In those first few days I was lost and empty; the emotional impact of leaving hospital without a baby in your arms is hard to describe…..
It was a Friday morning and I was climbing out of bed. At first I didn’t really believe it could be happening, but there was no mistaking that my waters had broken. I was just 30 weeks pregnant.
Terrified I switched into auto-pilot, calmly calling a cab and throwing a random selection of things into my handbag. Googling what it would mean to have a baby born at 30 weeks while stuck in traffic on Streatham High Road terrified me even more. The contractions began in the cab, quickened and a few hours later Sam had been born. I was shown my tiny baby wrapped in a towel for just a few short seconds. Instinctively I reached out to touch him, but my hand was gently moved away as he was place in an incubator that looked more like a spaceship. It was only months later that I learnt the medical team had resuscitated Sam for six minutes, attempting to place a breathing tube down only for him to pull it out. He was transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit breathing on his own and I like to think that was him showing us his fighting spirit from the get-go .
Shattered and numb we spent just a short while with our new baby; holding his hand through the portholes in his incubator, taking hazy pictures through the perspex box. The birth had been straightforward and I wasn’t admitted to hospital; so when the evening came we called a cab home. I was without my baby for the first time in 6 and half months and felt ’empty’. I was plagued with guilt for feeling like I had lost him and berated myself for being so selfish when other mothers do lose their babies. But however hard I tried, when I climbed into bed that night the feeling of emptiness and loss were all consuming. My chest ached on the spot where I felt his head should be resting – an ache that stayed with me for a long time.
Your life becomes the neonatal unit and the emptiness is quickly filled with a 3 hourly expressing routine, endless trips to and from the hospital and hours spent waiting; waiting for that precious moment when you can hold your baby for the first time. The moment comes and your overwhelming instinct is to hold them close, to kiss and cuddle them, but wires and tubes are in the way and you hold them at a distance wondering when you’ll next get this chance. Then it’s back into their box and the watching and waiting starts over again.
At some point the jealously creeps in; of mothers cradling their new babies as they leave the maternity unit, of proud dad’s with balloons, flowers and teddies in tow, and of mothers who had had that extra time with their baby. I was angry and grieving for the lost two and a half months of my pregnancy. The time I’d missed with Sam still with me, the time to prepare, to decorate a nursery, to buy his first baby grow and blankets. Our family were brilliant, rallying round to buy everything that we needed, but such a personal and special time to prepare, particularly for your first baby is lost.
The weeks go by and you start to relax a little, everything is going to be okay, you’re just taking a different route. I would tell myself that other people have their special day when their baby was born; our special day would be the day we took Sam home and the wait would make that day more special. You can hold your baby now, but you still have to wait for a nurse to help you with all the wires and tubes or have wait for the doctors to finish their ward rounds, and by the time you snatch a precious moment to hold them to your chest it’s time to express again.
Expressing – a three hourly routine of pumping to give your baby the only thing you can really give them, an emotional rollercoaster in itself and a story for another time. But to those men who made lewd comments about women sitting in a room with their boobs out, I have nothing polite to say to you.
You’ve watched other families come and go, you’ve left others behind in NICU, but you’re nearly there, you’re special day is just around the corner. Our journey in NICU and SCBU, like many premature parents wasn’t that straightforward. We had our set backs, the very worst was on the day we were due to come home. From the rooming in room we ended up straight back where we had started in intensive care. Sam was back in an incubator, back with a nasogastric tube, back with lines and monitors and the moses basket ready and waiting for him at home was empty. My world came crashing down as I realised I would have to go home again without a baby in my arms.
Our special day did come though and eight weeks later we had finally made it. We were that family who were going home and although we didn’t know it then, our journey had really only just begun.