Dear Dad in the NICU,

Father's day is coming soon and I couldn't have asked for a better partner and friend to be this guy, right here. My husband held my hand through tough times, wiped away my tears and shushed my anxieties. Thank you for all that you have done (and continue to do) for your family.

Dearest Dad,
I know this isn't how you imagined being introduced to parenthood. The first few days were probably a blur of adrenaline for you. You needed to make sure your baby is okay and the mother of your child is okay. I know you have your own plethora of emotions to sort before you decide what your next moves will be.

I'll be the first to tell you that no amount of planning will get your baby out of the NICU faster. Your next moves will be based on the cues of a baby who weighs less than three pounds.

I know you're already proud of this little soul that looks so fragile. I know you want to bow your head by the incubator housing your baby and pray for forgiveness for all your past sins and bargain to be the best person just so your baby - your firstborn, your only child - can survive this.

I know that you are lost and unsure what it is you are supposed to do and what it is you are supposed to offer your baby and your partner.

Offer both of them your love. Hold them every chance you get and let them know you are proud of their strength

Wipe away your wife's tears and don't be afraid or ashamed if she sees you crying. 

Cry together

Let the grief of all the things that could have and should have been cleanse you and remember that it could have been worse. 

Be grateful of what you have. And its okay to be bitter about what should have been, too.

But whatever you do, do not tell her it is her fault. Call it a fluke, a genetic anomaly, a trial in your faith, something you have to season and weather together but none of this was ever her fault. 

Just hold onto her.

Even if she becomes withdrawn and distant, just hold her. She's going through a lot. She may need to be alone for a while. She may need to scream and punch something or someone - and unfortunately for you, you may be the only person in the room when she hits those emotions. She is already feeling guilty about being a mother, add the stress of having a baby in the NICU, the pressure from the lactation consultants, her mom, and sisters, about her breastmilk and breastfeeding. She's got a million voices telling her what to do and she'll look to you to solve them, to help her stop the influx of visitors that suddenly know what to do in situations like these but you both know that no one has a clue. How could they?

They're just visiting your grief and guilt for a while but you're living in it 24 hours a day. 

So more than anything, she needs your hugs, your support and your presence. You just being there is enough for her to fight the internal struggles; her battle of guilt and shame and all these emotions and hormones that she's not quite sure what to do, what to say and where to go.

Just hold her.
Be the light that helps her find her way back to herself. Back to the family that you created. Back to you.

If you are angry - be angry. If you are sad - be sad. But do it away from the hospital, please.

The NICU is an island. You don't need any more extra baggage to bring to it. It's tough in there. It's scary and overwhelming and you feel like the machines are suddenly too loud, suddenly seem to hyper-focuse on the sounds of all these babies' heartbeats. The walls seem to close in on you and you feel like you can't breath for a while. It's okay to walk out. It's okay to look down at your baby and feel numb.

But it gets better. One day, something will shift and you'll feel like a superhero.

You'll be the one who tells her family and friends' no. The one who answers text messages, phone calls and questions. You'll wear your cape proudly while you let her rest in hers.

You'll be the sunshine that she'll need when she comes out of her cave of despair. Suddenly, its okay to laugh. Laugh at the way your baby crinkles her face, reminding her of you. Be joyful in the miracle and the fighter that is hitting milestones left and right.

You'll be asked if you want to change a diaper. Its okay if your first diaper change becomes the proudest moment of your life. I mean, not everyone gets to change a premature baby's diaper and have to be mindful of the wires on your baby's body. 

The nurse will ask you if you want to see and participate in bath time. Just look at how your partner, your wife, cradles your baby. Look at her determination to get this simple bath right and perfect. 

Take pictures of all these moments, including that first moment that you both know you will all be okay. That your family will make it..... whatever "it" is.

And then the day will come when you're bringing your baby home. 

Dad, you've already overcome the hard part. You've passed whatever test you think you had to take to be this great dad. 

You did more than show up. You stood up for her and for your baby. You prayed over your family. You cried. You laughed. 

You love.

You are awesome. It just took a little detour of faith to get you to see that.

Signed, 
A very proud mom and wife of a NICU graduate. 



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