Friday, July 27, 2012

Dealing with emotions and uncertainty as a NICU dad and beyond

Making a connection
By Joel Brens

Let me start by putting this out there: Dads do not get a fair shake in the family picture. Period. When it comes to family, dads are a distant third behind mom's and children in regards to emotion and mental stability. While the bond mothers have with their children is something I can't understand, I felt a connection with my child immediately. I was hooked! And terrified. And uncertain. Most importantly, I refused to be ashamed of those feelings. It took me all of three days to notice the surprise in people's face at how passionate, active, and involved I was. Why is this a "big deal"?

Oh that's right, we are constantly reminded via radio and television we, as men, need to be tough and manly and grow beards and be handy with a set of tools. That's cool. In some ways that's fairly accurate depiction of men. More so, I am all about sports, beers with my boys, and watching action movies. I also had a rough go of being a NICU dad. Being thrust into life as a parent sooner than you scheduled cuts right to the core of your being. You find out awfully quick how you respond to adversity you have little control over. My first response was to be stable for my wife Gena. I knew she was dealing with a lot of anxiety and guilt with how things played out, but it wasn't her fault.

For me? I was struggling. I am the type who can handle success and failure when it's a direct result of things under my control. But in the NICU? I felt like a lemming the first couple of days. Wash your hands here, sit down here,  and stare at a monitor for a few hours. I felt like a victim. I was numb for a while. We were so blessed to have a wonderful team of doctors who were willing to answer every question we had, and when we got the green light to be more involved I started feeling like an actual parent. The NICU nurses were great too. One in particular had the uncanny ability to be funny when we needed a laugh, be honest when we needed advice, and be supportive when we felt uncertain. I remember holding my breath as we saw steady progress from Jayden and got closer to bringing him home. Then, 25 days after our little miracle was born, we got the chance to be full time parents.

Since we have had Jayden home, I have grown so much as a person. I am more in tune with my mental health. It's important to know that just because we were home with our son, life didn't change back to normal like flipping a light switch. Winter and germs? Terrified. Gaining weight and getting stronger? At least early on, it consumed me. But my biggest fear and uncertainty? Development. No question about it. We were told that as parents of a preemie we wouldn't be able to fully assess his progress until he was two years old. You're telling me it's a waiting game for 23 months until we REALLY have an idea where he is at? I don't think a night has past since we were told to be patient I haven't though about it. At 26 months old, we have had Jayden working with speech and developmental therapists to help him with his speech delays. He's such a happy baby, and great with others his age. I am forever grateful for that. He and I have a special bond, one I had hoped we could forge that means so much to me. I constantly shower Jayden with love and attention, and I wholeheartedly believe his personality is a reflection of the time Gena and I put into being parents.

So how did we get here? To a point were we can overcome adversity and uncertainty? For me, my faith has helped a lot. That may not be the case for everyone, but it certainly got me through my darkest hours and days. Finding support through others has been huge, too. When I struggled recently with Jayden's speech and development assessments and his looming EEG, support through close friends and community groups were so important. I have felt a lot of things as a dad. A loving, joyful, uncertain, scared, proud, and faithful dad.  That's something no dad should ever feel ashamed of.

No comments:

Post a Comment