Since my son’s birth, I have talked to several fathers of preemies, and most of the conversations start with, “As a man,” or “As a father.” I believe fathers need to hear the experiences of another dad who has been through the same situation as they are. One of the first questions I was asked by another NICU father was, “How do you handle the ‘dog days of the NICU?’” I spoke from my heart and my experience. My son had been in the NICU for nearly three months, and he had his share of good and bad days. The gentleman who posed the question had been in the NICU less than a week, a NICU “newbie” of sorts. Here are a few tips I shared with him and I hope they help you, too.
1. Take it one day at a time. Everyone wants to see that light at the end of the tunnel. However, it can be very difficult to predict when your baby will come home. If you set a timetable for your baby to come home and that doesn’t happen, it can be a heart-breaking disappointment. I made this mistake and I nearly went crazy! Every baby’s situation is different. Treasure each day you spend with your baby.
2. Cherish the good days, don’t dwell on the bad days. This is why a NICU stay is called a roller coaster ride. One day your baby can be doing great, the next day a complication can rear its ugly head. While it is very important you remember what happened during your baby’s bad day, do not let it sour the good days you have with your baby. Those good days are important, not just for your emotional health, but I truly believe that when you are with your baby and you are happy, that happiness is felt by your baby, and that definitely helps your baby’s health.
3. Communicate with your wife or partner. This is very vital because not only does it ensure both of you know the details of your child’s care, but it reassures you that you are not alone in this situation. Also, it keeps the line of communication open for other aspects of your life (work, kids, family, etc.) and your feelings. Having a baby in the NICU will place stress on a relationship, if you openly communicate with your wife it will help ease that stress.
4. Make sure you and your wife or partner spend quality time together. This can be very difficult with a baby in the NICU. There is work, children, and other areas of life that take up a lot of your time. Now add time to be with your baby in the NICU. You may feel there aren’t enough hours in the day, but trust me, you can make time to spend with your wife. For me, it was an absolute must. My wife and I would have NICU date nights where we would have a nice dinner before visiting my son in the NICU. Or, we would catch a late movie after visiting my son on the weekend. It helped us because for those couple of hours, we could focus on each other, recharge and unwind. You may have to get creative, but you can make time to spend with each other. It will do wonders for your relationship, and reaffirm that you are there for each other during this difficult time.
If you are a dad with a baby in the NICU, I wish the best outcome and a short NICU stay. Sometimes though, our little fighters require more time to be ready to face the world. Days can turn into weeks, and weeks can turn into months quickly. I hope these suggestions for dealing with the “Dog Days of the NICU” will help you work through this tough time.