by Jeff Fabian, High Risk Hope Dad
Your new son or daughter can, and likely will, live a happy, rewarding, and normal life. Keep that in the front of your mind. Dwell on it. Do not let everything going on around you distract you from that point or get you down because your family will need your confidence and strength. You should know that your parenting experience may not be typical. It will probably be more difficult physically, emotionally, and financially. But it will also be more rewarding. Your child’s milestones will mean more. And you will swell with pride seeing the perseverance of baby and mom.
I can say all of this from experience.
One spring afternoon, my wife and I found our joyous expectation and confidence replaced with worry and uncertainty. Jennifer was admitted to the hospital during what should have been a routine obstetrician appointment. Our son, John, was delivered a few days later right at 33 weeks as Jennifer entered organ failure.
We had questions but no answers.
No one could tell us when, or even if, John would be able to breathe or eat on his own. No one could say for sure whether John would have mental or physical impairments or how they would be treated if he did. We were experienced parents, but we had no idea what to expect. We had no idea whether John would grow up to live the life he was supposed to live or how to help him get there. It is a low place.
One thing that helped, was hearing from coworkers who had premature children that grew up to live normal adult lives. It provided hope that is now turning into a reality for John even though it has not been easy.
John’s early life has been challenging and has included numerous visits to four different medical specialists, an orthotist, physical therapy, an ER visit, and repeated unscheduled “sick” visits to the pediatrician. There have been countless late nights and desperate moments. But we hung in there with John, and Jennifer in particular, devoted her life to making John’s life better.
Now at eighteen months, John is thriving. He is hitting all his developmental milestones, and he is a happy child whose heart is filled with love for his family. It has not been an easy road, but I could not possibly be more proud of John and Jennifer. I am certain that if you stay positive and stay tough, your family can do it too.
6 Tips for the NICU Dad
- Run Public Relations. It is natural that many family members and friends will have questions, reach out with concern, and ask to come by the hospital to show support. Their support is critical, but it takes effort to manage. To help take some stress off mom, take the initiative in reaching out to family and friends to let them know how baby and mom are doing so that mom doesn’t feel obligated to reach out herself. If family and friends want to visit, coordinate the visits so that everyone doesn’t come by at once and so that mom has personal time when she needs it to relax and bond with your new child.
- Encourage Mom. Let mom know every day that you are proud of her and that she is doing a wonderful job. Mom will be experiencing a range and depth of emotions that dads may not be able to fully understand. Your words can help instill confidence and comfort to carry everyone through a difficult time.
- Participate in the caring for your NICU baby. Even while still in the NICU, help with baths, feedings, and changing diapers. Ask the nurses and doctors questions and learn what you can. It will not only help take some stress off mom, but it will give her comfort to know that you are in this together.
- Meals. You may be in the NICU for a while. Bring in a variety of mom’s favorite foods from different restaurants even if you have to travel out of the way. It can provide comfort and a respite from the monotony of hospital food.
- Make sure the home is ready for the baby. Since the baby came early, you may not have been able to finish the nursery or put together all those high chairs and rockers you got from the baby shower. Take the initiative to get some of those projects done so that mom doesn’t have to worry that your home is ready for the baby.
- Whittle down that “To Do” list. Mom may focus her time and effort on your NICU baby for the foreseeable future. You can help her keep that focus by getting to some of the things on that lingering to-do list, like hanging that shelf, calling the plumber to fix that leak, or getting her car serviced.