I have asked Scott of @p_m_h_support to share his NICU experience with us. I felt that it would be valuable to get a Dad’s viewpoint, seeing as Dad’s are so often forgotten about within the NICU scenario. Scott is a dad of 7, and it was his youngest son who ended up in the NICU two years ago. He was born at 36 weeks via a planned Caesarian section due a previous birth complication. I want to thank Scott and his wife for sharing their story with us all. It makes for an interesting read, and I am sure there will numerous NICU Dad’s who can totally relate to Scott’s experience. Make sure you check out Scott’s Instagram account to find out more about what he is campaigning for.
As a former soldier, I was programmed to take lives, but most importantly save and protect them. Never in a million years did I think I would find myself in the situation of watching my youngest son fight for his life and not be able to help him.
When my son was born, my wife was post caesarean section and unwell. With my son also being unwell, I was stuck in a situation that all too many parents will understand. However, so many will never fully be able to appreciate the feelings and emotions that you go through having to make the choice between sick wife or child. That is a feeling I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake and it’s possibly the most unnatural feeling of my entire life.
Watching the small bundle, our small bundle, being rushed away so quickly, pulls on the the heartstrings and emotions that you don’t necessarily know you have until you are put in that situation. He was our 7th child, so I believed I was prepared for this and that I could manage, but when you walk into a NICU unit, it’s a completely different world, not like anything that I had experienced before.
People say that you can’t be fully prepared for all situations, but I thought being familiar with the maternity unit and being in and around childbirth and pregnancy before, that I would be prepared for what met me on the other side of those doors. The same doors I’ve walked past so many times, thankful that I was on one side of it and not the other. But this time, I found myself on the other side.
When my son was born, my wife was post caesarean section and unwell. With my son also being unwell, I was stuck in a situation that all too many parents will understand. However, so many will never fully be able to appreciate the feelings and emotions that you go through having to make the choice between sick wife or child. That is a feeling I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake and it’s possibly the most unnatural feeling of my entire life.Scott Mair @p_m_h_support
What didn’t help the matter, was that I was greeted by a nurse and I was desperate to find out what was happening with my son. Unfortunately, the first conversation we had was the fact that they needed permission from my wife, from baby’s mum, so that I could be updated on my son’s condition. It may have only been 5-10 minutes for them to get permission from my wife, but it felt like an eternity and something I had absolutely no control over.
Once I was allowed to be brought up to speed on his condition, the outcome looked, maybe not bleak, but it looked difficult. I knew that they had real concerns that he wasn’t well and that he had problems with his lungs, that we didn’t know the full extent of yet, but he was unable to breathe by himself. And as much as I, in my mind, had prepared myself for what I was going to face when I walked in, nothing can truly prepare you.
Typically, when you walk into a neonatal unit, you’re going in to see your child. It is a sensory overload. It was very dark and extremely quiet, except for the noises of the machines, the machines that you don’t fully understand yet. The noises themselves are very intimidating and very worrying.
Unfortunately, the first conversation we had was the fact that they needed permission from my wife, from baby’s mum, so that I could be updated on my son’s condition. It may have only been 5-10 minutes for them to get permission from my wife, but it felt like an eternity and something I had absolutely no control over.Scott Mair @p_m_h_support
I looked at my little boy, the first of all of my sons that I wasn’t able to hold, cradle or comfort. I just had to look at him through this box, which I’ve only ever been able to describe as a spaceship. And knowing that there was nothing I could do to help him. I couldn’t ease his pain or suffering in any way, I couldn’t make the situation any better other than just by being there, but maybe that was enough.
The other thing I don’t think that we were prepared for, was the emotional rollercoaster side of it. We knew he was a little premature, my wife had had steroid injections to help his lungs, so we knew that they would have to maybe observe him. But, we didn’t expect to the degree of treatment he would need.
When I had a rough idea of the situation, I went upstairs to try and explain to my wife what I knew about our baby’s condition, whilst also understanding that she wasn’t well having been through major surgery. As she is his mother, she needed to know what was going on, but I also didn’t want to upset her. It was one of the most difficult things I experienced during that time.
I was trying to deal with two different teams, trying to filter the information of what was happening with my wife and also what was happening with our son. But, for me, the most difficult element of it all, was when I had to leave our newborn son. I know a lot of people can relate to this. When I had to leave him to go home, to tend to the rest of my sons, knowing that he was left there and wasn’t with us or his mother, it wasn’t easy. I knew that he had incredible care and he was well looked after, I have no complaints in that department whatsoever, but if I had to left him knowing he was with his mother, which had happened to me 6 times previously, it wouldn’t have been so hard.
It was never nice to leave either of them, but to leave him on his own fighting for his life is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. I think with the mental health side of it, I have experienced dark times, depression and probably PTSD, which I think has played a massive part in my downward spiral. I had no control over either situation – my wife was deteriorating and becoming more unwell by the hour and then also with my son being very unwell. I couldn’t help either of them, and I think that powerlessness affected me very much.
I couldn’t ease his pain or suffering in any way, I couldn’t make the situation any better other than just by being there, but maybe that was enough.Scott Mair @p_m_h_support
It’s very lonely sitting there alone, with no one to talk. The NICU environment is very quiet so you just sit there, worrying. I also found it hard to know if I should speak to other parents like I would do on a maternity ward, but a little voice in my head told me not to, as you know they might not want to talk as you don’t know what they are dealing with. It’s also horrible as you know all these other babies are so very tiny and you are aware some are very unwell and you know the families are breaking on the inside.
In any other situation, you would want to help ease their pain, but I didn’t have any hope to share. All of my everything was focused on my son and and his survival, and that doesn’t sit well with me, as in that moment, I was very selfish.
The full on rollercoaster of emotions in a short period of time was exhausting and left me a little shell shocked to be honest. I went back and forth between “wow he is here” to “oh my god, he really isn’t well” for days. It felt like a kiss on the cheek and kick in the balls at the same time – I didn’t know what I should be feeling.
The fear that he was so fragile is something I still feel sat here now, two years later. It’s something that hasn’t left me. This, some may say, isn’t unusual for a NICU parent. I worry about him in a different way to his brothers, and I’m almost more protective. When COVID first started to spread, my immediate concern was his lungs and what it could do to him. I obviously worried about all my family, but with him, I felt almost neurotic. However, I have been like that with every sniffle or every infection – I feel like I can’t breathe until he is better.
So many other NICU parents reading this will have had for more harrowing stories than mine and overcome far bleaker odds. But I wanted to share this is a little beacon of hope. What feels so heartbreakingly fragile right now, will soon be covering your bathroom in talc or hijacking your bed. They could be the smallest person in the house who takes up the most space in your bed, typically lying sideways on your quilt while you fight to stay on the bed like Jack from Titantic!. Hang in there, it gets better. I feel for anyone who has had a NICU baby.
I went back and forth between “wow he is here” to “oh my god, he really isn’t well” for days. It felt like a kiss on the cheek and kick in the balls at the same time – I didn’t know what I should be feeling.Scott Mair @p_m_h_support
This is my brief, dads eye view and a gentle reminder to everyone that tiny warriors fight everyday to stay in this world, and we are duty bound to make it one worth being in. A good place to start is to remember that men feel too, men hurt and as a Dad watching my son fight for his life and not be able to save him, hurt me more than most of society will ever understand and begs the question, why would any of this not have a lasting effect on both parents’ mental health? I believe all parents of a NICU baby should have counselling of some form, as it’s the most unnatural experience I’ve ever had.
I will finish with this – my wife didn’t meet our son for 24 hours after his birth. My wife was concerned that our son wouldn’t know who she was, but when she first arrived at his bedside, he was distressed, and his heart rate was racing. The second she held him to her chest, his heart rate settled, and he calmed down. It was the first time anyone had held him, other than the Nurse and they couldn’t settle him, but he instantly knew who his Mummy was, he finally felt safe. Sometimes, as I’ve said, all we can do is just be there and that is enough.