Christmas in NICU: An Interview with Preemie Parents Louise & Ginette

Can you tell us a little bit about you and your family?

Ginette and I both work for the Emergency Service and we would see each other out in the local area whilst at work. I always thought she was a fantastic Police Officer and had the most wonderful smile, but with me working on an Ambulance and both of us working shift patterns it was difficult to ask her out. So four years ago we got together on a works night out and have never been apart since. 

I fell pregnant with a sperm donation on the second attempt. We had just bought our first home together and were planning on completing a total renovation before our baby was due in March 2016. The house had no gas or electric and the kitchen and bathroom were not in a fit state, but of course we were anticipating plenty of time to get it ready for our family…

Sophie was born very premature, can you tell us a bit about her early arrival?

I went for my 28 week midwife appointment but felt poorly and thought I had a chest infection at the time. I almost didn’t go to the appointment due to feeling so ill and lethargic. My blood pressure was taken as well as a urine sample; both registered as concerning. The midwife immediately booked us into the maternity day unit for a review. Within an hour we were whisked upstairs to theatre as I had been diagnosed with pre-eclampsia and told that our baby was coming now.

Sophie was born at 16:06 by emergency caesarian section and there wasn’t enough time for steroids due to the severity of my pre-eclampsia and the struggles to manage my blood pressure.

Sophie weighed just 957g at birth, however she cried immediately which was the most reassuring thing in the circumstances. We were able to see her for a few seconds but then she was taken straight to Neonatal Intensive Care where she was extubated 2 hours later. I unfortunately was unable to see her again for the next 36 hours as I was taken to the High Dependency Unit to recover.


Ginette was amazing and a rock as she managed to stay strong enough to look after us both. She even waited to allow me to be the first to hold Sophie; staying by our sides until I was well enough to visit her. My parents flew down from Scotland on the 18th December to be with us due to the severity of my illness, how early Sophie had been born and to give Ginette some support.


How did seeing Sophie in neonatal care make you feel?

Seeing Sophie in Neonatal Care was terrifying even though with my medical training and background I knew she was lucky to be alive. This same training and knowledge meant I had an increased awareness of everything that could still go wrong. 

She looked like a tiny baby bird; tubes, wires, alarms beeping, encased in a glass bubble that seemed impenetrable. Every time I saw Sophie, I felt a massive surge of love but it was tinged with a desire to defend and protect her. At times I felt as if the medical treatment was a mechanical process and I wanted to be able to cuddle and hold her instead of sitting by the side of her incubator whilst the nurses and doctors had to complete the necessary tests and procedures. 


After being discharged from the High Dependency Unit I was placed on the post-natal ward which was isolating and frustrating as all the other mothers had their babies with them. Overhearing babies crying as well as conversations between mothers comparing how small their babies were, when they were 5 or 6lbs. Listening to parents moaning about how little sleep they were getting when I was so desperate to be with my baby, to be able to hear her cry only because she was hungry rather than being in pain. One mother asked about the photo and hand and feet prints that had been taken as she wanted one and I had to explain that she wouldn’t get one as she had her baby with her. She didn’t realize that this was the only connection I had to Sophie at my bedside and I found it terribly difficult to remain calm as this could potentially be one of the only connections if things went wrong.


Sophie spent her first Christmas in hospital, what was Christmas Day like on the unit?

On Christmas Eve, whilst still on the post-natal unit, carol singers came round to sing for the patients however I found this upsetting and I locked myself in my room so as not to be disturbed. I understood that Christmas was happening for everyone else and I was aware that I had not sent any Christmas cards or bought presents for Ginette or my family due to Sophie’s early arrival however those momentary feelings of guilt were overwhelmed by my concerns and worries and my mind was solely focused on my baby, 3 floors below.


Christmas Day on the unit was an interesting event. The atmosphere was surreal; there were only 3 babies in the unit one of which was Sophie and when we arrived in the morning, the nurses had decorated the incubators and the rooms with Christmas decorations as well as provided stockings with beautiful clothes and toys for the babies. Their kindness and generosity was wonderful and we were very emotional and grateful. There was Christmas music playing and one of the nurses was wearing a Christmas tree dress. Ginette and I had worn our Christmas jumpers with flashing lights although having our Christmas lunch in the hospital canteen did dampen the spirit. We tried to make the best of it as my parents had left their other grandchildren in Scotland to be with us but the lunch wasn’t very good and being confined to a hospital was depressing.

At shift changeover, the atmosphere completely changed. The Christmas music stopped and the atmosphere went back to being more of a medical focus which we found difficult. They did move the baby from the Special Care Unit into our room so it meant that all of the parents were together however it didn’t make it any easier. We were extremely lucky though and received messages of support and love from across the world, wishing us a Merry Christmas from all faiths.

A year later, how is Sophie doing and what are your memories of your time in hospital?

Nearly a year on and Sophie is amazing, so healthy and determined. She is trying to crawl, knows what she wants to do and is so clever by clapping and waving at friends. She spends a lot of time with friends that we made on the unit as there are 3 families who were in hospital with us whom we formed close bonds with. 


Looking at these children, it is sometimes hard to remember they were all born so early however the memories of being in hospital never leave you and every now and again something will jog a specific memory that can leave you almost paralyzed.The memory of leaving Sophie in hospital when Ginette took me home will never leave me nor will the feeling of walking down the corridor from the unit in the evening – it got longer every day. Being woken in the night by an alarm clock to express milk instead of by a crying baby and knowing that you can’t give that milk straight to your baby is indescribable. Leaving our friends behind when Sophie was discharged was really hard; the conflicting feelings of being relieved we were taking her home as well as the fear of finally being solely responsible for her care and the guilt in saying goodbye to the other parents and babies who had to stay behind.


I do remember the good times as well; making some of the best friends I’ve had in life, laughing with friends as I pretended to drink breast milk, crying over spilt breast milk after knocking over the bottle that I had spent what seemed like forever expressing, cuddling and singing to Sophie, giving her first bath. Every time we arrived on the unit we would count the babies, making sure our friends were still there although there were plenty of times that the babies had all been moved around.

What does your first Christmas at home together mean to you and how will you be spending it?

Christmas at home with Sophie and Ginette is a dream come true. I am so excited that our little family will be together and my family from Scotland are all coming down to join us to make a large gathering to celebrate. 

Thousands of families will be visiting tiny babies in hospital this Christmas – what advice would you give to them?

The advice I would give to families is to remember that Christmas is more than a day and to remind extended families to not put additional pressure on parents who need to visit their babies in hospital. Your baby won’t remain tiny for long so treasure every moment as much as you can.


And lastly, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Our little Sophie Snowflake who is becoming more like a Sophie Snowstorm is more loved each and every day.


With special thanks to Louise for sharing their NICU Christmas story. 
If you have a story you’d like to share please email Catriona at smallestthings@yahoo.com 

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