If your baby was born before about 32 weeks, had a very low birth weight, or you have multiples, she (or they) will have to spend some time in the neo-natal (or newborn) intensive care unit (NICU, sometimes pronounced “Nick-U”). In the case of healthy-but-small babies, there’s not a lot to worry about—they’re called “growers and feeders” and just have to bulk up to 4 or 5 pounds before you can take them home. But not all babies in the NICU are healthy.
most new dads who have children in the NICU are generally left to come up with coping strategies on their own. Here are some that worked for many of the dads:
- Try not to take it personally. The truth is that although it might feel like you’re being left out, the staff’s primary concern is to save your baby’s life—and it should be yours too. And if the staff is focusing on your partner more than on you, that’s because it’s important that the baby eats, and her mother’s milk is the best medicine.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You have a right to know exactly what’s going on with your child every step of the way. A lot of men find that knowing what’s going on—the procedures, the reasons, the odds of success—is incredibly helpful.
- Be a little bit selfish. It sounds horrible, but it’s not as bad as you think. The point is that you’re not going to be much use to anyone—baby or partner—if you’re walking around like a zombie because you haven’t slept in 48 hours. Mom and baby need you to be there and to be strong. So if you need to find a couch and take a nap, do it. And if you need to go for a run or play basketball or do something else to blow off steam, do it. Your whole family will be better off in the long run.
- Be emotionally strong too. You and your partner may have very different ways of coping with your baby’s illness. A lot of men, for example, are fascinated by the technology and find that focusing on that helps them cope.
Other men only feel safe expressing anger. Women, though, tend to just go straight to the emotions—particularly sadness and sorrow. Some women get upset at what they interpret as their partner’s insensitivity. If this happens, talk to her about what you’re feeling. She needs to know you care.