I am not sure who suffered the greater punch to the face when we were told that our baby had to be delivered immediately at 29 weeks gestation because I suddenly developed severe preeclampsia, my husband or I. If I had to pick, I would say my husband, considering he was dealt a double blow when the doctor privately took him aside to prepare him for the possibility of losing not only just his son, but also his wife, as well. However, we both agree nothing compares to what our preemie had to endure being born 11 weeks early.
I also was not sure just how deeply and to some degree, irreparably, my husband was affected by life in the NICU and life after the NICU. I was too wrapped up in my own emotions and post-partum depression to ever really talk to my husband about how he was coping. Now, two years later, I decided to remedy that and sit down with the only other person in my life who shares a big, silly, grin with me whenever we see a kangaroo on TV, and ask him some questions about how he felt during those NICU days and how he continues to deal with being the dad of a preemie.
Here are some of the questions I asked him and what he had to say:
What is the greatest challenge for a NICU dad?
Dealing with the immense feeling of helplessness. I always felt it was my job to take care of my family and when something happens that is so out of your control, you just feel so powerless. And, then, when I had to go back to work two weeks after my son was born, it was extremely hard to only see him for a short time each day. I felt like I was missing out on so much! Plus, it’s impossible for co-workers and family to understand what you are going through, so there really is no one outside of the NICU that you can talk to about it.
What was the best part of being a NICU dad? (if there really is a best part!)
Kangaroo care! Holding my preemie skin-to-skin was something I was so scared to do at first, but from the first moment I held him like that, I never wanted to let him go! We would have arguments over who got to hold him and the nurses got such a kick out of that.
What advice do you have for current NICU dads?
As scared or uncomfortable as you may feel right now, try to help take care of the baby any way you can or are allowed to. Some of the nurses were better at this than others, but asking me to change my son’s diapers and bottle feed him helped to make the whole experience feel more normal. Hang in there and don’t isolate yourself because that will only make you feel worse. Your baby and your baby’s mother need you to be there as much as you can be. Also, I learned so much about my son’s health, and premature babies in general, from the many conversations I had with the nurses and doctors in the NICU. What I learned from them helped me feel less anxious and more confident that my son was going to be fine.
What is life after the NICU like for dads of preemies?
Well, it certainly is a lot different from what my life was like before having a preemie. I know all parents say how much their lives change after having kids, but when your baby is born so early and you come so close to losing him, not just your life changes. You are changed in an instant. You learn to pray harder than you ever have before and to give thanks after every call or visit you make to the NICU and hear “he’s having a good day.” You learn to work harder than ever to help your family through the ups and downs of life after the NICU. Most importantly, you learn to accept that you can’t control everything that happens in life. You just have to be ready to help with the things you can control.
So, there you have it. I must admit, getting my husband to answer even these few questions was like pulling teeth, but I was pleasantly surprised by how forthcoming his responses were. I now have a whole new appreciation for all he went through and never once did he complain. He is my, and our preemie’s, rock.
Hopefully, this NICU dad has helped another NICU dad feel a little less alone. If nothing else, I hope he has helped another NICU mom better understand what her preemie’s dad might be feeling.