I became a first-time father unexpectedly in 12 hours. My wife had a healthy and normal pregnancy until her 28-week checkup where her doctors became concerned about some blood work they had done. When I got the call from my wife that we needed to make a visit to the hospital for some observation, I had absolutely no idea that day I was going to be thrown into a whirlwind of experiences that I knew nothing about. My wife assured me on the way to the hospital that most likely she’d be kept overnight for observation but that the worst-case scenario was that we’d be delivering our son prematurely. I thought she was joking. In a mere 12 hours I watched my wife fail test after test. I felt helpless. I trusted the hospital staff and Doctors more than I thought I ever would and that night after a hospital transfer, my son was born at 28 weeks and 2 days weighing only 2 pounds and 14 ounces. I remember just looking at my wife and thinking “we got this”. Our NICU experience could have been short lived because despite his prematurity, Henry was born healthy. However, at about 2 and a half weeks old he hadn’t had a bowel movement even though he had been receiving donor breast milk in addition to what my wife was producing. He became extremely sick and after a few tests it was determined that he had a spontaneous perforation in his lower bowel causing his bowel to leak into his gut. At 23 days old, Henry went into his first surgery to repair the perforation. Henry was given a reversible ileostomy and over the next 2 weeks we watched him slowly start to get better but still there was no bowel production. Ultimately it was determined that this surgery was a failure and he was going back into surgery in his NICU bed space as he was too fragile to move. This second surgery had so many unknowns because our doctor was unsure why the first one was unsuccessful. Once again, I trusted the staff and doctors and waited helplessly with my wife in the waiting room. Thankfully this surgery was a success! Henry was given a second ileostomy, an unconventional one at that, but finally it was working! Henry had this ileostomy for about 8 weeks. Henry was finally strong enough and was crushing his feeding goals so they decided to reverse it and put him all back together. Finally, after 108 days in the NICU my son was able to come home. One of the most difficult things aside from my son’s health during his NICU stay that we faced was continuing to support my family while Henry was in the NICU. Men aren’t typically given maternity days and my wife is a teacher. Though she had planned for her leave it didn’t go in our favor. My wife had been paying for a short-term disability plan in addition to her health insurance. While in the hospital she filed for the short-term disability and was denied coverage before she was even discharged. The company had failed to share the policy’s fine print and though she had established it prior to her becoming pregnant, she hadn’t paid the policy for 12 months before requesting to use it. If you aren’t aware, teachers are allowed up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave in the state of Florida. Though my wife had saved her PTO over the last 8 years of employment as a teacher, we chose not to use her days knowing that we’d be bringing home a premature infant eventually and we wanted her to save those days for when she needed them. It quickly became a financial uncertainty for us on top of what we were being faced with as new parents to a child who was born premature and possibly going to have some medical procedures that could be life altering. NICU is a hard road to travel. No one should have to do it alone. It is my privilege now to help serve those who are going up against a challenge they are being faced with and use my knowledge to help ease the process.
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