19 June 2023
This International Father’s Mental Health Day, we spoke to Michael, Dad to miracle twin boys, James and Michael, who shared his experiences as a NICU father and the lasting impact it’s had on his mental health.
"After a very rocky and tough pregnancy, my wife, Kloe, went into labour at just 27 weeks gestation. The night before, I’d just started on the nursery so luckily had a few days off work. I rushed her to the hospital, trying to stay calm and be strong for her, but inside I was terrified.
I had to leave her at the door due to COVID restrictions. I walked around for a while and she text me saying she was ok, so I went home.
The fear of the unknown was awful and the feeling was one that stayed with me for a long time.
I got a phone call about 9pm and I just froze. She told me there was nothing they could do and she was having an emergency C-section.
I had a 30 minute drive to the hospital and I don’t even remember it. I got there, saw her in her gown, and went straight in to get changed myself.
That’s when my heart sank. I saw my wife, the love of my life, being operated on. She looked so fragile with our two tiny babies who filled me with a love that I never knew existed.
The first few days were rough. I was allowed to stay in the hospital accommodation and visit the NICU but not allowed to see Kloe on the ward. I kept her posted on the boys until she was well enough to come down. I felt like a spare part.
We weren’t married at the time so the boys were given Kloe’s maiden name even though she had said they were to have mine. I wasn’t allowed to make the decision of what my boys were to be fed and I wasn’t allowed to say if they could have a dummy.
A week later, I had to go back to work.
Luckily, I work over the road from the hospital, so I was able to come over straight away and use the showers before seeing my boys and Kloe.
The boys spent just under 4 months in hospital. Kloe spent almost 12 hours a day there whilst I worked. It was so hard as I wanted to be there but we still needed the money so I had to work.
I kept a lot of my feelings and the trauma in for a long time after our NICU journey, something I regret now, as talking about it definitely helps.
I had to be strong for Kloe, she’d been through so much and the last thing I wanted was for her to see me upset or worried but I just wanted to cry.
My advice to Dads currently on a NICU journey is not to worry about expressing your concerns and emotions. As men, we can feel pressure to be the foundation of the family, to support our wives, children and to always be strong when we are faced with the unknown.
We feel we must hide any signs of weakness but that’s wrong.
It’s ok to not be ok - I wish someone had told me that.
Sadly, there isn’t a lot of help easily accessible out there for Dads in NICU but we can change this by talking and helping each other. As much as we need to be there for our partners, they are also there for you.
The best way to get through these hard times is be honest and open. Communication is key!
You are on the same team and it’s ok to switch roles from time to time. You may be at 20% one day but your partner may be feeling ok. On this day, they can carry the extra 80% and vice versa on days when they need a boost.
If you’re both at 10%, it’s ok. Talk it through and you can find a way to make it to 100% again together."