Nothing can prepare someone for the moment they realize their baby will be born sick or premature (or in many cases, both). A parent is never more vulnerable than when they physically cannot help their child. The jubilation of their child’s birth quickly takes a backseat to it’s less welcomed friends, like anxiety, fear, and depression. But, while there really isn’t much a parent can do for their newborn, there are certain things a parent can do for their partner, and this is what separates the newbies from the pros, if you will. In fact, there are many things grown-ass men do when their baby is in NICU.
Make no mistake, having a baby in the NICU is difficult on both parents. Fathers aren't exempt from feeling the fear and the depression and the anxiety that mothers feel when their baby is born early or sick. However, because a father (especially fathers who are cisgender males) cannot physically experience pregnancy and childbirth, they don't know what it's like to birth a baby, only to have that baby immediately rushed to the NICU because they need help. They don't know what it's like to miss out on the first touch and the instant breastfeeding (if a mom chooses to do so) and the moment a mother fixates on, to get her through pregnancy, labor and delivery. Her hormones are raging and her body is sore and/or still in pain and the emotional exhaustion she is experiencing only makes the fear she has for her baby, worse. This is why grown-ass men, while also scared and worried, can and do step up and help their partner.
But first, some of the things they don’t do. They don’t retreat into themselves, leaving their partner high and dry to do everything themselves. Parents in the NICU need each other. There’s a reason so many couples feel disconnected during their NICU experience. It is hard work being there in such a time of crises. Grown-ass men also don’t complicate the NICU experience any more than it needs to be. That means they need to stay calm and not become argumentative with doctors and nurses (unless absolutely necessary) or with their partner. They also don’t leave it up to the nurses to be there for their partner in the NICU. As a former NICU mom, I am grateful for the NICU nurses who cared for me as well as my baby, but I know that these nurses are already overworked and emotionally taxed, and to have them be my only form of support when I have a spouse and family and friends feels unfair.
Which is why I was, and still am, so thankful that my partner was a grown-ass man, willing to do the things that helped me get through having our baby in the NICU. Here are just a few of the things every grown-ass man will do for his partner when their baby is in the NICU. Whether you're having a healthy pregnancy or you already know what lies ahead, it's worthwhile to think about the unthinkable, and be as prepared as possible.
They Are Present, Physically And Mentally And Emotionally
Giving birth is physically and emotionally draining, and a grown-ass partner understands that they need to be available at every beck and call. But even if neither partner gave birth, a NICU stay is still unbelievably exhausting. Lack of sleep, uncomfortable furniture, and more stress than you’d ever imagine is suddenly hurled your way without warning. A mature partner will be there for every step of the way.
They Take Turns Staying Overnight
Some NICU parents refuse to go home, or to leave their baby alone. I was one of those parents. The only way I got a respite from sleeping on a rock-hard pull out bed next to my sick son was if my husband or mother insisted on taking the night shift. A strong partner will take the night shift as often as they can. These small gestures are important in making sure a relationship survives the NICU.
They Remind Their Partner To Eat
It’s so easy to let the hours go by and forget to do even the simplest things, like drink water, while in the NICU. Grown-ass partners will frequently remind their significant other to take a moment to hit the cafeteria or vending machine for a meal. This is especially important if they are supporting a breastfeeding partner in the NICU, as they will require more food for energy.
They Bring Their Partner Some Form Of Entertainment
Sure, NICU stays are scary and worrisome. But if you’re there for a long haul, there are times it can become downright dull. A wise partner will bring some additional entertainment in the form of Netflix passwords, magazines and books, maybe some sudoku or crosswords, drawing pencils and notebooks, knitting supplies, a pack of cards, or whatever else they think their partner might enjoy.
They Ask The Doctors And Nurses Questions
There are plenty of things parents should ask NICU doctors and nurses. Things like what type of NICU your child is in (Level I, II, or III), and how they manage care. When one partner is unable to remember to ask all the questions, the other partner definitely needs to step up and do their part.
They Wash Baby Bottles And/Or Pumping Supplies
Feeding a baby in the NICU can present a number of challenges. Many parents have trouble breastfeeding and/or pumping, which leads to stress and often even more feeding challenges. Preemies especially, usually have trouble feeding due to poor suck/swallow reflex or troubles with latch. The least a grown-ass man can do is volunteer to wash baby’s bottles and the breastfeeding parent’s pumping supplies.
They Ask Friends To Be There For Their Partner
When you’re in the NICU, you need all the support you can get. And if one parent is having trouble asking for help, the other has to go out of their way to try and get that support for them as well. Grown-ass men will also remember to mention to those friends the things people in the NICU want to hear, in the event they accidentally put their foot in their mouths.
They Talk To Their Baby And Encourage Their Partners To Do So As Well
Every parent is different and not all parents are quick to start talking to their babies right away. However, there’s reason to believe that talking to NICU babies can be helpful in the long run. Smart men will know to constantly chat up their recovering babies and get their partners to do it as well.
They Tell Their Partner To Leave The NICU Now And Again
Being in the NICU day after day is exhausting and will drive anyone a little batty after a while. A grown-ass man will recognize the signs of "NICU burn out" and nudge their partner to leave, for at least a few hours, to recharge and find neutral. It may take some additional pushing, but if they are a wise and supportive partner, they’ll know just how to make it happen.
They Take Care Of All The Finances If They Can
Finances can get really complicated during a NICU stay. Parents are often too busy and overwhelmed thinking about their child, and forget to pay the light bill or their cell phone bill and then end up with an unpleasant surprise later on. Additionally, parents might need help finding sources of financial help for their NICU baby. A mature and responsible man will find ways to alleviate the stress and burden of dealing with finances off the shoulders of their partner.
They Bring Their Partner Fresh (And Warm) Clothes
When a mama is staying in the NICU for long stretches of time, their partner might want to bring her some clean clothes to wear. Also, hospitals can get really cold, especially at night. Good partners will know to bring their significant others sweaters and other cozy gear to make sure they’re always comfortable.
They Give Up The Most Comfortable Seat In The Room
This is such a small and simple gesture, yet some folks are likely to overlook it. NICU rooms tend to be rather small. The critical units often only have enough space for one or two chairs, whereas less critical units might have a sofa or pull-out bed. A considerate man will be sure to allow their partner (especially if they gave birth and/or are breastfeeding) the most comfortable seat in the room, whether that’s the recliner or the bed.
They Stay Positive
Strong, observant partners learn a lot about their partners while in the NICU. Two major things they learn are just how patient their partner is and how well they handle high stress situations. More likely than not, they end up having to remind their significant other to remain calm and stay positive. It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you’re in such a difficult position, but a grown-ass man will be able to make that happen to the best of his abilities.