Are you a NICU Ninja?
Just what is a "NICU Ninja"? Does this mean you fight like a preemie?
Actually No! The opposite of fight. A NICU ninja hides and stays in the back fighting oneself. They don't want to be involved and didn't even want to come see their own baby. They have no reaction and seem paralyzed by the experience and can even want the baby to die so they don't have to deal with the mess the baby brought on them.
The normal definition used to describe a ninja is one who has exceptional skill and abilities but these skills and abilities can be used to mask their craftiness into avoiding duties and not getting to close. The legend of the ninja is well known. These warrior types were known to lurk in the shadows and watch at a distance, disappear in an instant, and hide behind a mask of mystery. If you challenged a ninja you were sure to be met with trouble.
The Ninja's demeanor was clear, leave them alone and you'll be ok. This is how so many NICU fathers (and some moms) deal with those in the NICU. They were Ninjas in one way or another. Some would look on at a distance while the other parent would talk to the neonatologist and nurses, others would go so far as to wash up and take a peek at their child only to go back to the NICU waiting area so the responsible can have time with the baby while they disappeared.
"I was the other kind of Ninja, I would talk to the doctors and nurses but I had a mask of mystery on and it was hard to see my poker face emotions under the mask. But what was I supposed to say? I would ask myself later on, what is the right way to respond to things I had no control over? I felt like I was expected to be upset and I should act accordingly. This upset aggressiveness is what a nicu help staff looks for when flushing out a ninja."
The NICU is a very structured place. You must wash a certain way, walk a certain path to sign in and go straight to your child's bed all while the cameras are on you. At the bedside you're greeted and briefed on the time you were gone. Most of the time the staff wouldn't talk to me anyways. It's like they knew a Ninja was bad news so they left us tough guys out. Maybe my mask wasn't so good after all. Maybe I wasn't the mystery I thought I was.
The little ninja game we play is just a diversion from what our real problem is, our sick kid laying there hooked to all manner of tubes, wires, and monitoring equipment. After a few weeks I got better equip with skills, and was quite comfortable in the NICU.
Then it was time to go home. There is no place for NICU ninjas in the home. I was all dad in our home. I had become a real parent who held his child and cared for her in harmony with my wife. We eventually came up with a schedule of who would get up during feedings. After a few weeks it got easier to go on and so it will be for you preemie parents.
NICU dads have a different way of falling apart compared to the moms. These studies show men need to have a better parent to child relationship and how bonding may be difficult with stress. A lot of these studies show the same outcomes so it may just be part of the stress response. We believe this stress protection we tell ourselves goes for men and women as the "fight or flight" behavior takes over and we become more of a "ninja" so we don't get attached at the level we get hurt if things go wrong. We don't blame parents for being careful and being cautious when getting used to their baby and the NICU ways of doing things.
So how do I move from Ninja inraged to NICU engaged?
To convert your ninja tactics to full on committed actions may be hard and must include a change of mind and a change in practice. The reality of the situation is that you need to be present in mind and body and you must get involved to get the skills needed to be able to take care of your child when they are able to get out of the NICU. You will be the care your child gets when you get home so the quicker you can get involved and let the professional nurses teach you how to do things, the better you will be at home. Below we will show a list of things you can do to help you!
In this blog post we hope we encouraged you to come out from the shadows and into the illuminating light of engaging behavior in full participation. Your baby needs you to be involved and present with them so they can bond with a willing and active caregiver during their most desperate time of their life. Your partner or spouse needs a person who is there with them a responsible and worthy to be relied on. Rise up and be there and learn to control your emotions and fear in order to take the steps necessary to be a good parent! We are all doing the best we can during the challenges of the NICU experience but there is no need of being a ninja in the NICU!
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