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NICU experiences teach dads to celebrate every moment

June 17, 2015

Worrying about his tiny daughter’s health is all Andrew knows as a father. Since Kaitlyn was born 58 days ago, he has spent most of his time helping care for her at the Mount Sinai Newton Glassman Charitable Foundation Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), not knowing what to expect from one day to the next. He can’t imagine watching his daughter play soccer – or even thinking past her challenging start as a premature baby.

Andrew has learned to manage despite feeling out of his depth. A professional firefighter, he’s used to being the expert in a crisis, but felt unprepared for caring for a premature baby.

“The support system here has been hugely helpful,” he says. “We started classes on our second day at Mount Sinai, and it was really reassuring to hear about others’ experiences, to know that we weren’t the only ones going through this.”

Over the past two months, he and his wife, Kara, have spent time with Kaitlyn every day. They participate in daily medical rounds, providing a parents perspective and update on Kaitlyn’s progress and act as an advocate for their tiny daughter as part of the Family Integrated Care program. “Being involved in Kaitlyn’s care has helped me feel more useful, less helpless,” says Andrew.

“That’s one of the primary benefits of the Family Integrated Care philosophy, which was developed at Mount Sinai Hospital,” says Marianne Bracht, the parent resource nurse who coordinates the education program for parents. This helps to engage parents as active members of the care team for their infants in the NICU.

“Becoming a dad can be an exciting and overwhelming experience at the best of times, even more so when the baby spends her first weeks and months in a NICU," she adds. "Engaging fathers in their babies’ care can really help them connect and cope.”

Dads who have ‘graduated’ from the NICU confirm that fact, and the influence of the NICU experience on their lives as fathers.

David and Tara, whose daughter Danica left the NICU over a year ago after 93 days, also saw the value of helping care for their daughter. David found that being part of the team helped him bond with her in the NICU – a connection that continues to grow stronger.

“I spent two-to-three hours doing skin-to-skin contact with Danica every day when she was in the NICU,” he recalls. “I changed her diapers, worked closely with her nurses and doctors. When she came home from the hospital, she knew I was her dad. And right from the start, my wife was able to leave us on our own when she needed to.”

That preparation also helped Geoff and his wife Cheryl, when their daughter, Audrey, was in the NICU for 75 days seven years ago. “We were thrown into the world of science,” he says. Suddenly, his life involved monitoring his daughter’s breathing, counting the seconds during ‘breathing spells’ to determine when to call for help.

But his NICU experience isn’t part of his everyday life anymore – and that’s the greatest gift a NICU dad could imagine. It’s not something that he thinks about on a regular basis anymore: Audrey is now a happy little girl who loves to run and swim. “She has challenges, but so does everyone,” Geoff explains.

“When your child is in the NICU, you just go through it,” he says. “You don’t think about it, you just deal with it. Afterwards, you look back and think ‘wow, what was that?’ Looking back I’m even more appreciative and grateful.  Now, I can just focus on being her dad.”