“Be there in the present as much as possible, no matter the circumstances.”
This is part four of our four-part series created especially for NICU dads, by NICU dads. Read part one: 10 Things New NICU Dads Need to Know, part two: Rad White and the NICU Beard Club and part three: Micro Preemie Dad Jonathan Hayhurst. Stay tuned for more great stories from NICU dads leading up to Father’s Day!
Meet Erik Velez. Erik and his wife, Monica, were expecting twin boys due in February 2016, until a severe complication led them to the hospital and down a road they never thought they’d have to endure. Here is Erik’s story.
What were the circumstances surrounding your child’s birth?
Everything was going well until Monica started having extreme pain at 33 weeks, 5 days. After rushing to the hospital, it was determined Monica had a placental abruption. Sadly, after finding only one heartbeat, we realized one of our baby boys, Andres, passed away in the womb. Andres’s brother, Elias, was delivered immediately, weighing only 4 lbs, 12 oz with a grave Apgar score, almost not making it either.
Elias was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for 17 days until he was strong enough to go home. While Elias was in the hospital, Monica and I stayed in the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Seton Medical Center Austin. We had everything they needed while being close to our baby boy.
What type of support did you receive in the NICU or once you were discharged?
We were celebrating both the birth of Elias and mourning the passing of Andres at the same. It was a period of conflicting emotions for both of us. As we rooted for Elias, seeing his progress while in the NICU, we were grieving. It was hard to focus on one versus other. What did help was having Ronald McDonald Charities step in and provide us a room right across from the NICU. It was sure helpful knowing that we could spend the quality time we needed with Elias and not have to worry about commuting, parking, etc. Midnight runs to the NICU to deliver milk made it convenient! The other support we had were the amazing NICU nurses! They were on top of things, rounding frequently, answered all of our questions – a true blessing!
What was your experience like as a dad in the NICU? How did you cope with your child being in the NICU?
When I saw other fathers in the NICU, I had the urge to get up and introduce myself to them, to hear their story, to reach some commonality, but I didn’t. I was afraid and embarrassed if the conversation didn’t work the way I played it out in my head.
Looking back, I should have asked more about resources for dads, should have gone up to other fathers. But being a new parent with a child in the NICU is tough enough, including the stress of planning our other son’s funeral. “Should have, could have, would have…”
What did you learn about this experience that you’d like to pass on to others?
If I could pass on some advice to other fathers that have a child or children in the NICU, I would tell them to ask as many questions as possible, to reach out to a support network like Hand to Hold and to be there in the present as much as possible, no matter the circumstances. You’re bringing in a new child to this world, and they need all the love and support they can get!