“Somewhere along the way your new normal sets in.”
This is part three of a four-part series created especially for NICU dads, by NICU dads. Read part one: 10 Things New NICU Dads Need to Know and part two: Rad White and the NICU Beard Club. Stay tuned for more great stories from NICU dads leading up to Father’s Day!
Meet Jonathan Hayhurst: high school coach, sports enthusiast, and micro preemie dad to Evie, born at just 24 weeks. Here Jonathan shares his experiences with coping in the NICU after a traumatic delivery.
What were the circumstances surrounding your child’s birth?
My wife, Jennifer, went into labor at 24 weeks and 3 days. The night before, she knew something wasn’t right and the following morning began our journey that included an ambulance ride, Star Flight helicopter transport, four days in labor and delivery, placental abruption, emergency c-section, and a dad trying to figure everything out while being unable to do anything.
What type of support did you receive in the NICU or once you were discharged?
We received great family support throughout our stay, but as the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, we had to rely on each other for out mainstay of support. To keep our individual sanity, the NICU team provided us outlets to talk and almost therapy-like sessions while at the hospital. Both of our moms provided guidance we needed.
Hand to Hold’s in-hospital family support specialists played an instrumental role in checking in on us. Just having someone to talk to was very comforting.
What was your experience like as a dad in the NICU? How did you cope with your child being in the NICU?
My wife and I rotated. She would go in the mornings until I arrived after work, then we would eat in the cafeteria and she would go home and I would stay. We did this for about four months. Friends described us as ships passing in the night, but we knew the focus was for Evie. Weekends we spent at the NICU and usually a friend or family member would be in town, which helped.
As a dad, I felt proud and helpless in the NICU – proud for my baby girl and helpless that I couldn’t fix anything or seem to bring peace to my wife. My coping actually came outside of the NICU. We bought a house just before my wife went into pre-term labor, and in my mind if I worked and prepared everything there, Evie had to come home and our family had to grow.
What did you learn about this experience that you’d like to pass on to others?
Be there for your wife. Talk to her, listen to her, love her. Help with everything you can when your child comes home. Be there for your baby. Sitting in the NICU may not feel like you’re helping or accomplishing anything, but you are.
Is there anything else you think NICU dads need to know?
Keep going. For some, as in our case, after discharge there are still many issues to face. Set up therapies, home health, doctor’s appointments, etc., before you leave the NICU. Getting discharged seems like it will be great day, but after relying on the NICU staff so heavily, that day is scary too. They won’t let you take a NICU nurse with you (I tried), so just keep going and somewhere along the way your new normal sets in.