How an NICU Stay Affected My Parenting
When the doctors told us that there was an issue with our son, we didn't really know what to do. All I can remember is going from anxiety about being a new dad to intense fear about what was going to happen. I had been a dad for maybe an hour, and there was already something wrong. The doctors told us that he had something called a diaphragmatic hernia. His diaphragm had never fully closed, and his organs had come up through the hole and kept one of his lungs from developing. The next month was a crazy blur. I learned way more about the medical profession than I ever thought I would know (still not a lot), and I got to meet and be encouraged by a lot of wonderful nurses and doctors who cared for my child tirelessly. As much as I learned during that month about parenting, it doesn't compare to how much I've learned in the year that we've been home. It's not something I would describe as academic knowledge or even wisdom that will change people's lives. What I've learned is how to live with the very real fear that comes with parenting. So, here are just a few things I experienced and learned from in my very brief time as a parent so far after having a child in the NICU.
What I Learned From My Experience With NICU
1. I am way less qualified to care for my son than the people who cared for him that first month.
One of the very first thoughts I remember coming to my mind after arriving at home on Halloween (yes, of course we had him in his Halloween costume. Scooby-doo if you're super curious) was the realization that he was being downgraded as far as caregivers go. My confidence as a parent was at a low and the depressing thought that kept running through my mind was that he was better off there, because I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING. I learned to cope with this as I got more used to the ins and outs of parenting, but I can just remember the first few nights breaking down because I couldn't get him to sleep for more than a minute or two. I was, and still am, determined to be a supportive father and husband in raising our son, but it has been a constant temptation to give up and let my wife take care of everything since she is worlds better at it than I am.
2. What if he gets sick again?
I soon learned after asking this question that it's not if but when he gets sick again. He's a kid, they get sick. So do adults. But for some reason, as someone who really only goes to the doctor when it's absolutely necessary and has never given much thought to germs, I suddenly have the doctor on speed-dial and wash my hands after touching anything. There are times where I lay in bed at night and just have to go check and see if he's still breathing, or worried that he'll get a cough or be dehydrated if the temperature isn't just right. Don't even get me started on when he got a stomach bug and that ordeal.
3. What if something happens, and I didn't spend enough time with him and have guilt for the rest of my life?
This is probably the thing I still struggle with the most. In a small dose, this is a healthy fear to have to make sure that we don't take time with our family for granted. But, in the heavy doses that I tend to experience this feeling, it leads to sleep deprivation, guilt for things that haven't even happened, and even anxiety during the time I spend with my family which ironically makes it less quality time than it could be.
A Summary of My Experience
You may notice that there aren't any groundbreaking revelations detailed above. That's because I haven't had any. The main thing I've learned in all of this is that I'm in control of very little. I don't live a completely fear-free life. These fears still creep in at times, but what I've learned is that I can't let fear control me, because even if I did, I still wouldn't be in control. There are an infinite number of things that can happen, and I've learned to be wise with how I spend time on the things I can control, and trust God in the many things I can't.
I also realize many people have been through a lot worse. But I can't talk about their experiences, I can only share what I've learned from my own. But the great thing is that we can learn from and be encouraged by others. Feel free to share your parenting experiences—the good or the bad!