I had it all planned out; I would wind down work slowly, finishing Christmas Eve.
I was beginning to feel relaxed and confident in my pregnancy, daring to think about what life would be like once the baby was here. I had finally agreed a date with my friends for a baby shower, totally unaware that a week later I would go into labour.
One morning I decided to go to hospital after experiencing a few pains through the night, with a show of blood. Shortly after arriving I was told that my placenta was hanging on by a thread and I was 6cm dilated. My husband and I were told that we would be delivering the baby that day, 14 weeks early.
My son Lewis was born that evening, the 2nd October 9.32pm at exactly 26 weeks; weighing 1lb 12.
The survival rate for the first 72 hours was 50:50.
My maternity leave kicked in the very next day and for the next 93 days my husband and I lived and breathed the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). We were in limbo; we were parents, but we could not take our baby home.
My last trimester of pregnancy was spent watching our little boy grow inside an incubator. I had never experienced anything like it, emotions ranging from sheer grief and helplessness to absolute admiration for this little boy fighting every step of the way. It was an extremely traumatic and stressful time for us all.
With hindsight I can look back on Lewis’ time in the hospital with a fondness. Knowing that I experienced something very special, seeing him achieve milestones that full term parents would never see. I always saw myself as being tough, someone who rolls with the punches, but seeing your baby battle to stay alive with the constant set backs, takes its toll. One step forward, two steps back was considered the norm.
Lewis finally came home 31st December 2014 and the reality began to set in that we had our baby boy home. To begin with, it took us a long time to feel confident in our parenting abilities. We had been ‘institutionalised’ – a direct consequence of being in hospital for 93 days. Knowing that we had the support of doctors and nurses if anything were to happen. Suddenly that support was gone and we were on our own, responsible. Our first night home was absolutely terrifying.
Initially I didn’t think of the impact that Lewis prematurity would have upon my maternity leave. The plan was to return to work in a years time. As time went on, I started to think of the implications of returning work in October 2015 and I began to fret at the thought of having to leave Lewis – I didn’t feel ready at all. All I kept thinking was, what about Lewis, he’s not ready and what about me, I’m definitely not ready.
So what if the maternity leave was extended to allow for the time lost in hospital?
It would have given me time to process the trauma of Lewis being born so early. As that time spent in the hospital unearthed some extremely raw emotions and 10 months on I continue to have reoccurring nightmares. This is my brain coming to terms and processing what has happened.
Time for Lewis. It would allow me to continue to support my son’s 3.5 month delayed development, which should eventually subside by 2 years old. It would allow for extra time that we lost together in hospital, time to reflect and time to embrace what we have.
Extended financial support through the extension of Statutory Maternity pay. Giving mothers of premature babies a choice, not feeling pressurised to return to work, or indeed having to give up work because of the financial implications.
Fortunately my company has allowed me to take a 4 month unpaid career break, giving me this extra time, however financially we will be worse off. This additional time is important to me and important for my son, but this option is not widely available and may not be possible financially for many families. This is why I believe in the extension of maternity leave for families in neonatal intensive care, taking into account individual circumstances and giving time and the financial support to take that extra time if needed.
Guest Blog by – Jessica Hayler
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