An engineer by training, Marc Lee rarely lets his heart rule his head. But when he saw his son for the first time, tears welled up in his eyes.
Joshua was delivered via emergency caesarean section weighing just 1.27kg, after his mum’s pre-eclampsia got out of hand at 32 weeks of pregnancy.
This is a pregnancy complication, characterised by high blood pressure and a large amount of protein in the urine, which can be fatal to both mother and child.
While other parents cuddled their newborns, Marc could only look on helplessly as his little one was immediately whisked off to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at National University Hospital and hooked up to wires and tubes.
“When I saw my baby leave the operating theatre, my eyes started watering. I wasn’t allowed to touch him,” he recalls.
“Compared to the other full-term babies, Joshua looked so scrawny and weak. I felt quite emotional seeing him fight for his life, struggling to breathe.”
But, with so many things happening all at once, Marc did not have much time to wallow in sadness.
Doctors would approach him and his wife, Ng Shin, for consent before they proceeded with any medical procedures.
“At the time, she was definitely too weak to do anything, so I had to put aside my emotions, step up as head of the household and make informed decisions,” he says.
Besides shuttling between the recovery ward where Shin was and the NICU, he had to manage concerned family members and friends who were anxiously awaiting updates.
The worried dad couldn’t sleep well, but he developed an immense drive and a rush of adrenaline that helped him juggle several roles.
He played the supportive husband, delivering home-cooked confinement food to the hospital every day.
He also ran errands, such as getting nipple cream and setting up the breast pump for Shin, who was expressing milk for their son.
He was eager to be a part of Joshua’s recovery, too. When he was in the NICU, he became the only husband to join his wife in practising “kangaroo care”, which he had read extensively on.
The technique refers to the way a kangaroo carries its young, and studies have found that such skin-to-skin contact is beneficial to pre-term babies.
Marc would hold his tiny newborn against his bare chest, singing and reading aloud, for as long as two hours each time.
“I wanted to do my part to help my baby. He protested at first, probably because my hairy chest is different from Mummy’s, but he got used to it,” he says, laughing.
“The other dads realised it was something they could do, too, when they saw me holding him.
“We saw how it helped Joshua become stronger and gain weight faster than another baby who came to the NICU around the same time, but was not held as often.”