Parents of premature babies often describe themselves as being on a rollercoaster journey, lost in an environment they don’t recognise or even knew existed. Every birth is different, but the reality of having a baby to soon is very different to any other experience; a reality where the planning and anticipation is dramatically shattered by a sudden arrival and where a mother has to leave her baby everyday.
Life inside a neonatal intensive care unit is unlike any other environment and is far removed from what could resemble anything like parenting a new born. Parents sit beside incubators housing tiny and fragile lives. Monitors flash and beep, whilst the sound of air fills tubes inflating the smallest of lungs. Mothers embark on three hourly cycles of expressing; feeding a baby they are not yet able to hold. Fathers split – caring for mothers recovering from often life threatening illnesses or surgery, caring for siblings at home, managing work commitments and spending precious time with their new born in NICU. Relatives are unsure of how to help; friends are unsure of how to celebrate a new but fragile life and parents are unsure of how to be mums and dads in this alien world.
The neonatal unit is a special place, a place where some say miracles happen. Yet it is a world hidden away, not one you could accidently stumble across and with little known about the environment unless you have lived it. For those who have journeyed from room to room, from NICU to SCBU, your experience can be a lonely one and the after care isolating. Whilst NCT groups discuss sleeping through the night, NICU mums worry about making it through the night.
The sounds, smells and even the feel of a neonatal unit are quite unique; a warm sterile environment where parents wait quietly while nurses hurry by. The background hum of buzzing machines fills the air until suddenly interrupted by the ding, ding, ding of a monitor alarming. Your heart begins to beat a little faster. The rigorous routine of hand washing and the smell of soap. The feel of a tiny nappy upon paper thin skin. The delicate wires that mingle with hard plastic tubing, and the feel of the Perspex incubator box. These are the sounds and smells of the neonatal unit. These are the sounds and smells you remember.
The days of neonatal care remain with you and in an instant you can be taken back. It is a journey that for many parents continues long after discharge until finally the NICU sounds and memories begin to fade