By Joel Brens
About two weeks into our sons stay in the NICU, our hospital offered a "Pizza Huddle" for NICU parents to meet a NICU parent graduate, their child and talk about the experience, as well as learn infant CPR. We signed up and went to it with curiosity and optimism. At that point Jayden was making progress but still had a ways to go. Personally I needed a shot in the arm, and I was feeling sorry for myself.
We got to the meeting and waiting at the table was Aimee (co-founder of Life after NICU) and her son Connor. Within minutes of having dialogue with Aimee I started to feel better about everything. Seeing Connor thriving despite dealing with a plethora of issues during his four month stay in NICU really helped calm my nerves. The journey of a preemie lasts much longer than just a stay in NICU. Aimee said things like "You're going to be fine, your son will be fine" "Sometimes it takes a while, but it DOES get better" Her empathy and comforting words struck a chord with us. I remember speaking with my wife later that evening about how nice it was to meet Aimee and Connor, and how it would be nice to do something like that for other parents when we were out of the NICU.
Four months later, at a NICU reunion party, we ran into Connor, Aimee, and her husband Brian. We hit it off famously with them, exchanged information and became fast friends. We got involved with the NICU Parents Advisory Committee and met and lent support and advice to new NICU parents in a "Pizza Huddle" through our hospital. We are in the process of trying to get a volunteer program started at the hospital. Anything to give back.
After our most recent meeting with hospital staff, I proposed to Aimee starting a page on Facebook called Papas of Preemies to lend a dads voice. Life after NICU is doing amazing things, but the group is almost exclusively moms. Dads need to talk about their experiences too. The moment I suggested the idea she was on board and she has been so essential in helping me network with others.
Sharing my story and talking with others about their stories has been most therapeutic for me. My wish is every NICU parent can find some type of support with others. It's easy to feel alone, but you are not. There are so many great community support groups out there, and they have made such a difference for my wife and I.