NICU stays are hard. They're hard on your baby, first and foremost, who is small and struggling in those first few days, or even weeks, of life. But they're also hard on you and on your partner, which is why you learn important things about your partner while your baby is in the NICU.
This period can be difficult for you especially if you're still recovering from a difficult labor, or caring for a C-section scar, or attempting to not go mad while doing your best to pump breastmilk for your little one. They’re hard on your partner because they're trying to be supportive and strong but also battling their own demons. Or perhaps it’s your partner who delivered the baby, and you’re the one fighting to keep the whole family together.
Point is, this type of experience has a tendency to really bring out some truths in people. It’s one of the things that no one tells you about being in the NICU. The emotional rollercoaster will be intense not only for you, but for your partner as well. You’ll discover new things about your partner you might have never noticed or known before. They might turn into the best (or worst) versions of themselves. You might not always know what to say to them while you take turns in the NICU, because reactions tend to change under these circumstances. That’s okay. Like I said, NICU stays are hard. They might be the hardest thing you ever have to endure. My own son’s NICU stay was incredibly long, and there were moments that both reinforced and taxed the hell out of my marriage as I got to know other aspects of my husband that I didn’t even know existed. Those who have been there might recognize some if not all of the points on this list:
You’ll Learn Just How Patient Your Partner Is
Your partner’s amount of patience will truly be tested while your child is in the NICU. They might be the cool-headed, uber-patient one, or they might constantly hound your baby’s doctors for a discharge date. They might be more understanding at nurses taking their time to arrive when baby is crying, or they might lash out. Most are in the middle.
You’ll See Them At Their Most Vulnerable
True fear can be seen all over the face of a parent who isn’t sure they’ll ever get to hold their baby in their arms. You’ll witness your partner at their most vulnerable, and while you’ll also be right there with them, it’s up to both of you to prop each other up.
You’ll Learn All The Ways They Ask For Help Without Actually Asking
Many partners aren’t the world’s best communicators. My husband, for example, is lousy about asking for help. But you’ll start to figure out (if you haven’t already) the ways in which they will use non-verbal cues to signify when they could use a hand or a hug. You’ll become acutely aware of these things while in the NICU.
You’ll See Their True Beliefs Shine Through
Some people will cling hard to their religious beliefs in these times. Many folks need to pray, need to look to a higher power, and if you’d never witnessed your partner show much faith before, there’s a good chance they’ll show it now. Others will display their non-religious beliefs in other ways, perhaps looking to the stars, or reading all they can about their baby’s medical condition(s), placing their faith in the hands of medicine.
And You’ll Learn How Flexible They Can Be
Your partner may want to stick to a rigid care schedule, or they may want to come and go as they see fit. They might be fine with having different nurses, or may frequently request the same one(s). When a plan of care changes for their child, they might simply nod in agreement or ask a million questions.
You’ll Really Figure Out Where Their Priorities Are
Hopefully, your partner’s priorities are to be with you and your child. If they absolutely need to work, of course, it’s not their fault. But if they for some reason decide this is the right time to check out and go be with friends all the time and never around for you, well — you’ll have discovered something that you might want to address later on.
You’ll See What They’re Like When They’re Pushed To Their Breaking Point
If you’re in the NICU long enough, both you and your partner will reach a point where you just feel like you can’t any more. Your partner might act as though all they want to do is lay in bed and never get up. Or they might react in a different way. Either way, you’ll definitely witness it firsthand.
And If It’s Never Happened Before, You’ll Finally Know What They Look Like When They Cry
It’s probably rare to find a parent in the NICU that never once shed a tear. Even the most stoic of individuals will cry at the sight of their young infant hooked up to various machines, given doses of multiple medicines.
You’ll Find Out How They Handle Bad News
In the NICU, you’ll have good and bad days, and that means you’ll soon discover how your significant other does when they bad news strikes. Do they lean on you for support? Do they retreat into themselves? Become withdrawn? If you relationship up to this point has been all sunshine and rainbows, the NICU stay will certainly show you how your person does with this sort of news.
...And Discover How They Handle Good News
On the plus, most folks eventually receive good news in the NICU (like the news that your baby is being extubated, or that their meds are being reduced, that you finally get to hold them, and that they’re finally FINALLY going home). Your partner might be the sort to give a cheer (and then immediately remember to lower their voice since they’re still in a hospital) or they might simply nod, internally breathing a sigh of relief.
You’ll Learn How They Overcome Their Fears (Or Not)
Just like you, your partner is going to have to overcome many fears fairly quickly while in the NICU. As the parents, we’re often asked to make difficult decisions on the behalf of our children, decisions that might mean life or death for your child. But somehow, we all overcome the paralyzing fear that something will go wrong and persevere. You’ll see your partner do this, or you’ll see your partner resign themselves to the fear.
You’ll Realize Just How Much Support They’re Capable Of Giving You
It’s important that one be supportive of their partner during difficult times, but how much tends to vary from person to person. You might discover you have an incredibly thoughtful and giving partner who is capable of catering to your every need, or they might need you to be the one to provide that more often. It can be especially difficult when you’re seeking this support but not getting it, but the thing about being in the NICU is that you don’t always react the way you wish you would. It’s a traumatizing event. Strong couples make it out through all this though and when they’re feeling too spent to help one another, seek outside help.
...And Just How Much They Love Their Family
Your partner’s love for you and especially for your baby is really what shines in the NICU. If you weren’t sure or needed reassurance of their love, you’ll definitely feel it here.