The first time I was present for London’s cares in the NICU, I made what was, for me, a radical decision. Instead of standing off to the side and becoming a spectator to my daughter’s care, I joined in and did as much as possible. So often I choose to spectate, deliberately choosing to not try something new and scary. However, when faced with the prospect of handling my two-pound daughter, I didn’t even think twice. I said I would go for it even though I could hardly believe the words that were coming out of my mouth.
All I had to do was take her temperature and change her diaper. That very first time, it was really difficult to do either of those tasks. I needed some coaching but got through it. London’s nurses that morning, Megan and Laura, were excellent teachers and perfectly understood that I was in a fragile state myself. Afterward, I certainly didn’t feel like a pro or anything, but I had this minuscule sense of accomplishment. In hindsight, choosing on the morning of London’s birth to jump right in and help with her care as much as I possibly could set the tone for the rest of our family’s time in the NICU.
I don’t know if what I had was a very positive outlook in the NICU, but at least from that first morning on I had a tactile connection to my daughter that made things a little more bearable. I know it all started with that first diaper change. So how else could I feel when I saw a father being interviewed about his kids in the NICU and when asked if he was changing diapers he balked, giving the reporter a look that said are you crazy? The father responded: no. The reporter: why not? The reason he gave, with a chuckle: they’re too small.
I felt shock because the babies he was talking about were small, but not as small as London and preemies do come even smaller than London. I was also a little sad. I wanted to reach through the television and tell him my story, why I thought choosing right away to change a diaper on your preemie was such a good idea.
Until I saw this interview on television, maybe I didn’t realize how important my decision to change London’s diaper that first morning of her life was. I learned from my choice that I could become an active participant in this, the scariest thing I have ever gone through. It meant that I actually did get to touch my daughter and not just stare at her through thick plastic all day long. And for her, I don’t think I will ever know all the ways it helped her. I know that it helped her become familiar with my voice and touch. There were a lot of nurses taking care of London, but at least once a day the same person was taking her temperature, changing her diaper, and talking to her in his same, goofy voice.
These preemies need love and attention. As a father, you have to give that too them any way you can. It may seem like nothing at first, but if you keep loving them and helping with their care at every opportunity, they are going to get better. I remember toward the end of London’s NICU stay, the director of the entire NICU floor came over to London’s pod. He walked up to her bed and smiled at her, shaking his head in amazement. He had been an attending the week London was born so he had seen just how far she had come. “She’s made so much progress. She’s looking great!” I nodded in agreement and told him, “She’s amazing. Thank you!” He paused for a moment, “We do all that we can here, but it’s you guys that have really made the difference because you provide the love that she needs and we can’t bottle that stuff up.” We both looked down and smiled at London. He tapped the isolette, as if saying goodbye, and walked off. That love he mentioned, it took so many forms during London’s 109 days in the NICU, but maybe none more important than shedding fear and apprehension and stepping up to change that first diaper.