When I heard that the leading prematurity charity, Bliss, was hosting a Father’s Day Twitter event for dads of neonatal babies, I had to check it out.
The event was hosted by Ricky Boleto, a journalist who had a child in neonatal care and a baby born during the COVID-19 lockdown. Ricky took over the Bliss Twitter account for an hour to share his experience and get the conversation started for the Neonatal Dad Takeover.
Following an enjoyable Father’s Day – wildly different from the Father’s Day I spent in NICU last year, I settled down to join in the conversation.
Having shared some of my own experiences and connected with some other dads, here are six things I learned.
1. Other dads struggle, too
The clearest thing was that – as expected – I wasn’t alone in finding the neonatal journey so tough.
Ricky shared that he felt very anxious and stressed during the first year of his son’s life – a feeling I can certainly relate to.
In response, many dads (myself included) agreed that having babies in neonatal care has a huge impact on your mental health, often lasting much longer than your baby’s hospital stay.
2. People want to help each other
One eye-opener was seeing just how many dads are keen to help others in similar situations.
It’s the very reason I set up the PremDad blog, and it was really pleasing to see other people doing similar things. I managed to find a couple of new articles and blogs to check out, as well as the Premature Dad podcast, which focuses on prematurity and baby loss.
3. It’s natural to be worried
Of all the emotions I went through (and there were a lot) while my sons were in the hospital, the worry was perhaps the most constant. Right from the moment they were born to well after they came home, I knew they were vulnerable and my mind never stopped racing with worrisome thoughts.
A lot of the responses to Ricky’s questions included words like “worry”, “stress”, “fear” and “scary”.
Looking back, going through such a tumultuous experience is near-impossible without having these feelings.
4. The experience stays with you a long time
A year down the line, I still think about the boys’ traumatic entrance into the world pretty much every day. It gets easier, but sometimes I do still struggle to comprehend what we went through.
During the Neonatal Dad Takeover, it was clear that other dads feel the same way:
Like the scar on my forehead or a tattoo on your arm, you carry the experience with you everywhere you go.
5. Sharing your experience can help
Most of my life, I’ve tended to bottle up my emotions and feelings. I never want to burden other people with my problems, but this time it was different. Although talking helped, I’ve always found comfort and solace in writing.
When I first wrote about my experience, it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Other people seemed to understand more about what it was like.
And, clearly, I’m not alone:
Some write, some talk: however you share your experience, it can really help.
6. Our experiences made us stronger
What was once a sign of weakness is now something to be admired. I can only imagine what men of previous generations must have had to bury deep within themselves in situations like mine.
Thankfully, the world is becoming more accepting of men’s mental health issues and the idea that it’s okay to not be okay.
The thing that I took most pleasure from was the realisation that everyone involved in the chat was strong and brave – both for getting through their own experience, and also for sharing it so openly.