When babies arrive way too early, the focus is, of course, on the baby. As well it should be. But, after the new arrival, most of the concern seems to fall on the mommies. There are a lot of good reasons for this, most notably the fact that Mommy has gone through birth, often under traumatic circumstances. Add to that the fact that the mother's health may have been in very real jeopardy and it makes even more sense. Still, I want you to remember that...
Having a preemie is hard on Dad too. Here are three very specific reasons why:
- Rare is the dad who gets abundant paternity leave. Oftentimes (as with my hubby), these fathers need to go back to work within days of their preemie's unexpected early arrival. It is heart-wrenching for them to have to leave their babies (and wives, in some cases) still hospitalized but, especially if they are the primary bread-winners, there often isn't a choice.
- Not only are preemie dads dealing with the same responsibilities at work as before the birth, they are often shouldering MORE responsibilities on the homefront. If Mom had a c-section or health struggles, she is often not in good enough shape to take care of her "usual" tasks, from childcare to housekeeping. Who ends up bearing that burden? Often- Dad.
- Dads are expected to be tough. While society accepts and comforts mothers who dissolve into teary, blubbering messes, the same cannot be said for fathers. No matter how "equal" we try to make the genders, they are not. And society's expectations of dads are very different from those of moms. While their emotions are riding the same wild roller coaster on the inside, Dads often feel the need to remain stoic, to always be the "strong one". This is an incredible responsibility and can definitely take its toll.
So, the next time you're talking to the father of a preemie, think about how hard it is for him too. Acknowledge that. Just saying, "This must be really hard on you... let me know if I can help" can go a long way.