Despite a relatively quiet 25 days in the NICU, I still had a hard time managing the ups and down that come with it. While I was thrilled to be a father for the first time, I was overwhelmed not only by the responsibility of a child, but a frail one who had a scary start to life as well.
When we brought Jayden home from the NICU, I didn’t go out of the way to forget those feelings, to pretend as if the NICU was part of a bad dream. Being the optimist I am, I chose to celebrate the experience as a learning tool for all our little miracles can overcome. Of course I still had worries, uncertainties, and questions as we moved forward with our lives. Post-NICU life isn’t the same as being in the NICU, yet the differences do have a number of similarities.
A daily reminder of having a former preemie is the challenges of working through speech delays. Jayden is making progress every day, but we still have a way to go. We still hold our breath every time he gets a cold. But most of those raw emotions that I felt early on in the NICU have passed.
Recently, after Jayden had a fifth ear infection, and second in a couple months, we consulted an ENT specialist to see what she thought about having tubes put in Jayden’s ears. Despite having normal hearing, the frequency of his infections prompted her to give us the green light.
A couple of weeks ago, as we waited for a sedative to make my son sleepy before the procedure was done, hospital staff asked that put scrubs on to carry him back to the operating room. Much to my surprise, when I got back to the room, I was asked to hold him while they placed the mask on him to put him out.
I’m sorry, what do you need me to do?!?
(Before I go any further it’s important to note the staff at the hospital were amazing, supportive, and in hindsight having me there to comfort him was important.)
As I sat there, holding my son, watching him momentarily struggle to fight off the mask and ultimately succumb, I felt a rush of emotion come over me. All of a sudden a lot of those feelings from the NICU came back. Uncertainty, helplessness, fear, it was all back in an instant. As I walked back to the waiting area my wife knew I was upset, and we talked about it. I felt better after airing my concerns. Luckily the procedure was quick and a success. The doctor was out to share the good news within minutes, and shortly after we were reunited with our little trooper.
Sometimes, when you least expect it, those old NICU feelings may come back. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. For those experiences have molded the parent you have become.