I write about mums. A lot. A lot, a lot. But there’s another person that’s there, working hard and feeling just as worn out and emotional a lot of the time: dads.
As far as my husband is concerned we are 50/50 in this raising a child business. It just so happens that evolution has woman carrying the baby, and feeding the baby if she can, but he believes it’s important that we share in the load of it all. Not in an ‘I do one feed, you do one feed’ need to be fair type situation, but in a ‘you don’t need to make that decision/feel alone in this because I’m in this with you’ type situation.
I think this is important too, because dads get left out a lot, and they don’t deserve that. We were so lucky I guess that his job allowed him time to be at the hospital 24/7 with his boys for the first two months, the work was minimal and he could step back and think about it later. This is different for a lot of families in the NICU whose dads have no time off because baby wasn’t supposed to be here yet. To a mum this feels hard and lonely, spending all day at the hospital alone and feeling the burden of the ups and downs without your number one support person. When my husband spoke about it he said that he also found it really hard, not being with his son, not being able to share the load with me and feeling like he was missing out on something. And this continues in the every day, with a preemie or a term baby. Dads feel left out, surplus to requirements, sometimes useless because mum feeds, and mum comforts and often, due to the simple fact of income differences mum is home and dad is at work. He, and a lot of others dads have told me that this changes once their child becomes older, more interactive, mobile and activities based. That doesn’t mean they don’t love their baby, that they don’t marvel at their tiny ears and little giggles, but they don’t get the same maternal pull that mothers have. So when dads need to get out and ‘do’ other things, think differently and be active, I don’t think it’s from a place of negativity, I think it’s purely from a desire to be useful, and if they can’t be useful to their child right now then they will do it in other ways.
A big part of the struggle when you become a NICU dad is the feeling of failure. That as a father you should be protecting your children and before their lives even start you weren’t able to protect them from this. From a mums perspective I want to tell dads that you didn’t fail. You have and always will protect your children from all that you can, and the things that you can’t protect them from you will be there for the bear hugs afterwards, and that is what kids need.
During your NICU stay? There’s not a lot you can do. Be there as much as you can. If you can’t, then just listen to what the team have to say, and discuss it with mum, make all your decisions together, because you’re a team. So many things about the hospital and the NICU and the journey will try to break that team, undermine it, and stretch the bands that hold you together to breaking point. But remember why you decided to bring a child into the world, to make your team a little bigger, so on the days when it feels like there’s too much raw emotion and misery to connect properly, tell each other. It’s okay to struggle and to cope in ways unique to you, but as much as you can, try and do it side by side.
That little fighter in the incubator is desperate to be on your team and one of the best ways to protect your miracle child is to show the journey that it can’t break the team.
I think in the end I just really wanted to say thank you to the dads. We see you. You’re doing the best you can and that’s all we need. You rock.
And you’ll get the boobs back in a year or ten.