"Our twin boys were born almost 13 weeks premature in April 2019. It was a spontaneous labour, and within six hours we had two sons fighting for their lives. They were instantly taken away to be intubated and then placed into incubators, before being taken to a specialist hospital an hour away from where we live. They spent two weeks there, during which time they battled against infections and had to have blood transfusions. Our eldest son also suffered a severe (grade 4) brain bleed which we were told could hamper his development and may cause lifelong issues.
It was a very difficult period for both me and my wife, particularly being away from home and spending two weeks living within the confines of a hospital (we were lucky enough to get a room next to the NICU ward). One of the toughest things was the feeling of being helpless - watching our sons in the incubators and being unable to hold them for the first six days of their lives was gut-wrenching. Once they were well enough, we enjoyed having kangaroo care and being able to bond with them a little better. We'd also read books and take part in the care routines to build up a rapport.
After those initial two weeks, the boys were deemed well enough to be transferred back to our hometown hospital, where they remained for another seven weeks. There were plenty of ups and downs still, including more transfusions and the dreaded ROP (retinopathy of prematurity) eye checks. During this time I also had to return to work, and although I was able to work remotely some days, it was hard to leave the boys and my wife and to try and concentrate on work.
Despite some of the health scares and issues, the boys progressed well and were eventually discharged a few weeks ahead of their due date; we brought them home still weighing only 5lb each.
It was a relief and a happy time to have our family at home finally but this brought another stress as it was almost like becoming parents again - this time where we were solely responsible for their care.
The boys have since thrived and are now healthy and happy 3 and a half year olds (the brain bleed hasn't caused any issues to this point). Although we're able to look back with relief, the NICU experience is something I wouldn't want to go through again, and I sympathise with those who have even more difficult journeys than we did."
My advice is just to be open and honest about how you're feeling. It's an emotional rollercoaster and unfortunately I bottled many of my feelings up which affected me from a mental perspective for a long time. Looking back, I should've spoken to friends and family (and even professionals) more than I did as it would have helped me offload.
If you are a NICU dad looking for ways to bond with your baby, Carl has written a blog on his website here; 8 ways for Dads to bond with NICU babies