Parents can experience overwhelming emotions and heavy burdens when having a child in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). As we approach Father’s Day this weekend, Onsite wants to bring attention to a particular person who may not get recognized enough, the NICU Dad. Onsite’s Dr. Brittany Reid sat down and talked with one of her patient’s father to hear more about his experience during his daughter’s hospital stay in the NICU after she was unexpectedly born prematurely at 34 weeks gestation.
Describe how you felt when you first talked to a doctor about your baby being premature. How did you handle those emotions and thoughts?
I honestly do not remember much of the initial talks because things happened fast. A lot of the conversation about prematurity mainly happened with my wife before I was able to get to the hospital. I just wanted to be with her. It was frankly stressful and scary. I am a Christian, and I had to have faith in God that He would take care of my wife and child. I did a lot of praying.
How would you describe your experience as a NICU Dad?
The realization of fatherhood is overwhelming. When my daughter was born, I remember thinking she was so tiny; I did not know babies could be this small. She only weighed 2lb 13oz. I am not going to pretend that I did not cry because I did. I remember talking to you about certain things she may need because of her size – special lines, breathing support, etc. – but when I saw her after that fact, it was scary to see all the tubes and cords attached to her. It was even harder to see her mother so upset. My mind was preoccupied with supporting my wife, worrying about my child, and juggling work.
The initial days in the NICU were nerve-racking. Every time the monitors would go off, it just amplified our worry and added to the stress. Education from the nurses and doctors helped a lot – over time, we learned that every alarm did not mean something terrible. There were moments where I did not feel like coming, but I knew it was not about me. It was about my family and being present.
As time passed, we were able to see the positive transformation happening in our daughter as she got better – it was great! Holding her for the first time was life-changing, and getting her direct eye contact melted my heart. I am forever thankful to the NICU staff – I felt like we all worked as a team to keep my baby healthy.
What are some things that you wish you had known or had been prepared for (if anything)?
It is hard to prepare for anything like this. But perhaps a sign from God that the delivery was not going to be the natural experience I had anticipated. It felt like everything that could have gone wrong did at first– my wife had a C-section rather than a standard delivery; my daughter was born early – the whole experience was just different than I had imagined. But despite that, I still believe that God had his hand on her while in the NICU. The doctors told me my baby might need oxygen – she never did; They said she might have feeding problems – she never needed a feeding tube. Again, there is no preparation for this. All you can do is take things as they come.
What advice you have for other Dads with babies in a NICU?
Give it all to God. I often went to the chapel in the hospital to released my feelings – I let all the worry, doubt, and anxiety out. Staying positive is vital because it is easy to let the negative emotions take over. If their child is anything like mine – I feel as if I can confidently say that their baby will likely be ok. I am amazed at how strong my daughter is – she is stronger than me. The NICU has left an imprint on my heart. Although I would not want to go through it again, I will always keep fond memories of the hospital people involved in her care.
We hope this NICU Dad gave you some insight into how fathers feel with their baby in the NICU. Happy Father’s Day to all fathers and father figures out there. We hope you enjoy your day surrounded by loved ones.