Having a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit is a very personal experience. While we face many similar circumstances and the same uncertainty of what the future holds, how we cope from day-to-day can be different for each one of us. I’m thankful I was able to draw strength from my husband, Andy, during our son’s NICU stay. He was simply amazing.
I was scared for many days. I was scared at James’ birth when they told me he weighed just 15 ounces. I was scared when I saw how small and fragile he was. I was scared with each complication and each surgery. He was my precious baby boy and I was so scared he wouldn’t live. Those days were difficult beyond anything I could have imagined. Thankfully, every bit of weakness and fear I felt Andy matched with unbelievable strength.
When I was scared to love and get too attached, fearful of the pain I would feel if James didn’t survive, Andy was creating a beautiful bond with our son. I remember watching him very bravely place his hand through the opening of the isolette so James could hold his finger. He did this every time he sat with James, and James always responded. During those moments I learned just how important our touch was, and how healing it could be. I’m so thankful Andy had the courage to create such a powerful bond with James, because watching him gave me the courage to do the same.
Andy had the strength to be present with James. It certainly wasn’t easy and some days his face was just as tear-streaked as mine, but he was there. He sat at James’ side watching, learning, bonding, never giving up. He stayed for the painful stuff, too. He was there for line placements, eye exams, blood draws, de-sats and bagging. If James had to go through it, he wasn’t going to go through it alone.
I loved watching Andy become a Dad. I’m sure it wasn’t the Dad he imagined initially, but he was still a Dad who loved his son tremendously. Andy was as hands on as he was allowed to be, and seemed to have a knack for calming James with his touch. This was especially true during Kangaroo Care. I’m thankful we had nurses who believed it was just as important for Dad to Kangaroo as Mom. Kangaroo time with Daddy was such a peaceful experience for both James and Andy. I have so many beautiful memories of times James settled in on Daddy’s chest for a nice long nap. Precious bonding time for Daddy and son.
I can’t imagine how difficult it is to be a father in the NICU. Everyone expects the mom to fall apart, cry, and be an emotional mess. That part I was good at. And everyone asks about the mom, making sure we’re taking care of ourselves, eating, sleeping when we can, getting time away from the NICU. But it’s different for dads. They’re the strong ones, fearless, in control during a crisis, providing support for the rest of us. I’ve read that during NICU stays Dads do possess this amazing ability to hold everything together, but post NICU days can be very difficult. (You can find the study here.) If you’re a dad in the NICU now and unsure of what to do, I would encourage you to simply be present when you can. Be present both physically and emotionally. Allow yourself time to grow into being a dad in these unimaginable circumstances. You will find your strength moment by moment.
I will forever be grateful to my husband and the amazing example he was in the NICU. He gave me strength for each moment with James, and above all, he helped me find the courage to be James’ mom and love him with my whole heart even though tomorrow wasn’t guaranteed. Such a precious gift of himself, and one that strengthened our little family.