Finding My Way: A Phenomenology of Fathering in the NICU

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Abstract

Background:

Historically, the relationship between infant and mother in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) has been the main focus of parenting research, leaving a gap in the literature regarding the paternal experience.

Purpose:

The purpose of this study was to gain an understanding of the lived experience of fathering an infant born at less than 28 weeks' gestation admitted to a level III NICU.

Methods:

Seven fathers of premature infants (25-27 weeks' gestation) participated in a semistructured interview about the experience of becoming a father to a premature infant at least 1 to 2 weeks after the NICU admission. Data were collected in 2015.

Findings:

The primary themes identified were looking in, persevering, holding, and finding my way. Fathers in this study described feeling like an outsider in the NICU while learning to trust strangers, protect the mother and the child, and continue to work and provide for the family. Holding for the first time is pivotal in this journey, as the moment of solidifying the connection with the child.

Implications for Practice:

The findings from this study bring awareness of the experiences of fathers during the NICU journey of having a premature infant. Nurses should encourage paternal participation and involvement, visitation, and facilitate kangaroo care opportunities early and often.

Implications for Research:

The findings from this study allow nurses to better understand the paternal experience of having a premature infant born at less than 28 weeks. However, future research should continue to investigate the paternal experience with other gestational ages as well as the influence of stress of fathers during this experience.

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