Even years later the unfairness can still hurt, often catching me by surprise.
The what ifs?
What if we’d had more time; more time to establish breastfeeding?
What if we’d had more time; more time to protect his little lungs from the bugs and colds of childcare.
What if we’d had more time; more time together, more time to bond, more time to feel like a mother.
What if our family had had more time; more time to recover from the trauma of neonatal intensive care.
What if I’d had more time; more time to realise that I needed more time.
For many parents of premature babies there is little warning of the chaotic and uncertain world they suddenly find themselves in, and overnight statutory maternity leave has begun.
Parents to a precious baby, perhaps a ‘miracle’ or ‘fighter’, mothers and fathers grapple with what lies before and ahead of them. Parents, but parents to a baby they can not hold. Parents, but parents to a baby who will spend weeks, if not months, in hospital. Parents, but each day parents to a baby to whom they must whisper goodbye.
Maternity leave: a time for mothering and nurturing. A time for mother and baby to grow and develop. A time for mothers to support each other through sleepless nights, first smiles, feeding and weaning. A time to be and to become ‘mum’.
Neonatal intensive care: watching, waiting, breathing machines and monitors. Expressing rooms, uncertainly, hope and prayers. The torture and heartbreak of leaving such a fragile, tiny baby each day – and yet, this is your maternity leave.
Neonatal intensive care: wires, alarms, tiny and smaller. Fragile, life, loss and grief. The trauma and guilt at leaving such a fragile, tiny baby each day – and yet, this is your maternity leave.
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