University College London Hospital becomes an Employer with Heart, extending parental leave for staff whose babies are born premature.
UCLH has been named an “employer with heart”, becoming the first London hospital to introduce extra support and paid leave to staff whose babies are born prematurely or need neonatal care.
Founder of The Smallest Things charity, Catriona Ogilvy, said: “We are delighted that UCLH have taken these step towards supporting staff whose babies are born premature or poorly. They are leading the way alongside other London employers, such as the Mayor Sadiq Khan and Sony Music UK. We hope that other London hospitals follow in their example too. Visiting a baby in neonatal intensive care is an uncertain and traumatic time for families and it is right that parents are given the additional paid leave they need to fully recover and bond with their baby once at home.”
1 in 8 babies born in the UK require admission to a neonatal unit, with those born premature expected to remain in hospital the longest.
Ben Morrin, director of workforce at UCLH, said: “Having a baby born early can mean waiting weeks before you bring your baby home from hospital and added stress and emotional worry, juggling work and family commitments. Mums and dads across UCLH will now have extra time and help after any premature birth.
“That time should never have to be taken as normal maternity or paternity leave. We hope that by introducing extended leave we will give parents precious time to bond when any affected family is back home together.”
The changes, agreed by UCLH senior directors, are in line with The Smallest Things ‘Employer with Heart’ charter and will mean:
Where an employee’s baby is born prematurely (before the 37th week), the employee will be entitled to extend maternity, paternity or same sex partners leave by the number of days the baby was born prior to the due date at full pay.
Where an employee’s baby is born prematurely as described above and has ongoing medical needs (for example, requiring regular hospital appointments and check-ups), UCLH will follow best practice guidance, consider formal and informal flexible working patterns and will consider offering additional paid or unpaid leave.
Employees/parents returning to work following the birth of a premature baby will be referred to Occupational Health by their line manager for support to meet their unique needs and in acknowledgement of the traumatic birth. This support will include the offer of counselling services.
More than 250,000 people have signed a change.org petition calling upon the UK Government to extend parental leave for families affected by premature birth.
The Smallest Things is a premature baby charity, established in 2014, to support the needs of families and babies beyond the neonatal unit. If you would like further information about The Smallest Things Employer with Heart Charter, or would like to ask your organisation to sign up too, please get in touch at email@example.com
South Ayrshire Council gains national recognition with ‘Employer with Heart’ award
The first local authority in Scotland to provide additional support to staff whose babies need hospital care after a premature birth has been recognised by a national charity. South Ayrshire Council, which has extended paid parental leave for staff whose babies are born prematurely, has been awarded with the ‘Employer with Heart’ by premature baby charity The Smallest Things.
Changes to the Council’s Special Leave Policy entitle female employees to seven days paid leave for every week a baby is born prematurely. The additional time will be added on to the end of maternity leave, allowing mums to enjoy the quality time with their children often denied to them early on, due to the baby’s complex medical needs. Dads, partners and caregivers of premature babies at South Ayrshire Council are now entitled to two weeks’ paid additional special leave, following the birth of the baby.
Welcoming the news, Smallest Things Founder, Catriona Ogilvy, said, “We’re delighted that South Ayrshire Council has taken these steps to support staff whose babies are born prematurely and are pleased to award them our Employer with Heart. Visiting a fragile baby in a neonatal unit for weeks, sometimes months, is terrifying and shouldn’t be counted as maternity or paternity leave. This extra time will give parents the chance to bond with their babies, take care of them at home for longer and recover from the trauma themselves. We hope that councils across Scotland will follow in South Ayrshire’s footsteps.”
Councillor Peter Henderson, South Ayrshire Council’s Portfolio Holder for Resources and Performance said, “We’re proud to have been recognised by The Smallest Things for our positive work to support staff to deal an extremely testing times following the birth of a child.
“The arrival of a premature baby comes as a major shock for families and when you’re dealing with unwanted complications which lead to health issues, depression, and higher travelling costs, the rising stress levels can quickly become overwhelming.
“Recognising this as a situation which needed to be addressed was our first step and by becoming the first Council in Scotland to make a change we’re leading by example. I’d call on other organisations to consider making a similar change and to support their staff at a time when they it the most.”
More than 250,000 people have signed a change.org petition calling upon the UK Government to extend leave for all parents affected by premature birth.
For more information about the Smallest Things Employer with Heart charter please contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
My journey through premature birth and neonatal care began back in January 2016.
I was just 24 weeks pregnant when my waters ruptured.
Calling ahead to the maternity day care unit they told me to go straight in. They confirmed that my waters had ruptured and I was taken to the labour ward, unsure if I would progress into labour or not. I spoke to the team from neonatal care and was told that if my baby did come early wasn’t a space for him in the unit, I therefore needed to be transferred to another hospital with spaces for us both. While this was being arranged I started to bleed. It was a relief as it meant I had to stay put, I wasn’t stable enough now to move. The thought of being away from my husband & other son was just too much. But what about my baby? They reassured me that they would do everything they could to find my baby a space.
We met the NICU team and visited the NICU unit. I remember it being so calm, both quiet and noisy at the same time. The beeps – I’ll never forget the beeps.
We were told about the slim chances of our baby surviving at 24 weeks. We were asked if we wanted to ‘let nature take its course’ or if we wanted them to do all they can. That is one question I never want to hear again. There is some naivety about being in hospital. I don’t think it really crosses your mind, that ‘what if?’
I stayed I hospital for about 5 days on bed rest. My baby didn’t arrive so I was allowed home.
For the next 2 weeks I made the trip to maternity unit to get checked over every other day. I had a couple more admissions as well with small bleeds.
On Valentine’s Day 2016 I had a huge bleed. We called my midwife who told us to phone an ambulance. We arrived at the hospital at about 6pm. I was examined, monitored and scanned. They were confident that I wasn’t in labour.
It was around 8pm, shift changeover, that I was put back on the monitor. I was uncomfortable and in a bit more pain. We didn’t see our new midwife much as they were quite busy, and after all I wasn’t in labour… when all of a sudden I felt this immense pressure in my bottom along with a really strong contraction. My husband suggested that we call the midwife, but I said I was fine. Then a couple of minutes later it happened again. My husband shouted for help and the midwife came running. She had a look and could see the baby. The room filled with medical staff, it was hectic, urgent. They whisked my baby off to a room across the corridor, the room emptied.
The waiting was awful. A couple of doctors came and went asking various questions, taking blood samples. One even asked if baby had a name – Jacob.
We were told we would be able to go at around 3am to see him. By this time we were in a private room on the maternity ward. I’d showered, got dressed, phoned my parents and called my sister to check on my other son. Done as much as possible to busy my mind. 3am came. The staff on maternity called NICU to make sure they were ready for us to go round.
The walk to NICU was one of the longest walks of my life. It was the dead of night. There were no other people around. We were buzzed in and I remember we just waited at the reception desk unsure of what to do or where to go. We eventually made our way round to the sink to wash our hands and then made our way to the Intensive Care Room. There was a lot of hustle around our baby. But he was stable. He had been ventilated, he was on a drip, countless medications.
The one thing I hadn’t been prepared for when I saw his incubator was the condensation. You literally couldn’t see the baby there was so much. We opened the doors to take a closer a look. He was tiny. 2lb 3oz. His skin was red and transparent. He was bruised from his traumatic birth. I broke down. My body had done this to my little baby.
What followed was a long 11 and a half weeks in hospital. He suffered a collapsed lung, numerous suspected infections, not gaining enough weight, reflux, retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), oxygen dependency…but we got there.
First cuddle at 2 weeks old
It was so hard to start with, but once we got into a routine it became more manageable. My husband and I did separate ‘shifts’ at the hospital so we could both spend time with each of our sons. My husband still had to work, my maternity leave pay wouldn’t even cover the mortgage!
Jacob came home 10 days before his due date on oxygen. We were given the choice of staying another couple of weeks to try and wean him off the oxygen, or taking him home. We chose home. I don’t think we could have spent any more time on the unit. We needed to be a family.
Home at last
Jacob is now 2 and a half and doing well. He managed to wean off of the oxygen in December 2017. He is a feisty little bean, full of life. Unless you know him and his rough start, you’d have no idea about what pain his little body has endured.
Saying goodbye to the oxygen at 26 months
And me? Fast forward a little while to November 2017 and I had another premature baby. This time I managed to hold on to him a bit longer – 33 weeks exactly.
I’d had a pretty rubbish pregnancy with lots of bleeds. I’d re-met the NICU team at 24 weeks as I’d been admitted with bleeding. I was terrified the same would happen again.
We were told the likelihood of my waters rupturing early again were slim, so once we’d passed 28 weeks, where we’d got to last time, we were optimistic. Maybe it was just a one off last time?
Or maybe not.
I woke to my waters leaking. It was the middle of the night, my other 2 sons were fast asleep. I woke my husband, called my mum to come and sit with the children and made our way to hospital, I hadn’t even packed a bag! We were quite relaxed about it all, after all we’d done it all before.
We arrived on the labour ward a couple of hours later. I was examined and put on a monitor. We just thought that I’d be home in a couple of days as I wasn’t in labour, again.
How wrong we were.
The baby’s heart rate dropped and took a long time to recover. The room filled and I was being prepped for theatre. I’d had a placental abruption. It was happening again.
In recovery I was shown a couple of pictures of baby. He came out screaming. He was in NICU, but was breathing on his own. He weighed 3lb 12oz.
It was about 6 hours before I was wheeled round to see him. On the way all the staff in NICU congratulated me, told me how beautiful he was and how well he was doing. It almost felt like I’d come home. From our last baby we knew most of the staff. We knew the unit, everything was familiar.
They got my baby straight out of his incubator for me to cuddle. I couldn’t believe I’d got my first cuddles already. He really was ok!! We called him Oliver.
Holding Oliver for the first time
Due to his gestation he didn’t need the scans and tests that our last baby had had. At 33 weeks he just needed time to grow and put on some fat. But during our time in NICU Oliver had trouble maintaining his temperature so he spent longer in an incubator.
Baby Oliver spent longer in his incubator
Obviously home was on our mind. I never asked when they thought he might get to come home – I already knew the answer – aim for his due date. But his due date wasn’t until January. How was I supposed to give Christmas to my other boys and have a baby in hospital? As far as I could see there was no medical issues. We needed to establish feeding and get him to gain some weight. The nurses were fantastic and knew we wanted to be home for Christmas. They pushed Oliver with his breastfeeding and arranged for me to room in sooner rather than later and we made it home, all together for Christmas.
Oliver is 9 months old
Oliver is now 9 months old and doing well with no obvious complications from prematurity.
Jacob and Oliver
Both of my babies journeys in neonatal intensive care were so different. For me the second time around was the hardest. Having that knowledge of what goes on, what to look for, what to do, what can happen – it didn’t help, for me it was worse.
The work that the doctors and nurses do is absolutely incredible. There aren’t enough words to show your thanks and appreciation for all they do, not only for the babies in their care, but also for the families of those babies. I will never forgot our journey through neonatal care.
Written by Hayley Petts
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If you have a story to share, please contact Catriona at email@example.com
Medway NHS Foundation Trust has become the first in England to sign up to The Smallest Things ‘Employer with Heart’ Charter, pledging its commitment to support the needs of premature babies and their families.
Current NHS terms and conditions afford new mums whose baby has been born prematurely to split their maternity leave, allowing them to take two weeks leave immediately after childbirth, and the rest following their baby’s discharge from hospital.
One in eight babies are born prematurely and subsequently parents have a reduced time to bond with their baby with the period from birth, to discharge for babies born prematurely typically being several weeks, or even months. The Trust has therefore taken the step to support new mums in this intervening period by committing to ensure they receive their normal pay up until the point that their normal maternity pay commences.
James Devine, Deputy Chief Executive and Executive Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development said: “We are proud to have become the first NHS Trust in the country to sign up to the Employer with Heart Charter.
“Our staff work tirelessly every day to look after our patients and we want to ensure that they also receive the support that they need when they have difficulty in their own personal lives. We know that this will affect only a small number of our staff each year, but it is so important that we care for those who are caring for others.
“We understand that it can be an extremely difficult and worrying time for those who experience premature labour and the last thing we want is for our hardworking staff to feel they have to worry about work or whether they can afford to take time off to be with their baby”
Catriona Ogilvy, founder of The Smallest Things, said: “We are delighted that Medway NHS Foundation Trust has signed up to our Employer with Heart charter and will give parents of babies born prematurely the extra time they need. Visiting a fragile baby on a neonatal unit for weeks, sometimes months, is terrifying and shouldn’t be counted as maternity or paternity leave. This extra time will give parents more chance to bond with their babies, take care of them at home for longer and recover from the trauma themselves.”
Mum to identical twins and Tamba volunteer, Linsey Wynton, on how her employer, Waltham Forest Council, has introduced extended maternity leave to parents of premature babies.
Five years ago when I gave birth to identical twins, 11 weeks early, I had no idea I would be involved in publicising a campaign to bring about fairer pay for parents in similar circumstances.
Linsey shares skin-skin time with her twin boys in neonatal intensive care
Fast forward to 2018 and I am in Broadcasting House, with the Deputy Leader of the council I work for as a press officer in Waltham Forest. He’s Councillor Clyde Loakes and he is about to announce a trailblazing change on BBC Woman’s Hour.
Our council is – we believe – the first employer in the country to offer extended maternity and paternity leave to parents of premature babies for the duration of time they spend in hospital up until their original due date.
“It’s a small thing we can do that will make a huge difference for families. I don’t understand why more employers don’t do this,” Cllr Loakes has told me. And he explains to Woman’s Hour presenter Jane Garvey: “We can wait till the cows come home for Parliament to legislate. But this is something we can do now.”
Linsey Wynton, Sarah Miles and Cllr Loakes at the BBC promoting Waltham Forest Council’s new initiative
We were joined by campaigner Sarah Miles, a trustee of The Smallest Things Charity, which wants the law to be changed so employers are required to offer extended paid maternity and paternity leave to all parents of premature babies. A petition by The Smallest Things calling for this has secured over 1850,000 signatures so far.
Sarah’s story moved me to tears. Six years ago she gave birth to twin girls 12 weeks prematurely. But she had no idea that her maternity leave from work would start the very next day.
One of Sarah’s twins, Charlotte, spent three months in hospital. Her other twin, Eva, was in hospital for six months and sadly passed away.
Sarah’s maternity leave was so different from what most new mums expect – months spent visiting a neonatal unit, listening to the constant beeping monitors, willing her girls to pull through and come home. She went through so many ups and downs, meeting parents along the way whose babies eventually thrived and others whose babies tragically died.
Soon after baby Eva’s death, Sarah was asked by her employers at the time if she would be returning to work. Because of her recent bereavement, and still having a very tiny baby at home, Sarah requested unpaid leave.
“I was not ready to go back to work. 40% of mothers of premature babies experience postnatal depression, and a report by The Smallest Things last year revealed 63% of mums of premature babies experience anxiety and 44% have flashbacks. I was suffering from all of these,” explained Sarah, who is now also a Tamba volunteer with the Bereavement Support Group.
Her employer was not sympathetic. In the end, Sarah had no choice but to resign from her job. She joined forces with other mums who had had premature babies, including Smallest Things Founder Catriona Ogilvy, whose first son Samuel was born 10 weeks early.
Catriona’s local MP Steve Reed introduced a Prematurity Bill to parliament, which called on government to extend paid maternity and paternity pay to parents of premature babies. Unfortunately it was dropped at the second reading. However, following a meeting with The Smallest Things, Bliss and Steve Reed, Business Minister Margot James MP requested guidelines be drawn up on how employers can best support parents of premature babies. The ACAS guidelines were published in March 2017 and was the first time the unique needs of families of premature babies have been acknowledged in employer guidance.
However, changes need to be made not just by employers, but in terms of statutory maternity allowance given that one in seven people in Britain is self-employed.
When my twin babies were born 11 weeks I was self-employed and so was my husband. So I was I was only entitled to 9 months statutory maternity allowance. At that time it was only £135 a week. And because I had been very unwell, with a diagnosis of acute and severe Twin to Twin Transfusion at 24 weeks of pregnancy, my payments ran out by the time my twins were six-months-old. With an older son also, and the lack of subsidised childcare, it was not viable for me to work until my twins were three. So as well as the sheer exhaustion, it was tough financially.
Linsey was not able to return to work until her twins were 3 years old
All I can hope is this small change that my employer has made will be the start of something much bigger for other parents in my situation in future. Cllr Loakes is now talking to the council’s contractors, which include Kier, who provide our refuse service, and partners, which include Whipps Cross Hospital. He wants them to make a voluntary change to support new parents of babies born prematurely.
Our story has had a lot of coverage, including an article in the Evening Standard, an item on BBC Radio London and TV coverage on BBC London and ITV London News. Hopefully it will be the first of many victories for The Smallest Things.
If like Linsey you’d like to ask your employer to extend parental leave for parents affected by premature birth, download our letter for employees and ask them to become a Smallest Things Employer with Heart by signing up to our Charter of Best Practice.
One thing I never knew when I was pregnant was that I could have a premature baby.
It just wasn’t something that I knew about and it wasn’t something that I knew happened to people…. until now.
I was 30 weeks pregnant and I had been experiencing a pain under my rib cage on the right side of my body. It was about 1:30am and I got up, took some painkillers and tried to go back to sleep. I was still experiencing some pain, but it wasn’t excruciatingly sore, more like a dull pain, so I just got on with it. I thought it was maybe just the baby kicking me in the ribs.
Throughout the morning it was much the same, just a dull pain, nothing more. By lunch time it was still there and got a little more intense, but nothing that I was crippling over in pain. I decided to call the midwives at my local hospital for some advise. Due to my gestation they asked if I could come in just to get checked over.
When we arrived I was hooked up to a machine to measure my contractions. Whenever I was experiencing the pain it wasn’t showing as a contraction and I felt a bit silly being there at that point. As they didn’t really know the cause of the problem the midwife called for a doctor. He examined me and told me that I was 3cm dilated!
Time was a blur from then on.
No one can ever prepare you for the mix of emotions that you experience at that point. Sadness, worry, fear, confusion.
The doctor was trying to arrange transport, either an ambulance or a helicopter to transfer me to a hospital with better facilities for a premature baby.
My waters decided to break though and we no longer had the option of being transferred. I was to deliver where I was.
A doctor came and explained that there could be a chance the baby might not survive, particularly as they didn’t know the reason to why I was delivering early, and we would be best to prepare ourselves for that.
A few hours later, my baby was born weighing 3lbs 9oz.
I got to look at him for about 10 seconds before he was put in an incubator and taken away. He was perfect, just tiny.
He was born at 7:30pm, but we weren’t allowed to go and see him until 11:00pm.
It was the longest wait of our lives. We were just in a room not knowing what was going on. Was he okay? Was he going to survive?
When we got to go and see him it was very difficult to watch. A doctor was stood over his incubator manually pumping air into his mouth to help him regulate his breathing.
Our son got transferred to another hospital at 1am and we were discharged the following morning and headed up to be with him.
He progressed every single day, and amazed us all. He moved onto a C-PAP within a couple of days and started off by taking 1ml of milk per hour! He had episodes of jaundice, but they didn’t last very long before he was back to normal.
It was hard to look at your baby lying in an incubator with the tiniest nappy I’d ever seen, with all sorts of wires going into him.
I’ll also never forget the beeping from the machines around him, I can sometimes still hear them.
The nurses were amazing, and really are a credit to the hospitals. I actually don’t think they get as much credit as they should. And I will never forget when our son stopped breathing for around 20 seconds…. (but it felt like a lifetime for us.) My partner and I were panicking and not knowing what to do, the nurse on the other hand was so calm and just held him, talked to him and tickled his feet and he started breathing again! I couldn’t believe it, I was so amazed. I think this was the moment when we knew he was going to be cheeky!
One thing that I never got to experience was the moment you get to hold your baby straight after giving birth. It was so difficult, you kind of feel disconnected to your newborn in a way. We had to wait 6 days before we could actually hold our son.
The moment was amazing, and I will remember it forever, but I just wish it could have been different. We had to be so careful with him and could only hold him sitting right next to the incubator as he was attached to so many different machines.
I would say that one of the hardest parts of having a premature baby is when you had to leave them in the hospital and drive home without them. I would look over my shoulder into the back seats and just wish he was there. It just felt unreal, or that your baby didn’t exist, because he should be with you wherever you were.
It annoys me when someone says “you’re lucky, at least your birth was easy and that you didn’t have to push out a 10lb baby!”
Trust me, I was not lucky. I would much rather of pushed out a 10lb healthy baby than have a traumatic birth and an ill baby.
So, I just want to raise awareness that if you’re in doubt about anything, go and get you and your baby checked over to prevent delivering early. I think back to that day all the time… what if I just got through the pain and stayed at home, what if I gave birth in the car on the way to the hospital… the list is endless.
I actually experienced the same pain under my rib cage about a week after giving birth. This time it was a very excruciating pain that wouldn’t go away. I went to A&E and I had pancreatitis, brought on by gallstones so I had to have my gallbladder removed. We think this was the reason why our son was born early as the doctors couldn’t find any other reason.
Our son spent a total of 6 weeks in hospital and is now a healthy 20 month old who is meeting all his milestones, apart from he has a delay with his speech. He is an amazing little boy and we are so thankful to have him in our lives.
Guest post by Robyn McIntyre
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Up until that point my pregnancy had been very similar to that of my daughters three years earlier. I had constant morning sickness so was medicated and felt pretty awful most of the time, but I’d carried Sally to term and had a natural birth with a wonderful outcome so saw no reason why this time anything should be different.
Alfie arrived very quickly without any real warning. He came 17 minutes after arriving at the hospital by ambulance and my husband was unable to be there as he was arranging care for our daughter.
I went into complete shock.
I wish now that we’d known Alfie’s gender beforehand, he was born with his placenta attached and even the vast medical team didn’t know his gender for 10 minutes as they worked to stabilise him.
I coped by detaching. I can still vividly remember and feel guilty everyday for the fact that during his rapid birth I focused on our daughter. I pictured her in my mind and reminded myself whatever happens I’ve got her. My mind continued to cope by focusing on her for at least the first 48 hours.
Alfie was transferred to a specialist hospital 60 miles away and we followed. I’d never left Sally over night before so was tormented by thoughts of her distress and just wanted to get home to be with her, but when I did the following day I felt judged for doing so by all but one wonderful nurses.
I returned within 24 hours and continued to do 48 hours with Alfie followed by 24 hours with Sally in shifts with my husband until Alfie was transferred back to our local hospital 18 days later.
I had bonded with Sally instantly when she was born, but she as been handed to me the second she was born and had barely left my arms in the days, weeks and months that followed. I got to touch Alfie’s tiny, tiny hand briefly as he was whisked away and then all contact was controlled, monitored and terrifying. Even the first time I held him after 13 days was hard as my instinct was to rock and stroke him but that was not allowed.
I tore myself in half to spend time with both of my children everyday but never felt I was giving either of them enough. When Alfie finally came home along with his oxygen my body and mind caved in and I suffered severe stress induced IBS and debilitating anxiety, not helped by him being readmitted with pneumonia and a collapsed lung 5 weeks later.
I struggled on exhausted and carrying the guilt that I had not bonded with Alfie straight away until I went to see my GP as I reached breaking point. To the outside world I hid it well, but that is not always a good thing. She got me counselling which identified that I had PTSD and post natal anxiety. It helped but I was still struggling and in the end agreed to try medication and wish I’d done it months ago. I still get anxious but I can manage it now and my IBS has reduced massively. I can look at things rationally now and know deep down that what matters is that I have bonded with Alfie not how quickly that happened.
I still feel haunted by his birth and first year of life, but I know now that I’m not alone in these feelings and that helps a lot.
The NICU experience does not end at discharge and everyone copes in different ways, but just because someone appears to be coping do not assume they are and just be there to listen and support.
What can only be described as what should have been one of the best chapters of our lives started off as one of the scariest time of our lives.
It’s something you think could never happen to you.
Delivering your precious baby 8 weeks and 4 days early. Completely unexpected, the baby you’ve been carrying, getting excited about, your new life ahead….
Then the doctors tell you ‘he’s a tiny 2.13lb’.
They take him straight off you, they recusiate him, they put him straight into an incubator with a oxygen mask on.
He was so brave, yet so fragile.
It’s the complete opposite, directly at odds with the feeling you had been expecting.
I felt robbed of my pregancy.
Robbed from everything I should have expericed.
I felt like I didn’t get the chance to be and to feel like a new mum.
Every day Ted was in the hospital we didn’t quite know what to expect or what we would be told on the ward round each morning.
Ted was just 1 week old when the doctors called us aside to tell us he’d had a bleed on the brain.
As young parents we couldn’t quite grasp everything at once, everything that was happening.
He was struggling with his feeding, struggling to gain weight and he was so up and down. He then had the bleed on the brain, fluid on the brain and everyday was so different and daunting.
We stayed in the Ronald Macdonald Suite in Arrowe Park hospital for around 5-6 weeks while Ted was cared for in the Neonatal Unit. They told us he would probably be kept in until at least his due date unless anything improved and it seemed so far away.
My partner Chris went back to work and I just continued to in the hospital, counting down the days. It was the most bizare time of our lives. We joked it was like living in the ‘big brother house’, but the atmosphere was so quiet and lonely. We knew everyone there were going through one of the toughest times of their lives and we didn’t really want to engage in one another, not knowing what news they had just recieved downstairs.
The staff in Ronald Macdonald really couldn’t have been any more comforting and welcoming, and the doctors and nurses in the neonatal unit we can’t thank enough. We owe them so much, without all the help they put in daily we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Weeks passed and Ted was jumping rooms from Intensive care to High Depenacy and finally into the last room ‘The Nursery’.
The feeding tubes slowly came out and the hot cot was introduced. He finally started to look like what some people would describe ‘a normal’ baby, ones without wires or tubes all over there bodys, ones you aren’t scared to hold or touch.
People think that once you leave the hospital it stops there, that everything goes away and it’s all happy.
That’s not the case.
I couldn’t shake the feeling from my stomach that someone was going to take my baby away from me. I guess a little bit of me still can’t now and that is where 8 months in it hit me like a ton of bricks. I suffered hugely with anixety, another thing I never really knew about before.
Ted was one and we finally got discharged from the hospital all together. That meant no more appointments and we could put some of the memorys to the back of our heads now we weren’t going back to the hospital and being reminded. Being told they was more than happy with his progess and he could be discharged was another one of the happiest days of my life, we joke but Ted actually clapped when the doctor told us, right on cue!
Here is Ted-Joseph our hero 2 years & 4 months on.
A little man who walks into the room and lights it up – cheeky, happy and full of mischief!
I feel as a prem mum that it is NEVER too late to speak out about how you are feeling and you’re never alone. So many other people have been or going through the journey others have been on. Together we are strong.
It’s NEVER too late to raise awareness for these tiny precious little miracles, the ones who pull through, and the ones who are taken too soon.
World Prematuirty Day is on November 17th – will you share Teds story and help raise awareness?
If you have a story to share, contact Catriona at firstname.lastname@example.org
My son Louie was born in July 2016, 12 weeks premature. He spent 116 days in neonatal intensive care, nearly 4 months, and came home on at the end of October. It was the second best day of my life, the first being the day he was born – even though that was an emotional rollercoaster!
Louie on the day he was born
Louie went through a lot during his stay in NICU; breathing problems, chronic lung disease, NEC, suspected meningitis, metabolic bone disorder, growth problems and a hernia repair.
He came home on home oxygen as well as lots of medications. How could I possibly leave my baby after only 2 months of having him home?
I could have taken the rest of my years entitlement, then it would have been 9 months that Louie would have been home; but I still didn’t feel as if I could go back so soon.
I couldn’t trust anyone else, apart from my partner who worked full time, to give Louie his meds and to check his breathing, making sure his oxygen was ok. And what about all his appointments and check ups -how could I take all this time off work? So I decided that I couldn’t go back….
I am currently a full time stay at home mum and even though it is hard financially it has to be done.
Louie is now 14 months old and he’s still so tiny, weighing just over 14lbs. He isn’t sitting on his own just yet, although he thinks he can! His mind wants to do things but he’s just isn’t physically able.
Would more time have helped? I think so. Longer maternity leave may have prevented me from handing in my notice. I could have used that time to adjust, to have found care for Louie, someone I could trust. Any mum will always do what is best for their baby and at the time and looking back I knew I was doing the best thing for Louie and for me.
Louie aged 14 months
I really hope the government will look again into this matter. No one wants their baby to be born early and with medical problems. How can it be right that we are denied time with our babies or forced to give up work? Having a premature baby is nowhere near the same as being the mother of a healthy full term baby – our circumstances are totally different and our maternity leave entitlements should be too.
If you agree with Louise, please sign The Smallest Things petition to extend maternity leave for mothers of premature babies.
My little one Harry is starting school this September. He was born at 29 weeks, weighing in at an impressive 4lb 4oz (some of the weight was due to him carrying extra fluid because of a kidney disorder). He spent over two months in NICU.
I look at Harry today and I never cease to be amazed at the remarkable little boy who stands before me. I think back to the beginning of his journey, and how we weren’t sure he would even survive. The most vivid memories are of times spent next to the incubator, putting my hand through the plastic porthole and placing my finger gently in the palm of Harry’s hand. Those tiny fingers would grip my finger firmly. It felt almost as if Harry were trying to convey to me that he was hanging on, he was fighting and I shouldn’t worry so much. The tiny fingers which were almost translucent, little nails barely formed, the skin red because his body hadn’t matured enough to cope with life outside of the womb. I remember when he would open his eyes and look around. These big, beautiful eyes which seemed so knowing. Harry looked (to me) like a wise little owl.
When I took Harry for his last day at nursery in the summer, I held that little hand in mine. The hand that used to be so very tiny, so fragile, now gripped my hand squeezed it before he ran off after his little sister, laughing as they splashed through puddles. My tiny warrior. It struck me then how far he had come.
And now to school. I am worried about that first day, how am I supposed to keep it together? I will have to try and shut off my reality that I have watched my boy fight for his life. I have watched him get very sick over the past four and a half years, and I have watched him get well again. A constant cycle of normality and terrible fear. I have held Harry in NICU as his face turned grey and he stopped breathing. I have held Harry as he has battled infections and sepsis over the past few years. I most recently held him as he battled through low potassium levels, fever and dehydration (he has Bartter Syndrome, a rare genetic kidney disorder). To watch him go to school, there will be a huge amount of pride, but also the fear of wondering how he will cope. Given the battles he has already overcome, school should be no problem (says my rational side).
So, I will try my best as he goes to class. I will let go of that not so little hand. I will smile and wave and tell him to have a good day, and that I will see him at home time. And as I walk away, I may allow myself to feel the enormity of it and give in to tears. My tiny warrior, off to school!
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My bedrest experience began in Jan 2015. I was 19 weeks pregnant with my 3rd child and was attending a follow up check at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, having had a stitch placed at 9 weeks in my cervix to prevent it opening early. An internal scan to check the stitch was doing it’s job yielded the worst possible news, my cervix had changed, I was 2cm dilated.
I was distraught, the reason I had needed the stitch in the first place was because just 8 months earlier I had given birth to my second daughter at just 22 weeks and 6 days. With her my waters had broken at just 18 weeks, as a result of my cervix opening early. My daughter, Maya, lived for just 20 minutes. In my mind history was about to repeat itself, it seemed so unfair.
The team decided to place a further stitch, which they were able to do later that day and I stayed in hospital for a week. This was to be my first taste of hospital bedrest, the early days were a mix of sheer terror and boredom, forbidden to do anything except go to the toilet and have a quick sit down shower. Thankfully I got talking to fellow patients, some of whom were in a similar situation, there were bursts of conversation, the topics varied greatly, although a common theme was what to choose from the menu! Mealtimes helped break up the day, as did the ward rounds.
At 20 weeks I was discharged home. The feeling was that if anything would occur labour wise, little could be done to help the baby as she was under 24 weeks, so the plan was that if I made it to 24 weeks I would be re-admitted, and that way if baby did arrive she could be helped immediately.
Leaving hospital was difficult, although I desperately wanted to go home, I craved the reassurance of knowing staff were available if anything happened. At home my mind ran riot. Everyday was a challenge not to think the worst was going to happen, every trip to the toilet became a session of paranoid pad checking. Equally difficult was the challenge of staying on bedrest whilst everybody was running around doing the jobs I was meant to be doing; tending to my 6 year old, the school run, housework, cooking. Occasionally I would try to help my stressed husband, who was working full time by getting our daughter breakfast, or washing up, only to spend the rest of the day fretting that I had overdone it, panicking that those new twinges meant I caused further damage. Not knowing what was happening inside was torture.
At 24 weeks I returned to St Thomas’, although I was elated we had come this far I was also despondent about the situation ahead. St Thomas’ isn’t our local hospital, it is over 90 mins away from our home by train. For reasons I won’t include here I was unable to get the care I needed locally, so had sought a second opinion and that had taken me to St Thomas’ and their preterm surveillance clinic. It was the best place to be, but it meant only being able to see my husband and our 6 year old daughter Anjali on Saturdays. It broke my heart being separated.
Whilst I was in hospital in London my husband continued to work fulltime. Anjali went to school then had to go into afterschool club. We had to hire a cleaner once a week and my friends between them helped cook meals and plug the gaps.
Whilst life continued in a different way at home I was left pondering the fate of our baby, who was growing bigger by the day. Each week on a Wednesday morning I was taken downstairs to the prem clinic, each scan revealed that slowly my cervix was dilating, the pain I had become accustomed to over the last few weeks was in fact the stitches slicing into my cervix as they struggled against the growing weight of the baby. The only thing slowing the whole process down was bedrest. From 25 weeks onwards my reality was that I would be having a premature baby, not if but when. I struggled to come to terms with this and found myself with the hours to kill becoming increasingly angry with the whole situation.
Prior to bedrest, prior to difficult pregnancies I had often joked how lovely it would be to be able to lay in bed and do nothing! As many of us with busy lives have, but the reality was nothing like the dream. Physically you ache all over after time, it’s difficult to get comfortable, I had to have daily injections to reduce risk of blood clots, then there was the surgical stockings…
Days were spent trying to keep grips on a sense of routine, trying to fend off boredom. The urge to sleep was enormous, but that meant being awake all night, and things always seem worse at night. The staff were lovely, chatting with them as they whisked about their day helped immensely. I would find myself asking them all kinds of questions, desperate for any light hearted conversation that could distract me from the thoughts of preterm labour. At times the atmosphere on the ward was incredibly tense, woman would come in early labour waiting for a bed on delivery, others would come for induction, some like me were waiting, praying for nothing to happen. During my time I became extremely close to several other patients who I remain in touch with today. We shared our fears, laughed together, listened quietly whilst we took it in turns to cry. Sadly one lady delivered her baby sleeping, we were all devastated, that little angel holds a place in my heart forever, as does her mother.
Time moved on, and at 28 weeks I was transferred back to my local hospital. I was delighted to be back nearer home, and had hoped that there may be a possibility that I could be discharged, however that hope was quickly dashed as I was nearly 6 cm dilated. Seeing my daughter and husband every day was the best thing ever, however here I had been placed alone in a side room and now the prospect of staying in hospital until delivery seemed even harder. The frustration of the past few weeks bubbled up and I became increasingly tearful. Although I didn’t want to deliver a premature baby the thought of another 8 or so weeks on bedrest in hospital seemed unbearable.
Wednesday 25th March I was exactly 29 weeks pregnant, it was the 1st anniversary of when my waters had broken with my second child Maya, and exactly 11 months since her birth. I felt increasingly agitated as the day progressed, not helped by the fact that the Consultant on duty was the same one present at Maya’s birth, nor that I found myself lying in the room directly below where she had been born. It felt like the universe was having a laugh at my expense and the sense of unease continued to rise. I was convinced that if my waters broke today, my baby would die. Isolated in a side room it was a real battle. The day passed without incident however, and that night, exhausted I fell into a deep sleep.
Thursday 26th March, at 5.20 I woke up feeling something was wrong. Upon moving to call the buzzer I immediately felt a warm gush, my waters had broken. Panicked I rang the buzzer and staff were in the room almost immediately. I had been on bedrest for 10 weeks, and now it would be coming to end, I wasn’t ready! Suddenly the prospect of further bedrest was what I wanted more than anything, as the reality that my baby could soon be delivered dawned.
I was taken to delivery and from there things moved pretty fast. After weeks of inactivity I was surrounded by medical staff. A scan showed the baby was transverse, there was real concern of cord prolapse and so the decision was made to deliver by c section. Neonatal staff came and briefly introduced themselves, theatre staff, so many questions. Then baby decided she’d had enough, her heart rate showed she wasn’t happy so the questions stopped and we were on our way to theatre, and at 9.53, Priya was born weighing 2lb 15 oz.
After 10 weeks of bedrest I was free to move about again, but it came at a cost. Priya was now for the time being confined to an incubator, her tiny body hidden in a tangle of wires and the guilt was incredible. I felt like I had achieved nothing. Being on bedrest is a real feat of physical and mental endurance, when you start it you have no idea when it will end, you hope to keep pregnant for as long as possible, complaining about it’s discomfort is immediately followed by a sense of guilt, at times it is simply impossible. That said, many of us do it, we enter it without thought, sacrifice our bodies and minds in our desperate bid to protect our unborn babies, we are mothers before our babies are born.
Now when I reflect upon that period, I can do so with a sense of pride too. I faced losing Priya at 19 weeks, I never dreamt I could hold on for as long as I did. There are days when I simply can’t believe I did it, not only me but my family too. The whole experience turned our lives upside down, our routines had become transient, subject to change at any moment, yet somehow we muddled through.
As my bedrest journey came to an end, Priya’s neonatal journey was just beginning, it would last 67 days and was a real rollercoaster that saw her fight for life at just 8 days old due to NEC and a perforated bowel. She came through and today is 26 months old.
Her story continues, and as it does the value of those 10 weeks of bedrest becomes more and more evident. For those on bedrest now, I would simply say this – nothing lasts forever, bedrest will come to an end, just take each day as it comes, and keep on cooking!
The Smallest Things introduces… the smallest nappy!
My baby was three days old when I first changed his nappy. He was tiny, a life-support machine helped him to breathe and lines and wires covered his body. I’d not yet held Samuel and as I placed my hands through the incubator portholes I was terrified! His legs were so small that I couldn’t feel any weight as I lifted them, manoeuvering them amid a host of tangled wires into a ‘micro’ nappy that swamped his fragile body.
This first extraordinary nappy change is a reality for thousands of parents of premature babies, and one of the reasons why The Smallest Things was delighted when Pampers asked us to help spread the word about the launch of their smallest nappy ever!
The Smallest Nappy for The Smallest Things, fits in the palm of your hand
Fitting in the palm of your hand, the Pampers Preemie Protection P3 nappy is three times smaller than a regular newborn nappy and designed to meet the needs of the tiniest babies in neonatal care. I remember longing to be able to ‘see’ my baby. Nearly every inch of him was covered; breathing tubes across his face, a mask to protect his eyes from the ultra violet lights, wires and lines over each limb… and his body, swamped in an over-sized nappy! We had to turn down the nappy at the top and even then it reached up to his armpits. Looking at it now it seems tiny and is a lasting reminder of just how small our little fighter was.
Pampers will be donating approximately 3 million nappies from its new Preemie Protection range to neonatal units across the county – this alone will make a huge difference to families journeying through neonatal care. Just the other day I was standing outside a baby shop, which at the time of my pre-term birth was the only place I could buy ‘micro’ nappies. I shuddered as I remember how hard it was, planning an extra trip out in between three-hourly expressing sessions, when all I wanted to do was be at the hospital. Instead I was standing at the tills with heavily pregnant women, grieving for the baby bump I should still have. As I watched families plan their nursery, choose their cots and first newborn clothes, I thought of my own interrupted planning and my empty moses basket at home. The nappies donated by Pampers will enable parents to spend more precious moments with their baby on the neonatal unit and take away the pain of queueing alongside ‘normal’ mums.
Pampers has teamed up with our friends at Bliss to ask parents to share photos on social media of their little ones with their fists pumping to celebrate the amazing fighting spirit that premature babies show every day. For every picture shared using the hashtag #powerofbabies Pampers will donate £1 to Bliss – we can’t wait to see the internet filled with your little fighters!
Tell us what you think
The Smallest Things is a registered charity, promoting the good health of premature babies and their families. We’d love to hear about your first nappy change and what you think of the new Pampers Preemie Protection range – tell us in the comments below!
Pampers has donated the fee for this sponsored post to The Smallest Things charity.
The day our children were born prematurely felt like the worst day of my life.
As my partner clocked up the weeks of pregnancy, the excitement of becoming a first time parent grew but all those warm and fuzzy emotions were dashed as Isabelle and Jack were delivered by emergency C-section at just 27+5 weeks.
I remember vividly being given the all clear to visit them for the first time and was escorted from the delivery floor to neonatal by a nurse.
Upon entering the unit I was guided to where my children were. Doctors, nurses, consultants and other medical experts were crowded around them, carrying out various duties to further stabilise them.
Jack in his incubator
Jack started life well – ventilated but on minimal oxygen with a nurse overseeing his progress as lines were fed into his stomach to get the vital fluids and drugs in.
Isabelle on the other hand was facing an uphill battle. No matter how much oxygen they piled into her tiny body her faltering lungs just couldn’t kick in with her sats sitting in the 60s and 70s.
The consultant’s first words to me were – ‘it’s touch and go’.
For some reason I almost instantly resigned myself to the fact that she wouldn’t make it, while hoping Jack would carry on as he started.
Each time we visited the unit over the next 48 hours there was no real progress. The sats had increased with the help of more sophisticated ventilation but on the whole, things remained bleak.
It felt easier to sit with Jack initially – you didn’t need to be an expert to see he was doing better – but we eventually said to each other ‘let’s have no regrets’ and split our time equally with Isabelle and Jack.
Days four and five were somewhat remarkable. The treatment they had given Isabelle to get her lungs going worked and she was slowly weaned off the ventilator and was placed on CPAP on day five. Doctors seemed amazed that she had made such a rapid turnaround but warned us that she could step back at any moment.
The glum look on our face lifted a little – but only briefly. In the same breath that the consultant had told us of her encouraging progress we were also informed that the latest brain scan had found a serious bleed.
“Touch and go” – Isabelle develops Hydrocephalus
A grade 3 IVH meant blood had spread throughout the ventricles and was putting pressure on the brain itself. We were informed that it could leave her with long term problems – so bad that she might not even walk if the worst was to happen.
Over the three months in neonatal I held strong for our family, but that night I had my one and only break down. The thought of one of our children being severely disabled hit me like a ton of bricks and I crumbled for a night.
It took a couple of days but I got myself back together, determined to try and solider on. Jack was still defying the odds and needing very little support having gone over to CPAP less than 24 hours after birth.
Each week Isabelle would have a brain scan to see if the bleed was spreading or whether hydrocephalous – water on the brain – had started to become a problem.
It was 50/50 whether hydrocephalous would become a problem. If the blood clot had created a blockage then the fluid that our brain creates would have nowhere to go and her head would swell at a rapid rate.
Sadly we fell on the wrong side of that coin being clipped and her head began to grow abnormally.
Another tough conversation told us that drawing fluid from the spine could sort the problem. If they removed fluid and it didn’t grow again it was likely they’d got on top of it.
If they removed fluid but it continued to grow, the only option in the long term would be a shunt – tubing from the brain to the abdomen to drain it. Something that would be lifelong and require surgery at various stages of her life to amend the length of tubing and remove damage or blockages.
The drain was done and for days on end we sat there, hoping that the fluid build-up didn’t reoccur but feared the worst.
A week passed and the next scan and head measurement was taken – no growth. Yet another sigh of relief. This trend continued and it looked like the drain had worked and stopped the problem.
Meanwhile, Jack was still working his own miracles – the nurses looking after him were almost made redundant as a result of the lack of major intervention needed!
Once home, we watched them like a hawk looking at progression. Jack took the lead and worry once again set in that Isabelle’s potential problems were kicking in early. The health visitor made her regular visits and said everything looked fine at that stage – as did the neonatologist consultant.
Isabella, defying the odds
Fast forward to the current day and I am stuck for the words – Isabelle is sitting, crawling, talking baby language, pulling to a stand and cruising the furniture. She can’t stop smiling and the consultants haven’t done a single thing except monitor since we left.
The same applies for Jack. He is doing great – but like a typical boy, he is doing it a little slower at his own pace but is still a huge credit to us and our miracle boy.
We’ve learnt to worry less as the days have passed, concentrating on the hundreds of mini (and some not so mini!) milestones we have witnessed.
Jack “a typical boy”
So what is the point of all of the above? I’ve lost count of the amount of times we lost hope. We gave in to the fact that one or both of our babies was going to have huge difficulties – that was if they even survived.
But now we are in a place which is simply incredible. Could there be problems in the future? Of course, but our babies are thriving now and a lot of the worst things that prematurity could have done to them hasn’t happened.
So no matter how bad things look for you, have belief in your premature baby. Whether you are on day one and facing an uncertain future or one year on and watching like a hawk, have hope and believe that they can defy the odds.
You’ll never stop worrying – that’s what parents do, but celebrate every achievement – no matter how small, try to bury the worries further back and enjoy the miracle that is your premature baby.
With thanks to NICU Dad Antony Grigorjevs for sharing his time through neonatal care and words of advice to “believe that they can defy the odds”.
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Mum to premature baby, born at just 28 weeks, has written a letter to the neonatal nurses and doctors who cared for her premature baby at Burnley General Hospital. Lynsey, who spent every day of their 82 day journey through neonatal care visiting her tiny son, has shared with The Smallest Things her moving letter to the professionals involved in their special care.
Dear NICU Nurses and Doctors,
You have no idea how much you mean to us, or how you will always hold a very special place in our hearts. The love, respect, and admiration that we have for you can compete with no one.
You took care of our baby, when we, his parents didn’t know how. We didn’t know how to change his nappy without moving his lines. We didn’t know how to pick him up to change his bedding. We didn’t know what medication went where, or how to run the machines that were keeping him alive.
We tried our best, we really did. But he was so sick, and we were so scared. We were thrust into the NICU hours after his surprise early delivery. The first time we saw our baby he was in an incubator, and hooked up to more machines than we could count. You told us how we could touch him without stimulating him too much. You had tissues ready because you knew that we would cry. You encouraged us to interact with him even though you knew we were frightened too, you let us bath him, you let us change his nappy and didn’t get mad when we fumbled through three nappies and bed sheets because our little boy kept peeing before we could get the new nappy on. You let us change his nose cannula stickers, even though we both knew you could do it 10 times faster. We never felt more like his parents than at those times. You let us take home NICU souvenirs like his heart monitor leads and his first tiny dummy. When he opened his eyes you helped us get a picture of them. You answered every single phone call we made. You listened to us asking the same questions over and over and made us feel welcome being by his bedside day after day. You comforted us while we cried and encouraged us to believe he would come home.
You gave him, and us, every piece of your strength, day in and day out, for weeks. You did everything in your power and more to keep him alive. We feel like ‘Thank You’ isn’t enough, but it’s all we have to give you. You’re amazing, and you do things no one else can. So from the bottom of our hearts, thank you.
Lots of Love
Lynsey and Daniel & his big brother Eli xxx
“As a father of a baby born prematurely at only 25 weeks, my partner and I had a big challenge during the 95 days our daughter was in NICU. Read on for my top 5 pieces of advice for other NICU dads on making it the least stressful it can be.”
The doctors and nurses are there to help so ask questions and try to be as helpful as possible. If there’s red lights flashing and they’re busy then don’t get in the way, but when it’s quiet ask as many questions as possible. Find out what all of the equipment does, what the readings mean on the monitor and what you can do to help. They’ll be happy to teach you.
Be there for your baby as much as you can. You may not at the time feel that you are doing much good, especially during early days, but just being there and talking to your baby can have incredible benefits. You’ll learn all about your little one and eventually you’ll be able do a lot more like hold him/her, change and feed them and most importantly, bond.
Look after each other. We found there were often hugely stressful times and this made it very easy to get frustrated with your other half. Just remember, you’re both going through similar feelings and being there for each other and trying to keep a sense of humour is so important. My partner and I are now stronger than ever and this positivity can be passed onto our baby.
Rely on friends and family, even if it’s just asking them to cook a meal or give you a lift. Finding time to cook when you’re at the hospital all day is very draining and you need to keep your strength up for your baby. Fortunately ours were there for us a lot. Our family members visited often which was lovely and they were all so supportive with us which is essential during tough times!
Lastly but no means least; take tonnes of photos and videos! You’ll be able to look back on them every few days and see the differences. Having a baby in NICU is a challenge but look on the bright side; you’ll be able to see your baby evolve from a tiny human being into an amazing baby. Take photos every day, back them up on a hard drive and hopefully in a few years time you’ll be able to show your grown up son or daughter how they started their life on this planet.
Written by James Farina
You can read more about James’ journey through neonatal intensive care at his own website – A Dads NICU Journey
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Two years ago I woke early with period type pains.
I was 25+5 weeks pregnant.
I knew something was wrong, but wanted to dismiss it.
The thought of labour at this early stage was very, very scary.
For some reason, I thought the age of viability was 28 weeks. After realising the pains were more significant, more like contractions, I spoke to the maternity assessment unit. They told me to come straight in.
It was a Saturday, so I thought I’d leave dad at home with our 3.5 year old, and drive myself in. I was fully expecting to come home again later the same day. Sadly that wasn’t to be and our daughter was born by emergency section a few hours later.
Having been through an emergency section before with my son, though he wasn’t premature, I knew the drill. I tried to not think about whether or not our baby would survive. I did asked though, and was told she had a good chance. The operating theatre seemed to be jammed packed and noisy. But once it all began things became focused and hushed. The consultant told me my baby was a girl. I asked to see her so they lowered the screen; she looked at me through one opened eye and she looked so beautiful. I didn’t realise how small she was until later.
A tiny baby, far away from home
We were at a level 1 unit, but my new daughter needed to be in a level 3 unit. She was transferred as soon as a space was found, thankfully not too far, but still a two hour drive away. I was transferred the next day and got to saw her later that afternoon.
She was so tiny and hard to make out with all the wires and tubes. The next day I asked on the ward round what I could do to help and they said express milk. I didn’t think I’d have any yet, but after hard work, tears, determination and good support, I was lucky to get a good supply going. It really was the best thing for her and felt so good to be able to DO something. I was expressing far more milk than she was taking, so was able to donate to the milk bank. She luckily had very few problems on her journey through NICU, apart from giving us a big scare on April fool’s day. She was suspected of having Necrotising Enceterocolitis (NEC), but thankfully it didn’t develop. She was on and off antibiotics a lot and up and down with the amount of expressed milk she was taking – it was difficult, but we got there!
Our other difficulty was that I was discharged three days later; we were two hours from home, I didn’t know the area and could barely walk, never mind drive! There was little coordination between the maternity and the neonatal units. I was told there was an on-call room, but that it probably wouldn’t be available for more than two or three nights. Luckily, as it turned out, I managed to have it for the full six weeks of Isla’s stay, and the neonatal unit were brilliant at ensuring this. They also provided me with a daily meal ticket and ward breakfasts and lunches. It wasn’t possible for my son and partner to stay, but we were loaned a flat one weekend and they did day trips once or twice a week. It was very hard being separated, especially for my young son, but it was the only way to manage it. I felt I needed to be there 100% for my baby, so I knew I’d given her everything I could. I generally used the weekends to go home and have a much needed break, but it really is an area of neonatal care that needs improvement, as it’s not uncommon, especially in rural areas for mum and baby to be separated more than they should.
Kangaroo Cuddles and our Extended Family
I soon filled my week days with expressing, sitting by the incubator, and occasionally getting cuddles. The second most important thing, that I would advocate, is Kangaroo care. It has proven benefits for both and mum and baby, once baby is medically stable enough, and it was the best thing for me and Isla. It enabled us to regain some of the pregnancy closeness we’d been robbed of. Most days we would have one or two skin-to-skin cuddles. I have a vivid memory of a very alert tiny baby lying on my chest and looking up at me with the biggest eyes. It was so amazing, at only 30 weeks, and all the other neonatal midwives came to have a look. All the neonatal staff were great and I soon got to know the group of midwives who looked after her, and she was popular with them. Together with the other mums in the expressing room, they became our extended family.
After 6 weeks the day came when Isla was well enough to return to the local unit. From there she continued to make a steady recovery and I was able to have a much better home/hospital balance. I became more involved in her daily cares and once she was out of the incubator, gave her her first bath. The last thing to come was establishing breastfeeding, but that suck, swallow and maintaining breathing action is tricky for little ones!
Isla spent 8 weeks at our local hospital and came home two days before her due date. She was sort of breastfeeding and topped up with bottles and came home off oxygen. She weighed 5lbs and was still tiny, but at least she fitted in the tiny baby clothes range now.
The worry of being at home
Being at home was nerve wracking to start with, and seemed such a huge responsibility. I think you never stop worrying, and we had good aftercare. You somehow need to reclaim your baby and trust your maternal instincts – that comes with time. The thing I was least prepared for was the innocent question of ‘how old is your baby?’ Even now I find myself explaining our story and her two ages. She hasn’t caught up with her corrected age, never mind her actual, and as she reaches the age of two they will stop correcting her age.
She is our beautiful little lady, as she was nicknamed by the neonatal staff, and does amazingly well. She’s crawling and pulling up to standing but not yet walking. It’s a lesson in not comparing to friends babies and measuring her progress from where she started – a 2lb scrap of a thing that fitted into my cupped hands.
She is a delight and such a happy thing. We held a fundraiser for the neonatal units to coincide with the first world prematurity day of her life, and have taken her back to both neonatal units. We are eternally grateful and can never thank them enough for their kind and compassionate care, who together with friends and family, made such a difficult journey bearable.
With special thanks to Beth Nightingale for sharing her story with The Smallest Things.
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Our journey started last April when our son Jake was born suddenly 10 weeks early. Nothing can prepare you for the journey that was about to start and we were lucky that he was a healthy 1.53kg – a good weight for a 30 week premie!
The dreams you have of holding your baby when they are first born, the pictures capturing those first precious moments, are shattered. And instead you are filled with loss, longing to hold a fragile baby. With the tubes and wires, it’s not what you imagined, but the nurses help and support you with your first kangaroo care cuddle – and it’s worth the wait!
These small steps that most parents take for granted are celebrated along the rollercoster ride of neonatal care. There are bad days, when all you do is hope and pray that they pull through, the days without cuddles when all you can do is sit and wait, knowing you would give anything to swap places with your baby.
What you can do is express your milk, but this was hard work and mother nature didn’t make the job any easier. While some mums filled bottle after bottle, I bearly made enough, expressing throughout the day and twice during the night, just to keep up. This will always be the bit I feel guilty about, Jake didn’t take to breastfeeding no matter how hard we tried. The nurses were amazing in supporting us, (I’d never had so many people see my boobs!), but no matter what it just wasn’t working and after a few days and 12h with no wet nappies we tried a bottle. He gulped it down! It’s not what we had planned, but none of this was. I cried loads and will always feel guilty that I didn’t breatfeed – but he is healthy and that’s the main thing .
We were extreamly lucky and made a special bond with two other wordering familes. Going through something like this can bring people together and sometimes you have to take the positives of what life throws at you. The amazing team that works in SCBU are all angels and I could never repay the times they saved Jake’s life. The times they supported us – the hugs, the chats and the occasional light moment of laughter – we missed them hugely the firate few weeks we were at home.
The journey doesn’t stop when you go home though and for us it seemed like the begining of weeks of obsessing about infections. Hand gel became my best friendnand no one was allowed in the house with the slightest sniffle. The first cold at home was hard and I spent the whole day scared he would end up back on a ventilator. It’s hard to admit, but it was terrifying bringing him home. At least when he was in hosital the staff could keep him safe and knew what to do if he had an infection. But with time this got easier.
By the time we were ready to go and meet ‘normal’ mums and babies I was half way through my mat leave. This was my next challenge, of always feeling like I had to justify why Jake was slightly behind and in knowing how to explain his early start and corrected age. I’m so proud of my reslient, funny and sociable son and wouldn’t change a thing, but it was sometimes hard to hear other mums stories.
It does get easier and I remind myself that I am one of the lucky ones. I am currently due to go back to work on friday to a job I love and Jake has settled into an amazing setting which he loves…
…..but I still feel cheated from my full maternity leave. Seven weeks in hospital and then by the time I was finally ready to fully embrace mummy life if feels as if half of it was gone already. It’s been a long, and at times uncertain, journey – and now together we’re about to embark on the next chapter!
With special thanks to Claire Mountain for sharing her story with The Smallest Things.
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On Mother’s Day last year Susannah Tucker should have been 23 weeks’ pregnant. Instead, she was watching her son fight for his life in NICU, wondering if this would be the only Mother’s Day they spent together
Mother’s Day 2012: painful, following an early miscarriage the previous December.
Mother’s Day 2013: cautiously excited, as we made our way through the first trimester of our boy.
Mother’s Day 2014: a day with my husband and son, blue painted foot and hand prints, photo memories.
Mother’s Day 2015: starting to hope for a brother or sister for our eldest.
Mother’s Day 2016: our life turned upside down the day before.
On 5 March 2016 our little boy Alec was born at 23+5 weeks’ gestation, weighing 1lb 9oz (709g). Whisked away from us following his lengthy resuscitation, we had followed on after the ambulance who had transferred him to Addenbrooke’s.
And now he was there, fighting for his life.
Love and care
During the early hours of March 6, Mother’s Day, I was wheeled around from the ward to see my tiny, tiny boy. I chatted with the nurse Felicity (who became a very favourite and special nurse) and she brought out a little bag and handed it to me. Inside were a few items selected especially for Mother’s Day – a notebook, hand cream, pen etc, and, most special of all, a small ceramic heart with some tiny footprints on it.
Susannah with her gift from Alec, aged one day, on Mother’s Day in NICU
‘Are these Alec’s footprints?’ I asked hesitantly, barely able to believe that they could be. Felicity replied that they were. Overwhelmed by the love and care of the NICU staff, to produce this special keepsake for all the mums that day, all I could think was how amazing it was that I’d had the opportunity to have the footprints at only a day old, not something I’d done with my older boy Evan. I was also acutely aware that this ceramic heart was going to be something I’d treasure forever, but potentially in a box of painful memories.
Alec’s footprints – a special Mother’s Day keepsake from the amazing nurses
Our older boy Evan (who was two and a half at the time) came to visit Alec for the first time that day and I had both my little boys together. Again, I couldn’t shake from my mind that this was likely to be my only Mother’s Day with both of them. It was a special special time and Evan was so interested in his little brother. Fast forward a year and they adore each other.
Some other special mothers came to see us and meet Alec that day too – both our mums (who didn’t get cards from us, sorry!) were seeing their new grandson, yet feeling overwhelmed with how to support us – it was happening to their children. My sister came to meet Alec, pregnant at roughly the same gestation (her son eventually born on Alec’s due date) – every time she visited I could see in her eyes the awareness that the baby growing inside her was a similar size and shape, and the overwhelming feeling of needing to keep him tucked up safely inside.
I couldn’t hold Alec. I couldn’t touch him or kiss him. I couldn’t look into his little eyes (they were still fused shut). I was too nervous to change his nappy. However, on that first Mother’s Day, I was able to feed him my milk through a tube for the first time. I was fulfilling something in my role as his mummy. A different Mother’s Day, but one I’ll remember forever.
Returning to ‘normal’
We recently celebrated Alec’s first birthday on the beach and it was a very special day. This year we’ll also be celebrating my mother-in-law’s 60th birthday on Mother’s Day and I’m looking forward to a relaxing, low-key day. After all the drama and fear of NICU, we’re craving some ‘normal’ family time, enjoying the simple pleasure of being together.
Susannah and Alec on the beach celebrating his first birthday earlier this month
With special thanks to Susannah for sharing her story for Mothers Day.
You can read more about Susannah’s journey with Alec on her blog here
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Second in our special series of Mothers’ Day blogs, Becca Hilton tells The Smallest Things why her first Mothers’ Day as a mum will stay with her forever
I was expecting my first Mothers’ Day as a mum to be full of love, comfort and joy. Yet the harsh reality was very different. Yes, I did feel the love but I was somewhat lacking in the comfort and joy as my darling little boy Max was in NICU [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit].
The day was not only emotional because it was Mothers’ Day, but it was also my birthday!
2016 was the first year my birthday had fallen on Mothers’ Day and that did make me wonder… Maybe Max had come early for that very reason, so that I could spend those two very special occasions with him?
Not how it was meant to be
Waking up on that morning I felt excited but also disappointed. I couldn’t wait to go and see my little soldier but I couldn’t hold back the sorrow knowing that it wasn’t how it was meant to be. My husband had organised dinner for us that evening but it didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel like celebrating either occasion.
When I arrived at the hospital that morning it felt like just another day but when I saw Max he was in an open incubator for the first time! Previously he had been in a closed incubator with two portholes I had to open to touch him or change his nappy. It was the best Mothers’ Day/birthday gift I could have asked for. Taped to his incubator was a lovely poster one of the nurses had made. It had Max’s face inside a flower wishing me a ‘Happy Mothers’ Day’. My heart melted.
A day of mixed emotions
All I wanted to do was give Max a big squeeze but of course I couldn’t – he was too delicate. Experiencing Mothers’ Day while your child is in NICU is a strange feeling. It’s hard to describe as I had so many mixed emotions.
On this day I spent my usual seven hours or so with Max; soaking up every minute with him. Every smile, every cuddle and even all the windy pops (he’s always been rather gassy!). I didn’t want to go home, I didn’t want to leave him.. on that day more so than ever.
Overall I was just so glad and felt blessed that Max was here at all and my first Mothers’ Day/birthday with him was the most special time and will stay with me forever.
So as I approach my second Mothers’ Day I reflect back on and remember my first… and look forward to many, many more! I hope that yours is filled with everything that you expect and more.
Kicking off our special series of Mothers’ Day blogs, Serena Di Murro tells The Smallest Things about the day she saw her daughter Elysia properly for the first time.
My first Mothers’ Day was 6 March 2016 and it is one I shall never forget. It was truly bittersweet! I gave birth to my daughter Elysia, weighing 885g, at just 25+2 weeks on 31 January 2016. Mothers’ Day last year was exactly five weeks later when she was 30 weeks gestational age. I shouldn’t have even been a mother by then – I should still have been 30 weeks’ pregnant. It was certainly not how I ever imagined my very first Mothers’ Day to be. Elyisa had been intubated [on a ventilator] on the first day and I hadn’t really looked at her properly as I was too much in shock and there was a lot of tape obscuring her face. On Day 2 she transitioned to CPAP [Continuous Positive Airway Pressure] and spent the next five weeks on that.
Struggling to connect
CPAP involves a breathing mask and hat that completely covers a baby’s face. Elysia also had a feeding tube so I had absolutely no idea what she looked like for that whole month. I had held her for the first time when she was two weeks old on Valentines Day but struggled to connect with her because she was so tiny and drowned in all the equipment. I held her every day for skin-to-skin contact, but the fact I didn’t really know what her face looked like was surreal and meant I never felt like a mum at all. Every day I would go in and hold this tiny fragile being and struggle to ‘feel’ something, but it felt like I was just going through the motions.
‘Seeing’ my baby for the first time
However, when I arrived at the NICU [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit] on Mothers’ Day last year the CPAP was gone! In its place was a small nasal cannula and at long last I could see Elysia’s face. I noticed she looked so like her dad and for the first time I saw this little person and not just a sick, fragile baby. I will never ever forget that day’s Kangaroo Care… she looked right into my eyes and I got a sense that she could ‘see’ me just as I ‘saw’ her for the first time. It was like she too felt more connected to me now that the big mask, which had been such a barrier between us, was gone.
Serena ‘seeing’ her daughter properly for the first time on Mothers’ Day last year
Tears slid down my cheeks as I looked at her tiny little face. I have a video of this moment that my partner made and now, over a year later, I still cry every time I watch it. There are no words to explain it. On Mothers’ Day 2016 I finally became, and most importantly felt like, a mother after five long weeks of cuddling a baby hidden behind a mask. I treasure that moment and am so happy we caught it on video.
Elysia now weighs over 18lb (8.2kg) and is thriving. Looking back, last Mothers’ Day was a defining moment in our journey and shows that there can be beautiful moments in the NICU when we least expect it. This Mothers’ Day I will reflect on our time in hospital and spend all day looking at Elysia’s sweet, now very chubby face… just because I can 🙂