Parenting Under Pressure: Becoming a Mum in Neonatal Intensive Care

When you are expecting your first baby you begin to imagine how your life might be; you think about holding your baby for the first time, dressing them in their baby grow, caring for them and nurturing them. You think about introducing them to the wider family, of the celebrations you will have and of the new ‘mummy’ friends you will make.

Sometimes though, things don’t always go to plan.

When a baby is born with complications, or like my first son, born prematurely, everything you had imagined and dreamed of is shattered in a matter of moments. 


The moment I gave birth to my tiny son he was whisked away. He was resuscitated on a table beside me for over six minutes as my husband was torn between caring for me and helplessly looking over at the medical team desperately trying to ventilate and stabilise our baby.

I had become a mother for the first time, yet I did not have a baby in my arms. Arriving 10 weeks early and with little warning I was in shock.

We had landed in the world of neonatal intensive care; a world of medical devises and babies housed in perspex boxes. 

I remember leaving my baby for the first time. He was only a few hours old. I held his tiny fingers through the incubator portholes and whispered ‘see you soon’. 


That night I climbed into bed at home and an overwhelming sense of emptiness consumed me. I was numb and grieving for the baby who I had left behind. 

He was in the care of an exceptional medical team and wonderful nurses cared for him 24 hours a day as if he were their own. Their kindness made leaving him a little more bearable each day, but kept in the safety and warmth of his incubator, my baby was not really mine.

For weeks I would ask permission to hold him, as nurses helped me take him and his host of lines and wires from his incubator. Nappy changes were done on a strict timetable and feeding was scheduled around charts and numbers. I would watch as my pumped breast milk dropped through a syringe, flowing through a nasogastric tune into his tiny tummy. 


The unit where he slept was behind security doors and rigorous hand washing became the norm. Hours were spent beside his incubator, yet I was not able to do those seemingly basic mummy tasks of cuddling, consoling, feeding, bathing and dressing him. I cared for him as best I knew, but he did not feel like mine and I did not feel like a mother.

I still remember the nurse who helped me to become a mum in NICU. She not only showed me how to change a tiny nappy, she understood how nervous I was. She got how scary it was to move your babies stick thin limbs, and how the sound of alarms and buzzers terrified me as I contend with tangle of wires and tubes.

I remember the nurse who asked if I’d like to dress my baby for the first time; how she helped me to manoeuvre him limbs and lines into tiny sleeves. He started to look like my baby, dressed in an outfit I had chosen.


Becoming a mum in neonatal intensive care takes parenting to the very edge of extreme. Becoming a mum, but without your baby to hold. Becoming a mum, but left to care for your baby via incubator portholes. Becoming a mum, but saying goodbye to your baby each day. 

To say neonatal intensive care is tough is an understatement, but it is a NICU nurse who can give you hope. A NICU nurse who can provide reassurance, and a NICU nurse who can give you meaning in a world that at times can seem so unreal.

So thank you to the neonatal nurses, who not only care for our tiny babies, but who help us to be the parents we so desperately want to be. 
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4 thoughts on “Parenting Under Pressure: Becoming a Mum in Neonatal Intensive Care

  1. irene

    I was a Mother of three before i experienced the NICU ward. It is scarey and so daunting. The nurses and docters learned me to care for my precious little dolly. What a journey it was. But they showed me how to adjust to a life in the neo that I never new existed

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  2. Janice Creighton

    I can still remember clearly being asked on day 1 if I hold Lucy at 1lb 14oz under her head and bum so her sheet could be changed and being amazed that she didn’t just bend in the middle very scary but happy memories xx

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  3. tigress54

    The nurses are definitely an integral part of the NICU. It was the last place I expected to be with my 8 lb 10 oz baby born via c-section at 39 weeks. It was the nurses who taught me the routine and helped me learn how to nurse her. They were also the ones who told me to take a break and not be there in the NICU all the time. I started a blog as well to help raise awareness on all issues surrounding NICU stays and motherhood in general. It isn’t easy. That’s for sure.

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  4. Pingback: Nominated?! | Beyond The NICU

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