How I Supported My Wife When Our Baby Was in the NICU

When preeclampsia sent my partner into preterm labor, I focused on doing what I could to emotionally support her as we coped with our premature daughter's NICU stay and focused on getting her home.

Dad holding baby in the nice
Photo: Grant Yanney

I admit that I've taken a lot of things for granted. As a father, I've had the tendency to be nonchalant sometimes. I prefer overstated optimism and a steel wool resolve over worrying any day. In my mind, this has been my super power—my mindset. There was always a quick fix, until the day that there wasn't one.

My partner's doctor mentioned that as a 35-year-old mother-to-be she was at an increased risk for pregnancy complications. But the day my wife was complaining about a bad headache, a swollen face, and swollen feet was terrifying—and I'm glad I listened to her.

Turns out she was battling early third trimester preeclampsia, a potentially fatal pregnancy-related condition marked by high blood pressure that disproportionately affects Black women. At the hospital, she was immediately admitted and given medicine to control her high blood pressure. My partner was also given a steroid injection to help speed up the baby's lung development. Hospital staff informed us that because of my wife's hypertension, the baby wasn't receiving enough oxygen and they might have to induce labor early.

The dangers of preeclampsia are two-fold. It is harmful to both baby and mother. My wife's doctors said that if her blood pressure didn't stabilize they would induce labor in the next few days at a hospital that specialized in preterm deliveries. We didn't get one full day.

On the morning of November 25, my daughter Gianna was born at 30 weeks gestation via Cesarean delivery. She weighed two pounds and five ounces, about the size of a stapler. I cried tears of joy to see my little nugget born, but I knew that her journey ahead would be uncertain.

Be present. Advocate for your babies. Practice gratitude. Stay resilient and never give up.

I liken the experience to walking in a warm wading pool that suddenly dropped into very deep, perilous waters. On that day, we all had to become resilient swimmers. In my eyes, my daughter was an Olympic gold medalist swimmer from day one. She wasn't going to sink.

The NICU is a special place that leaves an indelible impression. Everyone tried to make the best of difficult circumstances. It was important to find coping mechanisms. I brought a djembe drum from Ghana to play for my daughter, figuring that invoking the sounds of the ancestors couldn't hurt. I made a NICU journal, rode my bike, talked to my therapist, made a baby playlist, and had date night with my wife at the movies.

It was tough seeing my little girl with tubes down her throat, connected to machines, but in my mind if she could persevere, so could I. By the grace of God, she kept fighting and got stronger. Naturally, "grace of God" is what her name means.

We used any extra time to plan for a little one that we knew would eventually come home. We all hoped for the best.

There were parents in the NICU who were eager to leave with a healthy baby and there were parents who wouldn't exit the hospital with their newborn alive. We saw real triumph and tragedy all at once. We went from worrying about Gianna to rooting for all the children and being a support system for other parents. The commonality of shared struggle connected us all.

The hospital staff shared their Thanksgiving turkey with us. On New Year's Eve, many of us snuck in alcoholic beverages and made celebratory toasts in honor of our battle-tested babies.

By February, my daughter was on the "step-down" side of the NICU and learning how to bottle feed. Near the end of the month, my daughter removed the naso-gastric tube from her nose with her own tiny hands. It was her poetic way of saying, "Thanks, but I don't need any more tubes or feeding help. I'm ready to go home." I asked the doctor if we could keep the tube out and see how she feeds without it. Her NICU care team agreed that if she could take enough bottle feeds in a specified time frame, she'd be cleared to go home. In early March, her symbolic request came true and she was discharged to make her way home to Brooklyn.

Today, GiGi is 2 years old and eating everything. She loves music and ballet. She's active in gym class and helps take care of her little brother Shai who is 1. Parents with babies in the NICU should remember to keep the faith. Be present. Advocate for your babies. Practice gratitude. Stay resilient and never give up. No one knows what the outcome will be, but trust everything is in divine order.

It's also OK to not be OK. But take deep breaths often, listen to that playlist you made for your baby, and go for the ride.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles