creative media content and information products to strengthen families and benefit children by empowering today’s fathers. He is an award-winning playwright and author. Nichols is a veteran of a dozen years in the high school classroom, having taught in the areas of English, Creative Writing, Drama and Filmmaking. Nichols is a graduate of Dartmouth College and holds an MFA in playwriting from the University of Texas where he was a James A. Michener Fellow at the Texas Center for Writers. He is founder and director of the Theatre Focus program at St. Stephen’s School and the Texas Arts Project. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and three children ages eleven, eight and five.