I remember watching my husband over the course of our daughter’s 79 day NICU stay. Born at 27 weeks, and just over 2 pounds, she was covered in wires and tubes and the beeping of machines were the lullabies played in her hospital room. As terrified as I was as her mother, I could sense that my husband was dealing with a feeling of helplessness that he had never experienced.
You see, my husband is an orthopedic trauma surgeon. He fixes people in dire situations. Give him an OR, and he will use whatever screws and plates are necessary to piece together broken bones from car crashes and other unimaginable accidents. He didn’t know how to help our daughter. He wasn’t trained for that, and it killed him inside. This picture sums it up:
He could only stare at her and will her to fight this battle. If ignorance is bliss, his medical knowledge was torture. With every brady or desat, his mind would take him to the worse possible scenerio. Was she getting an infection? Did she need more respiratory support? Did her belly look swollen? NEC? Finally, instead of trying to solve her problems medically, I watched my husband transform from doctor to daddy, and all of a sudden, there was a lot of this going on:
His heartbeat and body heat could do what 4 years of medical school, 5 years of residency, and a year of fellowship could not. Father and daughter, skin to skin. She was his baby girl who needed him as daddy, not doctor. And with that, they both began to thrive.
If you are a NICU dad and find yourself feeling helpless or like you need to “fix” the situation as my husband did, remember that one of your most important roles is to simply begin parenting your child. My husband did that physically through kangaroo care with our daughter and by being vocal as decisions were made about her care. He handled all communications with our insurance company. Calling the NICU at 5:00 am on his way to work became his routine so he could text me a morning update before I got there.
Just remember the most important thing you can do is begin to love on and bond with your baby. Seeing my husband do kangaroo care with our tiny 2 pound daughter made me remember many times over why I fell in love with him and that love has grown exponentially as we have navigated this journey of preemie parenthood together.