By Rob Berry-
I love being a dad. Let's just get that out of the way. Nothing beats coming home after a long day at work and seeing your wife and child smile as you walk through the door. Nothing.
I always knew I wanted to be a dad. I'm not sure all guys grew up thinking that way, but I did. My mom and dad separated when I was very young and that had a profound affect on my life.
My parents did the best they could while my siblings and I were growing up and I love them both dearly. My mom was my rock growing up, the one person I really truly felt understood me. I saw my dad every other weekend and for extended periods over the summer and I love him dearly, it was just different.
I suppose those early experiences in life really set the tone for what I wanted my children to remember me for. I was going to be the dad that was always there, always involved and engaged in my kids lives.
Imagine as I might, I could never have anticipated the intensity level which surrounded having a child at 24 weeks. Looking back at it now, it seems like some sort of distant memory, a really bad dream. My wife and I had often talked about what it would be like when we became parents. Our reality was nothing like what we thought, we were staring face to face with the reality of having a micro preemie.
Watching your child fight for their life on a daily basis is a difficult thing to explain to someone unless they've been through it. Feeling guilt because our child survived while others didn't, is an emotion I did not expect to experience in my lifetime. Raw, numb, pain mixed with the sheer and utter joy of becoming a dad for the first time, wow.
My wife and I went through a lot during our daughter's 4 month stay in hospital and in the year after she came home. We both dealt with PTSD as a result of everything and at times have felt completely and utterly exhausted. My wife carried the load of being home with our daughter during RSV season that first year and did such an amazing job. I will always be grateful for what she did and for the amazing job she's done raising our daughter.
Being the parent of a preemie brings perspective. I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing people through this experience. They have given my wife and I strength and the courage to keep going.
We have also been contacted by a few people since our daughter's birth who were facing friends and family members who had delivered preterm. These scary moments have allowed my wife and I to pay forward so much of the help we received and in that way what we went through as a family is completely worth it. We are less vocal than many families who have had a preemie but are always willing to support people going through such a crazy experience.
I look at each day with my young family as a gift. Seeing our daughter's toothy grin as she rips around our backyard trying to pop bubbles makes it all worth while.
There is an old saying which states, 'Nothing good in life comes easy'. Being the parent of a preemie is hard work, especially if they come home still facing medical issues. It pushes people and families to the limit. My family was lucky enough to hear the words from our paediatrician a while back that our daughter has come so far and is now just a healthy kid. Two years of blood, sweat and tears mixed in with the grace of God got us to this point.
When all is said and done, being the parent of a preemie has taught me that I am tougher than I could have ever imagined. When it comes to my wife and daughter there is nothing I wouldn't do for them. It has also taught me to count my blessings everyday and to appreciate the little things in life. Being an NICU dad has given my wife and I our amazing little girl. She is the best gift either one of us could have ever asked for.