I don’t view myself as an emotional person overall, but the NICU brought out feelings I thought I didn’t have. In my previous post, I described the paralyzing fear that came to me as I watch both my wife and 23-week, micro-preemie struggle for their lives. Another feeling that would often surface in those early, whirlwind days of the NICU was anger. It’s hard to explain, but when things go wrong, I felt like someone needed to be blamed for my latest stoke of incredibly bad luck.
I was first angry with myself for not being more diligent about the pregnancy. Did I act too nonchalantly when my wife was sick? Should I have insisted that she find a more competent OB? Surely I could have done something to avoid such a disastrous outcome, I thought.
I would feel anger towards our hometown medical professionals who didn’t catch my wife’s preeclampsia before it necessitated the premature delivery of our son, Jack. Surely this wasn’t the first case of preeclampsia they had come across, and yet it seemed to take forever just to have a doctor come and see her. Looking back, I believe there were early signs during the pregnancy that would lead most OBs to monitor Jessi more closely. But they didn’t.
Every now and then, I would get secretly angry at NICU nurses for being either seemingly pessimistic or overly optimistic. If they seemed too nonchalant in their work, it ticked me off. If they treated our NICU situation too casually with jokes or bubbliness, it irked me. I must have been one, easily-offended jerk. NICU nurses thankfully have a lot of patience.
I could have inexplicable contempt for those parents we passed as we made our way in and out of the NICU who had normal, healthy babies. I was jealous. I was angry they were experiencing the normal parenting moments I thought I would have. They didn’t know how good they had it.
Sometimes, my resentment would focus on complete strangers. I often felt this way whenever I arrived or departed the hospital. Near the front entrance of the hospital, a small enclosed structure was set up for hospital employees to smoke on their breaks. We dubbed this location the “butt hut,” which was a comical way of expressing our disdain for these otherwise healthy adults who were slowly killing themselves with each inhalation of burning tobacco fumes into their functioning lungs. While my son struggled for just a chance at life and to breathe his own breaths of room air with workable lungs, I would feel no small amount of contempt for these healthcare professionals lighting up cigarettes outside of the hospital. Immature, I know.
Early on, I also directed a great deal of my anger towards God, who had been in a position to prevent this turmoil and give us a baby without the slightest hiccup in the process. I believed we would be model parents – enthusiastic to love and provide for our first child. I felt like God robbed me of something I deserved.
I believe that while all of these feelings of anger were completely irrational, they are a typical reaction for many new fathers in the NICU experience. Parents, especially new dads, may be looking for explanations outside of the obvious ones. Anger is a way of pointing the finger at someone or something, when usually the only real blame rests on the fact that life is full of unexpected twists and turns. The sooner someone can accept that fact, the earlier they can shift their focus away from finding fault in others.
Next post regarding feelings in the NICU is about something I never expected to feel as a new father of a fragile micro-preemie: guilt