November is Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month
November is Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month
November is Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month
November is Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month
November is Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month
November is Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month

November is Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month

NICU Dads speaking out

Awareness Day

November is World Prematurity Month, where we celebrate, acknowledge and remember all premature babies. November is also Men’s Mental Health Month which we don’t want to miss within our World Prematurity Day celebrations. 

So, at Ickle Pickles, we want to bring awareness to many men's health issues, especially to men who have been through or are going through the neonatal journey. Whether you are a NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) dad, uncle, brother, grandfather or male relative/friend of NICU parents, it is important to acknowledge the vital role you play in these tiny babies’ lives. Having a baby in neonatal care affects the whole family unit. 

Society’s expectations of men mean that they often do not feel comfortable, do not want to or cannot open up about their emotions. This often causes great anxiety within and can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which usually goes unnoticed or unreported. 

When a wife or partner has a baby who requires neonatal care, it is often the women and babies that get the most attention in the unit. Men tend to stay back in a supportive role. Yet for many men, this can mean they feel helpless and are seen as a bystander. 

On Wednesday 22nd November, we are running a Coffee Morning for NICU Men, a friendly get-together to share our stories with other NICU dads or NICU relatives. Talking can help you and others to acknowledge the reality and normality of what we went through or are going through.

We asked NICU graduate dads to tell their stories and give some advice to new dads who are just starting their NICU journey. 

James, dad to 24-weeker twins Jack and Harry

He says: 

“Overnight, we discovered a world of incubators and intubators, CPAPs (continuous positive airway pressure machines) and cannulas. A world that lasted, in our case, for eight months. 

From being in a position where you're expecting twins in 15 to 16 weeks time to, a few hours later, sitting bewildered in King’s College Hospital with tiny premature twins in incubators was extremely distressing but also slightly surreal”. 

James had expected to be very busy and tired as a father but  “I didn't envisage it was going to be transformed in the way it was:  relocating from the Midlands back to London, moving jobs, all the uncertainty, anxiety, worry - and having a lack of control over everything, that was very difficult.

Harry died on 11 January at just 19 days old and I never saw him without wires and tubes attached to him. But after he died and we saw him in the Chapel of Rest, that was the first time I saw him properly for what he was - this tiny perfect human being.

We grieved together in our own quiet way because we still had Jack, who was fighting for his life and needed us. 

The hardest choice was to allow Jack to go through several invasive operations from when he was just 5 weeks old, the first being on my birthday. Bearing in mind he was so small and fragile and had already suffered a lot, I didn't want him to go through anything more if there wasn't a reasonable chance that he would come through - but as a parent, it's very difficult to let go.  

I’ve probably always appreciated that life is fragile, but that appreciation is more theoretical until something like this happens to you. It really brought home to me how anyone’s life can be turned upside down at random.

I would advise new parents to not be afraid to ask doctors and nurses about their baby’s care or treatment and to probe if they don’t understand something. You are your baby’s spokesperson.  And don’t feel guilty about having some ‘Me’ time.” 

Dad of Zak, Alex’s advice 

“I would recommend parents with children in the NICU to be ready for a demanding journey. They should dedicate time to being with their child, offering love and hope, while also being present to step in when needed and inquire about medical decisions to ensure the right course of action.

The value of time... When you're in a hospital with a fragile premmie, you come to appreciate the preciousness of time. Every minute, hour, and day becomes evermore significant, as you're aware that circumstances can shift rapidly. Your desire is to spend as much time as you can with your baby, knowing that each moment counts, and could even be your last moment.”

Bostjan, Dad of 24 weeker twins David and Nejc

Bostjan and his partner, Spela, travelled to London from Slovenia for treatment of Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome. Although this treatment meant the possibility of premature labour, they did not anticipate having their twins in another country, with no family or friends around and having no ‘home’ to go to. Their lives were turned upside down and the neonatal unit became their main home for 8 months. 

The expression ‘a rollercoaster of emotions’ was one way of describing their NICU journey. 

Baby David and Nejc were such little fighters. Sadly, Nejc passed away after 58 days. At the time, Bostjan was travelling to and from Slovenia every other week due to work. But on the news that Nejc was seriously ill and then passed away, this was too much for him. When he got the news from Spela, he immediately broke down in the middle of the showroom (where he worked). He realised he needed to be with Spela and David. The guilt he had been carrying had been too much and it almost broke him. 

They both stayed at Ronald McDonald House, which was a lifeline for them. It was just a short walking distance to the hospital, which allowed them to come to the unit at any time they wanted. 

David spent months fighting viruses, infections, surgeries and going in and out of intensive care. And after nearly 8 months, they were able to take David home, back to Slovenia. 

Bostjan wished they didn’t have to go through all of the NICU journey, but this was out of their control. They made some great friend during their time in the NICU both parents and nurses. 

Bostjan says: “The nurses and Doctors will care about your baby, but don’t be afraid to ask questions or challenge if you are not comfortable about something. This is more important when your NICU stay is a lengthy one.  

After Nejc passed away, we were not just David’s parents, but also his nurse, doctor, therapist (etc.) so we needed to know everything about his care and treatment. Parents should feel empowered to ask questions about their baby. 

As part of Family Integrated Care, many neonatal units now have Psychologist Practitioners who are on-site to help support parents during these difficult times. 

Remember, you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts and voice your concerns. 

We hope that these stories and advice will help current NICU families navigating their neonatal journey and give some hope that they are not alone and there is support available.” 

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