By Joel Brens of Papas of Preemies
The NICU is a scary, foreign place for those who are entering its doors for the first time. I was certainly overwhelmed by the constant noises and alarms that went off. So much went through my mind when we were in the NICU, and while every journey is different, there are some choices I made that benefitted me well and helped my wife immensely while we we navigating uncertain times.
- First and foremost: Go out of your way to provide all the support possible to your significant other. A lot of NICU moms are riddled with guilt and depression about the circumstances, despite the reality those feelings should not be warranted. Give your significant other the chance to talk about how she is processing everything if you get the impression she needs to talk it out. Say “I love you” as much as is appropriate. Just “be there” at all costs possible.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about how YOU are processing everything. Disconnect in the NICU is real, stressful, and can put serious strain on a relationship. About the time I started to open up to my wife about my fears, uncertainty, and hopes, I finally felt like I could breathe again. It made all the difference. That’s not going to be the case for everyone, but keep communication a high priority and it will serve you well.
- Be informed. Control is such a tussle in the NICU. The first couple days I was so out of sorts. The more questions I asked, even if it was the same one a dozen times, helped me get control back. Perhaps your significant other is resting, if you know what is happening relaying accurate information can really help. If the NICU allows you to sit in on “rounds”, do so. Often they will give you a couple minutes to ask questions with doctors and nurses together in a group setting. Honestly, that was our favorite time of the day.
- Be polite. The NICU is an extremely busy, intense, and stressful place to work. It’s amazing how far a little courtesy and kindness go. We had such an awesome relationship with the NICU staff, so much so that a number of staff mentioned how nice it was to have a pleasant, active dad around. That’s not coincidence, that’s choice. The biggest bonus? Trust. Trusting those caring for your child makes it a million times easier to take breaks from being in the NICU. Since we are on the topic. Take breaks. Just do it.
- Take turns with: Overnight feedings (bottle fed, obviously), cleaning parts, holding/changing/being an active parent. Everyone cares, everyone shares.
- Continue to communicate. Studies are showing PTSD affects men six months after the NICU. Much later than the mothers. Moms, PLEASE keep this in mind. My biggest struggles were the first few months post-NICU.
- Take it one day at a time. Sometimes progress is hard to measure. Try to not let it consume you. Easier said than done.
My biggest bit of advice to moms?
Men are not robots, and nobody will process the journey the same way. Some dads will dive right in, others will quietly stay out of the way. Some will show an abundance of emotion, others will show little. There is no perfect way to go about it. Be patient, be understanding, be loving. Those three ideals can make a world of difference.
Founder, Papas of Preemies
As a father, Joel Brens wants to dispel the idea that dads can’t be scared or emotional beings. His wife, Gena, gave birth to their son via emergency c-section due to complications from diastolic umbilical artery flow at just under 33 weeks. Their son was born in May 2010 at 3 lbs. 6 oz. and spent 25 days in the NICU while his lungs developed and he learned to eat. Presently, he is undergoing evaluation for developmental and speech therapy but otherwise doing well. Community and support have been essential to Joel and his wife.
Papas of Preemies is a community group for all, where dads are given an opportunity to share their stories and their perspectives on having gone through the NICU experience – it’s a collaborative effort to bring awareness to the fact that dads struggle through the NICU journey, too, and to give them a voice.