My husband was not new to being a dad when our preemie was born 3 months before her due date. In fact, as our third child and third daughter at that, he felt experienced and confident as we looked forward to her birth. That changed when we found ourselves looking at her through the barrier of an isolette, searching for a place to touch her that wasn’t covered in wires and tubes. Although we had been parents for almost seven years, we had never encountered anything like the NICU, with its rollercoaster of emotions and fear that takes parents along for a ride like no other. Now almost three years out from our daughter’s birth, I look back and realize that during the 79 days my daughter was in the NICU, I fell in love with my husband all over again.
In celebration of Father’s Day, here are four times during our NICU stay that I realized I have the best husband and my daughters are blessed with an amazing daddy:
Helping provide our daughter breast milk
No, not in the traditional sense, but my husband helped me many times and made it possible for our daughter to begin receiving breastmilk the night she was born. About four hours after giving birth, I stood in the hospital bathroom and began to hand express breastmilk into a syringe my husband was holding. It seems almost comical now, how we meticulously collected each precious drop that we could and my husband rushed to label it and run it down to the NICU. I remember looking at him that night and thinking that there was no one else I could do that with. We tried to use our helplessness as fuel and do the only thing we could at the moment. Later on he would wash pump parts and even surprise me with a new freezer when I filled up our side by side with frozen milk.
I think any NICU mom finds seeing her husband or partner doing kangaroo care a very emotional experience. It hurt to see my baby so tiny and fragile. Just the process of taking her out and positioning her on my husband’s chest would have me tearing up. The look on my husband’s face, while full of love for her, was also one of worry and concern. It vacillated between joy and amazement that she was here and such a fighter, to sadness that she had to go through this battle. I recognized his emotions because I felt them myself each time I held her. There is nothing quite like seeing a two pound baby nuzzled against a grown man’s chest, his hand encompassing her whole body. Weak and strong juxtaposed in a hospital recliner.
Making phone calls
Okay, this may sound ridiculous, and it’s hard to explain to those who have never experienced it, how the NICU left me with absolutely no patience or care for mundane but necessary tasks. Our NICU stay required us to make a ton of phone calls…insurance companies, doctors’ offices, medical supply stores, along with numerous family and friends who wanted updates. And I couldn’t do it. Hold music grated my nerves like never before. Basic questions like name, address, and policy number seemed so annoying. Actually, stupid, it seemed stupid. I wanted to scream how I really didn’t have time for that, my baby was in intensive care, in fact, I guess she could die, so if we could skip the hold time that would be great.
My husband realized this and took over. He dealt with the insurance company, even going to formal meetings when they wanted to transfer our daughter to another hospital. He told me only what I needed to know and left out the struggle that he may have gone through to get the desired results. He spent countless hours doing these types of tasks, because he knew I couldn’t. I was pushed to the limit spending all the time I could at the NICU, pumping around the clock, and caring for our other two children.
Sometimes when we take the burden off another, it shows them a great level of love and protection and that’s exactly what my husband did for me.
He makes me feel like an amazing mother
For a long time, I felt guilty about my daughter’s premature birth. Although no cause could be found for her early arrival, I questioned myself and if I could have done anything differently. My husband never did. He always supported my decisions. He did not dwell on the “why” questions as I found myself doing many times. To him, I am the best mother in the world, and I could not ask for a better husband or father for my children.
It is said that the best thing a man can do for his children is to treat their mother well, and that was true for me throughout our NICU time and to this very day. So, to my husband, and all the other dads who have experienced or are currently in the NICU, Happy Father’s Day! This difficult journey will become an important part of your story and can even bring you and your partner closer.