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Dad Of A Preemie In NICU For 40 Days: 'It Has Shown Me A Love That I Never Knew Existed'
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    In Sacred Scriptures, the number forty signifies new life, new growth, and transformation.

    The human gestation period for a new life is around 40 weeks.

    My daughter Juliana Catalina stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for 40 days, because she was born five weeks earlier than her due date.

    Juliana was born with a single umbilical artery. She was born with complications, such as having a renal cyst and two holes in her heart: VSD (Ventricular Septal Defect) and PDA (Patent Ductus Arteriosus). The VSD closed on its own, but PDA did not close. She underwent a heart surgery last January 2021 when she was only four months old. 

    Juliana at the NICU

    Like most preemies, Juliana did not have adequate strength and coordination skills yet to be breastfed or bottle-fed well enough to grow. Coordination skill means sucking, swallowing, and feeding while breathing; a tough skill and may take a while to learn.

    READ ALSO: This Single Mom Was Told Her Daughter Will Live With a Feeding Tube All Her Life

    Fatherhood in the NICU

    Feeding was one of the biggest challenges we faced before we were able to bring her home. In fact, for several days since she was born, Juliana was vomiting even when she was fed through a tube in her mouth. When the tube was transferred to her nose, the vomiting episodes stopped.

    For forty days, I would see her every other day, not only because I miss her but because I need to bring her milk. My wife did her best to express breast milk but the extra stress, discomfort, and fatigue that came with preeclampsia and preterm labor caused a slow start with milk production.

    "As a father, I felt like I need to fix the problem; that is what fathers do."

    The next best option for us was to purchase pasteurized breast milk from a Milk Bank in another hospital. It is the best option because it is the safest thing next to the mother's breast milk. Is it safe? Yes, it is safe because all donors are pre-screened, and the milk is tested. Is it costly? Yes, it is costly because you have to pay for the milk and the sterilized bottle as well.

    READ ALSO: Is Donated Breast Milk Safer From a Milk Bank or a Breastfeeding Mom?

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    The author and his daughter Juliana

    Many suggested and even offered expressed breast milk from other mothers but considering not just COVID-19 but the hospital and NICU protocols and the advice of the doctors, pasteurized breast milk from pre-screened donors in the Milk Bank in another hospital is the viable option.

    READ ALSO: 'Ilaban Hangga't Kayang Ilaban Ang Inyong Mga Anak': NICU Mama Shares Incredible Journey Of Her 28-Weeker Baby

    Lessons from the NICU

    I learned a couple of things about preemies while Juliana was in NICU.

    First, there is a specific pacifier for preemies that may help them with the first phase of coordination skills.

    Second, there is a human breast milk fortifier that serves as a supplement. It can be added to expressed breast milk. It comes as a powder, which is dissolved into breast milk, and it contains extra calories, protein, and some essential vitamins, which help promote growth and bone development.


    While Juliana was in NICU, I traveled to three adjacent cities every other day to ensure that she had enough supply of her much-needed milk. We live in Makati City at that time, the Milk Bank is in a hospital in Taguig City, and Juliana is staying in a hospital in Pasig City.

    READ ALSO: 'Dear NICU Parents, Your Child Being In NICU Is Not Your Fault'

    What it's like

    It was a whirlwind. It made almost everything difficult. Beyond the particulars of my daughter’s immediate care, I was worried about providing for my family in the long term particularly because it was the first year of the pandemic. I was incredibly stressed about the hospital bills. At that time, I needed to drop everything and revolve and focus on my daughter. 

    "I wanted to build a cocoon around my son and daughter to shield them from the world."

    It also brought on a feeling of helplessness. The emotional toll of nearly losing my wife and daughter affected me deeply. As a father, I felt like I need to fix the problem; that is what fathers do. At that time, there was not really anything I could fix, but I could learn as much as I can and try to figure out exactly what is happening. 

    For 40 days, we hoped. For 40 days, we prayed. For 40 days, we trusted GOD for mercy and grace. 

    After 40 days, we got our miracle - we brought our baby daughter home. 

    Where we are headed

    Juliana turned two last September 17, 2022.

    Now that my daughter is older, I was surprised by how much the NICU experience has changed me – I have grown to enjoy and be thankful for the trivial things in life and became more sensitive. It has shown me a love that I never knew existed. I wanted to build a cocoon around my son and daughter to shield them from the world, especially with the way things are now in the time of pandemic.

    2-year-old Juliana and her brother Julian

    My NICU experience allowed me to remain an involved and proactive father.

    Julius Bayoneta is part of the Smart Parenting Dad Squad and one of My Smart Parenting Story 2021's finalists.  He also wrote an honest apology for his eldest son, Julian. Read it here.

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