The complete resource for NICU families from admission to discharge and beyond

NICU DadsThe birth of your baby was supposed to be such a happy time. The pregnancy may not have been the easiest – for either of you – but you did your best to be understanding and supportive because you knew it would all be worth it in the end. And then something went all wrong! There were all these people in the room, and everything was happening so fast. Nothing was the way you had imagined it would be. Somebody you didn’t know asked if you wanted to come over to see your baby, and they started telling you things that you didn’t understand. And then someone said they were taking your baby to the NICU and did you want to come? Of course you want to go with your baby – something’s wrong and you have to stay with him/her! But you can’t leave your wife either. She needs you at her side. What were you supposed to do?

And so you entered the world of the NICU dad. A lonely and confusing place where nothing is familiar. Sometimes you wonder if you’re invisible, because everybody ignores you. Staff members eagerly update Mom, help her with baby care, encourage her to kangaroo. But no one asks you – or even makes eye contact – even though you want nothing more than to hold your new baby close to you.

You are supposed to protect and provide for your family, but you feel totally out of control. You want to be the emotional rock for your wife, but it seems like you can’t figure out what she needs. Your life is completely disrupted, but bills still have to get paid and somehow you have to keep working. And how do you keep things “normal” for the other children in the family?

A NICU experience is rarely anticipated, and never pleasant. Couples split, family dynamics are forever changed, and post-traumatic stress disorder is a real phenomenon. Awareness of the pitfalls is the first step toward avoiding them. Try these tips:

  • Introduce yourself to your baby’s nurses and other staff. Speak up and engage in conversations, updates, bedside sessions. Show the staff you want – and intend – to be involved.
  • Keep your frustration in check. Staff members can be very quick to label a father “disruptive” – with unfortunate consequences.
  • Try to visit on your own. Come in before or after work – especially if you work an unusual shift. Visiting at “off” hours will provide opportunity for more interactions with the staff.
  • Try to connect with other “NICU dads” you might meet in the unit. Sharing your feelings with others can help relieve the stress.
  • Try to continue “couple” activities with your partner that are separate from the NICU. Your baby has the best babysitters possible! Go out to dinner, catch a movie, go on a picnic. Let the NICU stress bring you closer together, not drive you apart.
  • Reconnect with your faith. Talk to your personal spiritual leader if you have one. S/he will be welcomed in your NICU with advance notice. If you prefer, the hospital will have a chaplain who will assist you.
  • Talk to the social worker about support groups/counseling available specifically for dads.

The emotions and pressures felt by NICU dads are unique and, for the most part, overlooked in most NICU environments. With knowledge and some “heads up” you, too, can get through this!

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