5 Things I Learned From Having a Child in the NICU

The March for Babies is coming up. Every year my family (and some wonderful close friends) get together and walk to help raise money for March of Dimes to help newborns who need some extra assistance. For those who don’t know, my daughter was about six weeks premature and spent two weeks in the NICU before coming home. Having her in the NICU was the toughest two weeks of my life, and I thought talking about it might help give some other people perspective.

5 Things I Learned By Having a Child in the NICU…



My daughter at a day or two old

5) You Are Told When You Can and Cannot Hold Your Child…

I want to preface this by saying the NICU doctors and nurses we had were absolutely incredible people. They were kind, informative, professional, and as far as I am concerned a main reason my daughter did so well. As part of their job, they have to be very firm about when you can and cannot hold your baby. A lot of the time my daughter was sleeping, and needed the rest to get better. The basic rule was unless it was time for food, we weren’t allowed to disturb her if she was sleeping.

Of course you logically understand the situation, but it doesn’t matter. All you want to do is sit with your child and hold them. I remember my wife, who was on a lot of pain meds post c-section, would try and time her trips to the NICU just to get to hold her. It took her forever to get out of bed and get there, and a lot of time she would miss her few minute window to hold our daughter. This made her incredibly upset, and she began to sit for four or five hours in the NICU just to make sure she got a few minutes to cuddle our little girl.

4) Your Joy is Shrouded in Fear

For most people having a child is the best day of their life. It’s an unbridled joy. Of course there are other feelings as well, but not as strong as the overwhelming happiness. When your child is born with major health concerns, this goes out the window. You can’t be happy. You want to be happy, but you are just terrified. The first few hours, nobody could really tell us anything other than that we would have to wait and see. They told us about how she wasn’t getting enough oxygen internally, and how they didn’t know how that affected her brain. They also told us some things about her tone, and APGAR scores, but mostly what we heard was that our daughter could be in a lot of trouble.

I can’t accurately describe the mix of helplessness and fear that just sweeps over you. Especially for those first few unknown hours or days. As my daughter improved, the happiness began to come back stronger, but the fear takes a long time to subside. Even when you leave the NICU, certain things aren’t resolved. One doctor told us that we would have to watch her for the first year to see if she had permanent brain damage from oxygen deprivation. It’s impossible to block that fear out of your head, it nagged at me for a long time.

3) There Is No Balance

To be fair, new parents cannot really find much of a balance no matter what their situation is. However, when your child is in the NICU it is compounded by wanting to be there as often as possible. Due to the fact that I worked in retail and I could not take off more than a week, I was back at work before my daughter was home. So I would work an 8-9 hour shift, then instead of going home I would go to the hospital and sit with my daughter for 2 or 3 hours until they basically kicked me out for my own health. I would get up early the next day and do it again.

After my wife’s c-section she was in the hospital for almost a week. I did everything I could to take care of her and my daughter, but I totally forgot to take care of myself. The first 40 hours I didn’t sleep at all, and I couldn’t even relax for five minutes. Eventually, my wife kicked me out and told me to rest, and people ran errands for us to help. I thought I was helping, and I’m sure I was on some level, but I had tipped the scales so far that I almost made myself sick in that first week. The problem is that there is no correct balance. Still, you have to take care of yourself, but I openly admit that is easier said than done.

2) You Start to Feel Guilty

My daughter was extremely lucky in many regards. She was born in an area with a world class NICU, and she only needed to be there for two weeks. Compound that with the fact that she is now a happy and healthy little three year old, and we are certainly counting our blessings. That being said, having a child in the NICU is still really difficult. It is physically and emotionally taxing, and the bottom line is no parent should ever have to leave their baby in the hospital.

There is an odd thing that happens when you are in the NICU though, and really it continues when you come home as well. You start to compare your story to other parents stories, and you begin to feel guilty. I started thinking we didn’t have the right to be upset, because my daughter was only in the hospital for two weeks, and some kids were there much longer. Some kids had major birth defects, and some never even made it home at all (even typing that still hurts).

This is obviously counter productive, and really complete nonsense. We had the right to be upset that our daughter had a complicated birth and subsequently needed more care. It was scary, difficult, and it is a part of my life I will never forget. However, I still feel bad talking about it sometimes, because of how much worse other people’s stories are.

1) The Appreciation of Parenthood

I’ve heard that sometimes dads can take a little longer to connect to infants than moms do. It’s understandable. We didn’t have the kid in our bodies for months, and we don’t have the immediate physical connection. Add this to the fact that the first few months of parenthood are really, really tough, and that connection can be harder for some people.

This wasn’t the case in my house. The day my daughter came home was like a load was lifted off my back. I remember just cuddling up with her and passing out. She was home, and nobody could tell me when to hold her, or when to leave. Everything else I could deal with. The crying at night, the diaper changes, the constant exhaustion, etc. The things that I think usually got to new parents just made me happy. She was doing normal baby stuff, and after the NICU all normality was welcomed. I was basically walking on air (OK, maybe it was more of sleepwalking on air), and none of the usual infant stuff aggravated me. As long as she was healthy, everything else was going to be alright.

Thank you to the doctors and nurses at the UMASS NICU for all their help and care.

This is the little girl you helped save 🙂


Thank you for reading. If you enjoy DadLunch, please take a moment to like us on Facebook here… DadLunch.

2 Comments on “5 Things I Learned From Having a Child in the NICU

  1. You are 100% allowed to be upset. Even if a birth doesn't result in a NICU stay, it was different than planned. You are allowed I be upset/sad/angry etc at those differences and loss of experiences. Not being allowed to hold your child at the moment of their birth is definitely something you are allowed to be upset over (as well as the myriad of other experiences that probably didn't go as planned)

  2. You are 100% allowed to be upset. Even if a birth doesn't result in a NICU stay, it was different than planned. You are allowed I be upset/sad/angry etc at those differences and loss of experiences. Not being allowed to hold your child at the moment of their birth is definitely something you are allowed to be upset over (as well as the myriad of other experiences that probably didn't go as planned)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *