"And once the storm is over..."
It was Sunday night, three days after my son was born. Just a few feet away, he lay in his isolette, connected. The monitors were silent, the NICU was hushed. I could hear his breathing, labored but consistent. The sound of the suction tubes hissed. Next to me, my wife slept on a chair. The pain of delivery and the emotional situation was painted on her face. I could never understand what her dreams were like, but I knew the real nightmare was playing out outside of our dreams.
I sat by the window and stared into the Manhattan darkness. Below, Hurricane Irene was driving up Broadway. A usually bustling community was silent, nestled into their homes waiting for the storm to pass.
I could feel Irene's energy against the window. At one point I looked into the flash of the lightning hoping to see God. I spoke to him, and told him that once this storm is over, I understand what I needed to do.
"You won't remember how you got through...."
Almost two years have gone by. My son is 21 months old. I love him. I love being his father, and all that comes with it. There are many good days. Sitting him on my lap while I read him a book, or the nights he says, "good night dada" are memories I cherish.
But I also remember the tough times, the surgeries, the constant vomiting, the unknown, leaving him in the NICU and going home, going back to work.
It's all part of being a NICU Dad, and I've accepted both parts of the responsibility. I remember sitting in that window, but I still don't know how we managed to get through...
"...But one thing is certain, when you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person who walked in. That's what the storm is all about." - Haruki Murakami
It's easy to find inspiration in a story with a happy ending, or simply go back to being the person you were before. But for me, ending the story eliminates the message that I asked God for on that night in the window. So being a NICU Dad means being responsible for the next Dad who has to walk in my shoes. It means continuing to share our story to provide hope, support and comfort.
I'll never again be that person who walked into the storm. I've come out of it, much stronger, much more determined to accept my role and to lead a path for my family and those other Dads who will walk into the storms to come.
(Dedicated to those Dads spending their special day in the NICU.)
Below is an image from their NICU pod just before the storm hit.