What’s Daddy’s Role in the NICU?

I always thought I would only write about the fun and entertaining parts of pregnancy, and never have to venture into the spaces of pain, and hurt.  I want to share this experience with you.  This is not my first time going thru labor in a hospital, but this time it was different than the others.

On December 9th, Sunday afternoon, we (the kids and Katy & I) were all at home working around the house and preparing for a city wide event that evening, my practically to term pregnant wife, Katy felt a sharp pain in her uterus and became worried, she felt a few contractions, and we decided to go to the hospital.

When we got to the hospital they hooked Katy up to the monitors and the baby was ok, however she was contracting, and she was at 37 weeks, they were concerned about the uterine wall, and our doctor, Jason Rothbart MD , decided that an immediate C-section was the best way to go.

Our beautiful new baby girl came out at 10:30pm.  Although not as we planned or thought, we were very excited and happy; she went with us to our recovery room.  She stayed with us for about an hour, and then I took her over to the nursery for her bath and clean up.

The nurses took her temperature and it was low, so they turned on the lamps to heat her up. They also noticed her breaths per minute “BPM” were high.  So they checked her oxygen level and it was low, they put an oxygen tent over her face for an hour.  Now I was told, this happens quite often and not to worry, however, if she cannot maintain normal breathing on her own then she will have to go to NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) for over night supervision.

Unfortunately our newborn baby girl was not able to maintain on her own.  We were told that sometimes when a baby comes early they have fluid in their lungs that needs to be expelled.  We were not to worry and they would take care of it.  I went with her up to NICU, at 3 am.

I can only say, there is nothing I can think of more saddening and heart wrenching then seeing your own baby in a little box, hooked up entirely to a life support system.  Most of the newborns in the NICU are connected to life support.

At 6am, Katy went upstairs to hold her.  They said they were worried about infection, everyone says infection instead of pneumonia because they think it does not sound as scary.

Through out the day, her struggles for oxygen increased, and they had to put a tube in her lungs, a tube in her veins, and another in her stomach.  Although grateful for the capacity of modern technology, tt was very difficult to believe this was happening, and just plain horrible to see.

At 36 hours, there was still no improvement, she was placed on high potency broad-spectrum antibiotics, a breathing machine, and she was still struggling for life.

Katy was so upset, it was so hard to see her come back from NICU in tears, she was so afraid for Tessa (our new baby).

Here we are at what should be one of the happiest times of our lives, and instead it felt like the worst week of our lives.

But we were not alone.  At our hospital there are 6 Bays, with 6 beds in each Bay.  That is a total of 36 babies, or 72 parents that could be in the same position or much much worse conditions than our little Tessa.

It was 72 hours before they would let my wife hold our baby. And then another 24 hours before she could try and breast-feed.

There is a parent lounge where you can just see the flood of tears buried under the thinnest layer of strength, faith, and hope the parent has within themselves.  Everyone is trying to hold it together.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to “Why?” “Why me?” “Why my baby?”  The self-blame is evident everywhere, but during our nine days I heard stories of pre-mature births, full term births, beyond full term, C-sections, vaginal delivery, twins, etc.  And complications due to breathing, organ function, spinal infections, holes in the heart, holes in the lungs, and holes in the brain.  Just so devastatingly sad, it is almost incomprehensible unless you are physically sitting in the room.

I finally cried, as the Dad. I tried so hard to hold it together, to show my strength and be there for Katy when she was weeping and sobbing with sadness for our baby.  I cried when friends and family would come to visit, and when we would visit with another set of parents and talk about life.  About half way through the week, after days and days of less than 4 hours sleep per night, I was in the car running errands listening to the news, and the horror of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school, and I thought of those parents and what they must be going through, and I cried, I was in my car sobbing for those parents, for my baby in NICU, for my wife, and for the other parents with their children in NICU along with us.  As a guy, we do not cry much, and I felt good and bad at the same time, relieved yet exhausted.

By the end of the week, we were getting positive signs that we might get released. We had seen other parents leave, smiling, taking pictures, and bringing their babies home, and we had been the sad parents sitting there watching and wondering if and when it will be our turn.

One thing about the NICU is we were taught about hygiene and cleanliness.  I have never washed my hands so many times, or used so much alcohol to clean them.  My hands as well as my wife’s, were cracked, thinned and hurting by the end of nine days, I can only imagine parents with babies in NICU for months.

Our time came at the end of nine days, I wore a pink bracelet, that said, “it’s a girl” the entire time in support of my baby.  I truly believe that a good part of why we got out so quickly was because my wife was there from 5am to midnight every day, talking to Tessa, holding her whenever they allowed, and pumping breast milk and feeding whenever possible.  My wife is a rock star mom and our children are blessed because of her.

We are now home, and she is the most beautiful baby girl I have ever held.

Robert Nickell, Founder & CEO of Daddy Scrubs and a PAM Advisor.

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