Head in my hands, heart feeling as though it had been ripped from my chest, I wondered how this could have happened. How could a normal, healthy pregnancy result in an unexpected, premature birth? For mommas that have been in this same situation, you know too well the pain and heartache I felt.
Our son was born eight weeks early via emergency c-section. And it felt as though we had been pushed out a plane without any rhyme or reason, frantically grasping for a parachute cord that wasn’t there.
My husband and I were excited to experience the joy of welcoming our son into the world, side by side for what we hoped would be a natural birth. Instead, I was rushed into emergency surgery, put under anesthesia and my husband sat in a private room alone, thinking the worst.
In the days that followed we moved into my father-in-law’s house to be closer to the NICU and began our lives as parents, fumbling with tiny diapers and maneuvering wires around our preemie son just to briefly hold him.
I felt robbed of an experience that I so desperately wanted to have. I was a heart broken mama that had to say goodbye to her little boy each night. I couldn’t breastfeed him right away, I had time limits on how long I could hold him, and another baby, family or nurse was never far away. It was difficult to bond with my son, let alone even feel like his mother.
Even though we faced these challenges side by side, I had never felt more alone than when my son was in the NICU. My husband was grateful that his wife and son had survived and more easily moved forward. For me it felt like learning to walk again, like something foreign and out of place that I wasn’t prepared for. I was grieving, I was sad, and I needed his comfort and support more than anything. Yet, he couldn’t relate to my feelings and didn’t know what to do for me. And it created a void between us.
Men like to fix things. We tell them about a problem and they immediately want to find a way to make it better. It’s how they are made.
But sometimes things can’t be fixed. Sometimes the broken pieces just need to be held together with love for a while before true healing can begin.
That’s what I needed. I didn’t know how to tell him, and he didn’t know how to understand. And it drove us further apart than we had ever been.
Adding to that was the stress of finances, insurance, our jobs to consider and a home to check up on.
I wish I could say that my husband and I handled this all gracefully. That we drew closer together and stepped up to this challenge as a team. But we did not. My pain and sadness confused him and made him feel helpless. His lack of understanding felt like he was pulling away from me and was like another stab to my heart. As the days dragged on, each of us feeling terrible but completely unaware of how to cope ourselves or with each other, we began to grow frustrated with one another.
As men and women, we see the world differently. It can make marriage, or any relationship, difficult when we don’t respond the same way to things, especially during hard times. It can be easy to misunderstand and become frustrated with one another.
During our NICU experience I wish we had had more guidance from someone experienced enough to help us understand not only our own feelings, but what each other was feeling, as well.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Your NICU may be a wonderful place to start and can connect you with experienced professionals, a support group or other outside resources.
You might be grieving. And it’s okay. As I scrambled for resources that would help me navigate those first days in the NICU, I came to understand that what I was experiencing was grief. I was grieving the loss of a full-term pregnancy and witnessing the birth of my baby. Understanding that I was going through a natural process gave me a sense of peace and normalcy.
Seek out advice from someone that’s been there. This is important for both spouses, but especially so for dads. Moms will likely be able to find a plethora of advice, support and comfort from nurses, friends and other women that may have experienced similar circumstances. A quick internet search will bring up blogs, articles and videos from other moms that have walked in your shoes. However, it’s just as important for dad to be given an opportunity to hear from another dad that what he’s going through is normal and to be expected, given the circumstances. Giving dad an outlet and an opportunity to ask questions may give him the understanding and comfort that he needs to then support and comfort mom.
While the scars of the NICU are forever etched on our hearts, over time and in the light of a new day, away from the hospital, we were able to greet each other with understanding, empathy and love. We grew from the experience in ways we never could have imagined.
We’ve learned more details about one another than we ever dreamed we would during the birth of our first child. It’s brought us closer together, a stronger team and even more in love than we were on our wedding day.
It certainly wasn’t easy from the days when I wanted to scream at him for dismissing my feelings to today, where my husband feels like my truest partner in life, my biggest fan and my strongest shoulder to lean on, as it should be.
The NICU can surely put stress on any relationship. But with love, patience, resources and time, I do believe that healing can take place and a stronger bond than before can emerge.