Having your first baby is scary, and that’s when you think everything will go to plan.
To say I was a nervous expectant parent would be an understatement. I’d never held a new-born (without it being placed in my lap), never mind changed a nappy or give a bottle. Special precautions were taken like the purchase of a snuggle bundle so I could be confident picking up my baby whilst providing the right head support… all this when I thought I’d be getting a regular sized baby (in fact, we thought they’d be larger than average on account of my height).
Reality came close to 27 weeks when my wife, Tara, fell ill – blood pressure was a little high – “come back tomorrow sometime and we’ll check it again” they said.
Rather than endure the queue in the maternity outpatients, we headed over early on the Saturday morning… “Shall I take an overnight bag?” Tara asked but I dismissed the idea – we’d be home in time for lunch.
Tara was kept in and steriods administered to help with the babies lung development. I said all the right things (I think) but inside I was convinced it was all a false alarm, things would settle down and I wouldn’t get to see my first born for another 3 months. Over the weekend Tara ’s health deteriorated further and I finally understood on Sunday evening that I’d be meeting my baby on Monday 17th November (as it happened – World Prematurity Day).
Ethan arrived by ‘C’ section at 14:21 on the Monday in a very congested operating theatre. I’d been there by Tara ’s side until things went awry and I was ushered out of the room – in the dark about the health of my wife and unsure if I’d seen a baby amongst all the hospital staff. I didn’t have to wait too long for news – “It’s a boy – He’s been taken to NICU.”
My wife came back to recovery but was too ill to make the journey to the other side of the building where Ethan was being cared for, so I made the trip alone. I couldn’t make my mind up whether to walk quickly or slowly as the excitement of having a son was tainted by my worries over what I was going to see. What I found was a strange, almost alien like red/purple 800g dot in a white eye mask and a pink wool hat, no bigger than my hand with a myriad of wires and tubes as attachments. But he was also the most amazing thing I’d ever seen.
The changes in Ethan over the first few days were remarkable. His colour changed, he gained weight and moved off full ventilation and onto CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). Tara’s recovery was slow and it would be a couple of days before she was able to make the trip to see Ethan herself. Then further illness kept her away for another week so it was tough being the conduit for information.
Those early days went by in a blur… I was conscious of the fact so I started to make notes so I could keep Tara and the family informed… the demand for information got greater as more and more friends and relatives heard of the early arrival so we decided a daily e-mail “blog” wold be the best solution and I took up the mantle.
Written from Ethan’s perspective, it gave me something to concentrate on and helped while away the lonely hours sitting by his incubator. It also gave us the opportunity to put a positive spin on how Ethan was doing and, how we were all coping.
Looking back, I think I did ok; the nappy changing fear disappears quickly when you are having to do it through a porthole with a nurse or two watching on. Similarly, the emotion of his first trip out of the incubator and onto my bare chest is something that I’ll never be able to think about without being brought to the brink of tears.
You find yourself easily falling into a new routine – making your way in to the hospital in time for rounds (remembering always to bring drinks and food to sustain you through the day), cares, kangaroo time, more cares, visiting time, cares again before heading home for a late dinner and bed. Days of the week don’t matter anymore – the only clue that it’s a weekend is the change in traffic getting to and from the hospital.
Inevitably, there are also the not so good – the call in the night “advising” we come in followed later by chasing an ambulance to a new hospital… strange new environments, new doctors and nurses and new procedures.
I don’t know the stats but I’m sure in most cases the good outweighs the bad. In our case, after 88 days, Ethan got his first ride in his car seat out of the hospital and home.
Now 7 months old, he seems to change on a daily basis – something new everyday like rolling over, giggling when tickled, waking up with a smile on his face. He is desperate for more independence with his latest trick being that he wants to hold the bottle or spoon.
In summary, a new dad’s NICU experience is full of fear. It is emotionally hard and physically tiring. For me thought, it also created a close bond with my son and brought my wife and I even closer together (which I didn’t think was possible).
Advice? Stick in there. Be your babies advocate – putting their needs first above all other considerations. Learn all you can from the excellent staff and take over the cares as soon as you are confident to do so. Support your partner – they are probably questioning what they did wrong or could have done differently (the answer to both of these is, of course, nothing). Most important of all, keep believing that you’ll all be home together soon.
One last thing – I couldn’t write the above without mentioning that Ethan had the very best of care in the Watford General hospital NICU – too many amazing professionals to name and unfair to single out any for individual praise. Ethan, Tara and I will be eternally grateful.