I witnessed the scene countless times during Daphne’s five-month stay: a father entering the NICU for the first time. He approaches the incubator alone, tentatively, blue gown over his clothes. Peeking into the acrylic incubator from a few feet away, he is approached by a doctor with a report on his new baby. His precious new son or daughter, wearing the tiny hospital striped hat, scrawny arms and legs connected to tubes and wires. The baby’s mother is in a recovery room on a different floor, desperate to know more details about the child, or better yet, see a picture. Dad hears what the doctor has to say, so much information. Then a nurse introduces herself, asks if he has any questions. “Can I touch him?” or “Is she going to be OK?”, Dad asks. Welcome to fatherhood, NICU style.
I often pictured my own husband’s first visit, heartbroken and scared. My obstetrician accompanied Zev and urged him to snap the first photo for me. He soon returned to my bedside to let me know Daphne was tiny, beautiful, and a fighter.
Throughout those months, I saw my husband rise up to the occasion again and again. A week after she was born, we were told there was nothing they could do to save her kidneys. I was despondent, with no energy to eat, speak, or move. He said to me “we are going to be her parents while she is here,” and gently encouraged me back on my feet. He sat by the baby for as many hours as I did – I took the day shift, he took the night. After I returned to work, whenever he had a few minutes to spare he drove down to see her, and texted photos and updates. Gregarious and friendly, he got to know every nurse in the unit, and many fellow parents. He transported my pumped breast milk daily in a little orange cooler bag, and got up in the middle of the night to put the expressed milk in the refrigerator and wash the pump parts so I could use them again first thing in the morning.
I don’t know how I could have gotten through the NICU without my husband, his steady presence and his sense of humor. We have approached Daphne’s prematurity and continuing health issues with opposite yet complimentary styles: I research things to death, ask questions, demand information, make sure doctors are on the same page. He sits back and listens, supports, and tries to be consistent. I would be lying if I said our styles have never clashed, especially when we are each running on three hours of sleep. We know our goal is one and the same: that our children are healthy, happy, whole.