We know our neonatal dads need support and we aim to provide that. When a baby is admitted to neonatal care, there is a lot of focus on mum. She may be unwell after the birth and receiving care from the midwives. Neonatal dads struggle yet we find that more mums are reaching out for help than dads. It also seems easier for mums to access support. Men tend to hide their feelings which can result in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder later down the line. We want to ensure our neonatal dads have an accessible support network.
Neonatal Dads might also feel under pressure to return to work. Some new dads have to take their paternity leave when their baby is on the neonatal unit, or they may have to use up holidays or take unpaid leave. It can be very stressful. You might find you have no time to stop and address your own thoughts and feelings .
The story below has been written by one of our neonatal dads who was deeply affected by his sons traumatic birth. It really highlights the need for more support for dads in neonatal care.
My son was born very early at 24 weeks gestation. He was born in a very bad way… in a breech position and my wife had a large bleed leading to our son swallowing a lot of her blood. He was tiny, weighing 1lb 7oz.
I was completely petrified the day he was born. It was like my worst nightmare but it was real. Just after my son was born I listened to the medical team as they connected him to a ventilator, lines and monitors. My wife was unconscious and the midwife was panicking due to the amount of blood she had lost. Then the beeps from the medical devices connected to my son became weaker and weaker until they stopped. There must have been a team of 15 medical staff in the room but all was completely silent. I was praying so hard my hands turned white and I remember thinking that this just cannot happen. I am still haunted by this day now and the thought that I could have lost my wife and little boy, fills me with a fear that I’ve never felt before.
Despite my son’s very early arrival and having a long list of severe medical issues he managed to pull through against all odds. We had a long and stressful stay in NICU and he came home on oxygen. After only a few days home he was rushed back into hospital after catching a cold. Our son remained on oxygen for 1 year which was challenging for me.
I felt I had a lot of pressure on me. I am self employed, so I had to continue working despite what was going on at home and this was hard. We had agreed the sale on our house and were house hunting when our son was born, I had to take on that responsibility as I didn’t want my wife becoming any more stressed.
Somehow and I don’t know how, I managed to keep everything running pretty smoothly during the dark days in NICU but I found that I really struggled once things settled down. It was like bad weather moved into my mind and stayed there. The weather wasn’t really stormy but was gloomy and depressing, I felt sad and negative, and a bit alone. The strange thing is that I didn’t realise how bad it had affected me until I came out of it. I understand now that the symptoms are typical of PTSD, but even though I tried, I couldn’t get any metal health support and this almost led to my business falling apart. I felt let down by the system.
I guess I did some real soul searching and I opened up to my wife about how I was feeling, and that was the beginning of me admitting it to myself. I had to almost pick everything apart so I could put it all back together again and it was difficult. I started to talking to a few other dads from NICU who I had kept in touch with and it was a surprise and a relief to find out they felt the same. It has been a long road for me, we’re a few years on now and I still struggle to think about my boys birth but things have got easier.
If I could give another bloke on NICU some advice it would be to talk, talk to other dads on the unit, especially those who have come out the other side of NICU. Reach out for help, it is out there and it is getting easier to find.
Spoons has a private dads Facebook Group.
Our dads also have access to our counselling and trauma therapy service.
If you are struggling to get help with mental health, it may help to talk to a friend or family member. You should also be able to access mental health support via your GP.