Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Life Lessons for a New Father: Things I've Learned From the NICU Experience

The last 11 weeks have been incredible, stressful, challenging, and everything in between. Kara and I can see the “finish line” for our NICU experience so I thought it best to share some lessons I’ve learned based on our NICU experience.

1.  Being born premature only means that the babies are less prepared – nothing else. They are just like other babies and will continue to grow like other babies. I’ve not only seen my own babies’ inch their way forward each day but many other babies around the NICU that have faced long odds. I’ve seen parents taking their babies home with them that were originally born at 24-25 weeks. Is the journey harder? Sure, but it doesn’t make those little babies any less like other babies developing the same ways inside a woman’s body. The journey doesn’t stop when they come home, either. In fact, we never stop developing. I have learned as much in the last 11 weeks as any 11 week stretch of my entire life. I hope I continue to develop and grow the way they have.

2.  Being “feisty” and a “fighter” is a damn good thing. Both Jolynne and Mickey have had to deal with incredible issues since birth. Jolynne’s experience with having a hole in her intestine has been well documented by Kara on this blog and Jolynne has definitely showed us that being “tough” is not just for those who are older. She has displayed toughness at 3 days old that many people couldn’t imagine. Mickey has also showed grit and determination. From his lungs not being developed to aspirating food into them – he continues to grow and make advances. Georgia displays the same feistiness in different ways and I’m sure all three will drive their father crazy at times with their determined personalities.

3.  Bonding with the baby or babies is not just to help them heal. I won’t sit here and pretend that going to the NICU every day for 77 days hasn’t been challenging. It has been a HUGE ordeal. Sometimes I can’t get up there until 7pm or 8pm and simply can’t stay longer than an hour, but sitting there and seeing them sleep or just look at you has a way of healing any wounds. We have been conditioned to know that us (Kara and I) helps the babies, but I honestly think they help us even more.

4.  Accepting the unknown is difficult, but necessary. Each day has been different at the NICU. From thinking everything is going great to suddenly fighting the next battle – every day brings a challenge…and I’m just talking about what the parents deal with. However being a parent means you must accept at least some things are outside your control. This will be more apparent as the kids’ age and grow into the person they’re meant to be. It doesn’t make it any less difficult, but going through the NICU experience has made that abundantly clear even at just 11 weeks old. If I had to say to describe it, I would say that it has taught me to surrender to the present moment.

5.  Being patient and flexible are critical skills for parents. It isn’t easy to have your babies in the NICU and it isn’t any easier to have one at home (who cannot go to the NICU) and the other two in the NICU. One of the first things new parents hear from others extolling their advice is to “be patient” or “you will learn patience”. I always have considered myself a fairly patient man and even I’ve been tested. We want them home yesterday, but sitting back and realizing that the babies will be home when they are ready is something we must accept. Being flexible is necessary to take care of one baby, but even more so for three. There will be days and nights when the term “flexible” will take on a literal meaning. As the kids’ get older, they will no doubt test both areas, so it is good practice now while working with the NICU.

Lastly, I should point out that there are tremendous people in this world and the folks who work in the NICU are damn near the best of them. To the folks we see putting in long hours to keep our babies safe, healthy, and progressing – this isn’t a job for them; it is a calling. I can be as cynical as anyone when it comes to the destructive nature of humans, but maybe there’s hope for us. The folks who work tirelessly at the NICU (nurses, doctors, therapists, admin, etc.) are inspiring in many ways. They always have an even temper, calm demeanor, and a plan. The plan may change daily, but it isn’t guesswork and their intentions are always good. While I’m looking forward to NOT seeing them every day, we are eternally grateful for the work they have done and will continue to do.

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