Tag Archives: SCBU

Losing yourself after neonatal intensive care – Sophie’s story

It’s hard bringing a premature baby home from hospital. The journey and worries go on. I’m trying to be honest with myself, I am struggling. Last December my son Bertie was born prematurely at just 27 weeks gestation. I’d had a complex pregnancy with bleeding from 13 weeks and placenta problems. I’d had numerous hospital stays and each time came away with different reasons. To this day the reason why is still unknown, but essentially my placenta was riddled with infections and I contracted sepsis.

Bertie was born by emergency C section at Gloucester Royal Hospital at 17.18. Later that evening, he was transferred to Bristol St Michaels, and then back to GRH after 8 days. I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it a million more, the doctors and nurses who work at both these hospitals are wonderful, wonderful humans who ultimately saved Bertie’s life. We are forever grateful. 

Bertie spent a total of 120 days in hospital. It really was one step forward, two (or what felt like many more) steps back. This is something we were told right from the beginning and it really is true. He had countless procedures, blood tests, x rays, ultra sounds and blood transfusions. He contracted the dreaded cold in hospital, twice. Intubated, CPAP, high flow and low flow; all terms I knew nothing about before, but will now forever be etched in my mind. NICU nurses become your most trusted friends and make such an impact on your day, time spent on the unit and, this sounds corny, but the rest of your life! I will never forget them. Other mums are like angels. Speaking to mums who “get it” is the most comforting thing. All NICU journeys are different but there seems to be an unspoken understanding of what goes on behind those closed doors. I have made friends for life and I am eternally grateful for their support. I hope I helped them, the way they help me. 

We bought Bertie home on 8 April 2018. At last we could be together as a family of 4. Mike, Charlie, Bertie and me. I thought the stay in hospital was the hardest thing I’d ever done, juggling a toddler at home and a baby in hospital was heart breaking and watching your baby constantly fight is indescribable. Mike and I were like ships in the night. I’d be at the hospital during the day, he would go to work, then he’d go the hospital in the evening and I’d be home with Charlie. We’d be lucky to eat a microwave meal together! The uncertainty of Bertie’s health and development was always on my mind, but bringing home a premature baby who has chronic lung disease and required 24/7 oxygen, who is so susceptible to illnesses and who is “failing to thrive” was and is, much harder. 

I cannot comprehend why being at home as a family would be harder than our time in hospital, but it is. I feel a huge amount of guilt for saying that, along with a lot of other things. Like not spending enough time with Charlie, not spending enough time with Bertie, not being a “good” wife, the list goes on. One of my biggest guilt is why couldn’t I carry Bertie to full term. I do know that it is not my fault and that I did nothing “wrong”, but I still feel guilt. I was told by a wonderful woman recently that we must accept our feelings and it is just how we feel. I am working on that. 

We’ve been home for 7 months now. In that time we’ve had 2 overnight stays in hospital, endless appointments with physios, occupational therapists, dieticians and Bertie’s fantastic consultant. Home visits from our amazing respiratory nurse, which always felt like a visit from a friend, but also difficult visits from health visitors who had little understanding of pre term babies. I feel immense pressure for Bertie to be “well”. I worry. I am swamped by worry. Worry that he is not developing as he is should be, worry that he will have long term effects of being premature, worry that I’m not giving him enough attention, worrying about his weight, worry that he might get ill again, worrying about more hospital admissions and worry that in all this I’m neglecting his older brother Charlie. Going into the winter is an exceptionally worrying time, a simple cold could put Bertie in hospital. It’s already happened twice and it’s not even been the cough and cold season yet.

In August, amazingly Bertie was able to wean off his oxygen in the day. Then in October he has come off oxygen at night too. This was a massive milestone for Bertie! I was so pleased but with this came more anxiety. The oxygen is almost a safety net, a comfort maybe. Take it away, it’s another worry. A huge ongoing battle for Bertie is his weight and feeding, he takes very little milk and has very little food. He has awful reflux which is not helped by a persistent cough. Recently we had a particularly bad spell and he lost weight. I feel like we go round in circles and it is never ending.

There is a massive lack of understanding and knowledge about premature birth, our babies and life after NICU. By sharing our story I want to help people going through the same and give knowledge to others. One of my biggest frustrations is that I feel a lot of people assume that just because we are home now that Bertie is “fine” and like a “normal” baby. I hope this at least goes a little way in showing this is not the case.

Along with guilt and worry, I am filled with jealousy. When I walk through the supermarket and see a heavily pregnant woman, I feel jealous that they’ve carried their baby further than I did, jealous that they will have a new born baby to enjoy and jealous that they don’t know about the NICU experience. I then I feel bad for having those thoughts and feelings. Another seemingly never ending circle that I hope with time will end.

I am grateful beyond belief to the wonderful NHS. It is still early days for me. I have two beautiful sons, I am so lucky, but also feel like I have lost who I am. In sharing our story hope to find myself again.

with thanks to Sophie for sharing her story, raising awareness of the ongoing needs of families following premature birth and neonatal intensive care.

 

World Prematurity Day – It’s Never Too Late To Speak Out

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?

Poppy Hobs
If you have a story to share, contact Catriona at smallestthings@yahoo.com

Too Small, Too Soon – I Couldn’t go Back to Work 

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. 

Louise Harrison 

If you agree with Louise, please sign The Smallest Things petition to extend maternity leave for mothers of premature babies. 

115,218 Voices go to Parliament

This week Smallest Things supporters and volunteers handed in 115, 218 signatures to the Dept. for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The petition is for the attention of Minister Margot James MP who, among many other things, is responsible for parental leave policy.

petition-hand-in

Until now the minister has declined our requests to meet with parents affected by premature birth…but we now have a glimpse of hope that our 115,218 voices will be heard!

No dates have been offered yet, but an intention to arrange a time to meet with families has been made. Watch this Space….

Thank you to everyone who shared #NotMatLeave pictures of their time in NICU on Facebook and Twitter – together we can raise awareness and make change happen!

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If you haven’t signed the petition yet, the link is still open and can be signed here.

Look but Don’t Touch – Life After Neonatal Care

As I prepared to be discharged from hospital with my tiny 30 weeker, I kept getting told by the staff to avoid supermarkets. I was completely baffled – were supermarkets really such an awful breeding ground for germs?! I solemnly promised the consultant that I wouldn’t go near supermarkets until Luca’s due date. Once we were home, I asked the outreach nurse about the rationale for supermarket avoidance. She said people in supermarkets have a tendency to touch small babies in their prams. I laughed – why would anyone pay attention to me pushing a pram around with a screaming baby?!
Oh how wrong I was.
From the day I felt more confident to take Luca out (around his due date), I’ve faced a constant stream of people trying to touch my baby or asking personal questions. For some reason, a teeny baby seems to be public property. After spending weeks of religiously sanitising hands before touching your baby, the sight of anyone putting their hands near Luca was enough to send me into a rage. Some people just don’t seem to have any concept of a mum and baby’s personal space. I’ve had family members and friends visit us in NICU, longing for a cuddle but knowing I was the only one allowed to hold my baby.
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I didn’t let anyone hold Luca until his due date arrived. He was only 4lb when I took him home. So the very last thing I wanted was strange hands all over his little body in the pram. There have been times where I have rushed around the supermarket close to tears, praying for Luca to stop crying too so I can avoid taking him out of the pram for comfort. My reaction to unwanted contact has been a firm ‘don’t touch my baby – he’s premature’ has had mixed results. Usually, people appear mortified and apologise. But no baby deserves unsolicited contact, premature or term. On other occasions, I’ve received some sharp advice. I should put a blanket over my baby’s pram if I don’t want people to touch. Why am I taking such a young baby outside anyway?! (He was 3 months old at this point). Silly me, for wanting some normality after the horrors of NICU for 6 weeks. Not that I had much choice; as a single parent, if I didn’t run errands, they wouldn’t get done at all.
As the months have passed, it hasn’t got any easier. Luca is now nearly 6 months and has finally tipped over the 10lb mark on the scales. But I’m still stopped regularly by people who want to admire my ‘new baby’. The only thing new about him is his smile, finally! I’ve developed a thicker skin and a few coping mechanisms since discharge:
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– Get a sign to alert people to your baby’s special status. Luca’s ‘don’t touch’ sign has mainly positive results, but there is still the odd oblivious person who thinks THEY are allowed to touch. It also has the unintended benefit of attracting other preemie relatives for a chat. I got our sign from Etsy and another preemie parent has also produced a badge to keep unwanted hands away.
– Wear your baby in a sling. I’ve yet to encounter someone rude enough to put their hands down my top – but never say never!
– Use your raincovers as a barrier. I have looked slightly odd on sunny days but I will use my raincovers in crowded places such as surgery waiting rooms if we’re in a confined space.
– Be firm. I will wheel Luca’s pram out of people’s reach and tell them (abruptly) not to touch my baby.
After the NICU rollercoaster, being rude to someone risking my baby’s health is the least of my worries.
carla-blog
Guest post by Carla, mum to Luca born at 30+6 (emergency c-section for absent end diastolic flow and IUGR)

A Roller Coaster Journey: Told by a NICU Dad

From the start…

Nic’s pregnancy didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary.  Apart from the sunstroke whilst on our first holiday in Turkey and the extreme vomiting that is.  All appeared normal until that 1st scan, 12 weeks in.  “There’s 1 heartbeat, and there’s the other. Congratulations your having twins’’ was what we thought we heard from the sonographer.  There couldn’t be, this hadn’t even cross our minds as there was no history of twins in either side of the family.  But that’s what we had heard, two of them were there on the screen and the scan didn’t fib!  That was at the QE in Gateshead on 10/07/2013.  We were sent for a more detailed scan 2 days later at the RVI in Newcastle as they were specialists when it came to twins.  So a few days later, while I was away with work, Nic attended the RVI for further scans and tests which all seemed fine.  Sure enough it was twins, and they had a present for daddy from within the womb – a personalized message on the scan picture!

scan

What happened next?

The 20 week scan confirmed we were expecting twin boys, which we nicknamed Blip & Blop.  Shortly after, 6pm on a Thursday night, I went to help Nic in with bags and stuff from the car from her finishing work.  She was complaining of stomach pains and didn’t feel quite right.  However, by 9pm they had stopped and so assumed they were Braxton Hicks which come earlier in the pregnancy when expecting twins.

We didn’t think any more of it; As I was about to leave for work the next morning I still wasn’t concerned when Nic told me she’d “had a show” as she got out of the shower.  We rang the maternity assessment department at the RVI and they advised we should call in so Nic could be assessed just to be on the safe side.  So at 8am we set off and the way there we joked about how it would be a nightmare if she was to go into labour and we had to make this journey in rush hour traffic, as we were doing now.  Little did we know, until we got to the hospital, that Nic was actually in labour, and she was 3cm dilated.  We were only at 23 weeks and 5 days; we were told to expect the worst.  The next few hours passed in a daze as Nic was admitted onto the delivery suite. She was given a steroid injection to help develop the babies lungs and another shot had to be done 24 hours later. Everything was done to try and stop or delay the labour, and fingers crossed it seemed to be working, Nic got the second steroid injection 24 hours later and everything appeared to have calmed down.

“Expect the worst” to me meant that they were on their way, I never thought they meant there was little chance of survival.  Even in the delivery suite, when the ‘baby doctor’ came to visit and explained the likelihood of survival was extremely slim and to try and prepare us for what was about to happen, there was a stubbornness in me that said “you’re wasting your breath”.

And then it happened

Around 2pm on the Saturday afternoon it happened and Nic’s Waters broke, or rather trickled.  The midwife explained that now there was no going back, this was it.  We had a list of names that we had been thinking about but now we had to decide. We couldn’t let them come into the world and have no names so there it is Jake & Kyle’s journey was about to begin. The ’Baby Doctors’ were put on standby, texts were sent letting people know.  Things seemed to drag, then rush, drag then rush. A few hours later and they decided Nic was to be put on a drip to now speed up the labour as they couldn’t let the boys get tired.  2 portable incubators were placed in the room, the midwife disappeared; where was she when we needed her; where were the baby doctors?

incubators

Mild panic, no need to worry; everyone was in the right place at the right time, apart from the nurse who stood in the wrong place when Nic’s waters really did break, squirting across the room!!  Jake arrived at 9.51pm, the tiniest little thing you’ve ever seen no bigger than my hand, with skin like a baby bird.

jake

He was whisked across to the incubator where a team of 5 or 6 doctors and nurses turned their backs on us and concentrated solely on Jake getting him breathing.  After about 5 or 10 minutes but what seemed like forever he was held up to us for kisses, before being whisked away.  Where to?  We didn’t really know.  Then silence.  No contractions, no nothing.  Could twin number 2 hold on for days, weeks more?  It was possible, apparently and that’s what the consultants were hoping for. They explained that they would leave Jake’s placenta in and put stitches in and that would be it. That was until Nic started to lose blood, she didn’t know what was happening, but I could see that she was losing more and more. Suddenly, what we thought was a busy room began to get a whole lot busier and it became obvious emergency surgery was required.

It was Nic’s worst nightmare and had already expressed her fears, to give birth to one baby naturally and the other by emergency caesarean. But at that moment in time, she didn’t care; anything to get Kyle out ok.   Whisked off to theatre, where originally we were hoping I could be there and Nic could be awake to meet Kyle as we didn’t know what was going to happen. However, once in there it became apparent Nic lost more blood than they thought and time was against us. She had to be put to sleep. Pacing the floor outside theatre I had no idea how much time passed before they came to tell us Kyle had been born at 11.52pm. By this point the newly Granda and Nana had arrived at the RVI for the second time and we were all invited to see Kyle – in the corridor -before he too was whisked away.

kyle

The baby doctors were breathing for him, but still had time for us to pay that brief visit.  Nic came round in the recovery room several hours later, and she was still groggy when we were told Kyle was off to Middlesbrough as there was “no room at the inn RVI”. We prayed and hoped he would survive the journey but they couldn’t guarantee anything.

Welcome to the world…

So our 2 boys were here, Jake born weighing 1lb 6oz, Kyle 1lb 7oz.  Good weights for their gestation apparently, especially for twins.  Nic had cooked them well although she didn’t feel like that. Jake got the last available bed at the RVI, Kyle was 30 miles down the A19 at James Cook Hospital on Teesside.

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So from expecting a quick check-up and discharge, a whirlwind few hours had changed things dramatically.

…The world of SCBU

Not many people experience the workings of a SCBU, or Special Care Baby Unit.  We got to experience 2 SCBUs for a short time – shorter than expected thankfully.  Initially told it could be 3-4 weeks before Kyle was strong enough to be transferred back to Newcastle, it was actually only 6 days before he was taking his 2nd ambulance trip.  Nic had only just managed to visit Kyle on that very day, having been unable to visit initially due to having her caesarean and been admitted in the RVI but then suffering from sickness & diahorrea she wasn’t allowed in.  Thankfully she was able to visit James Cook hospital and take a thank you card to the nurses there for looking after Kyle during his crucial first days. I was grateful for this as Nic needed to see where Kyle had spent his first week.

Those early days were unreal; looking back it seems like a lifetime ago, yet so vivid despite everything that was going on.  Everything was alien to us, we had never even imagined that there was a unit in the hospital to care for premature babies – so many premature babies.  Experiencing 2 neonatal units was interesting, completely different layouts and methods.  At the RVI, Jake was in a small room, bay 7, in the red area of SCBU which only had 4 beds in the room, while Kyle was in the first incubator we saw, in a larger room with around 8 other babies.  Both looked tiny in their incubators, yet perfectly formed with little fingers and toes.

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Thankfully Kyle was able to return to the RVI quickly, and he took up residence in the same bay as his brother, so we had half of the bay to ourselves.  We didn’t realize at the time how long we would be in there, many other babies came and went from the 2 other spaces in the room while we were in there.

Everyone talks about the SCBU journey being a rollercoaster, and it really is the best way to describe it.  12 days in, Kyle opened his eyes for the first time, then the next day we had a massive downturn…

At only 13 days old Jake needed an operation on his stomach, the doctors weren’t sure what was wrong but his tummy swelled up and there was clearly something going on.  To be told by the doctors that he had a 50:50 chance of surviving the operation but wouldn’t make it without it was the worst feeling ever. We had to wait on blood being delivered from Leeds before the op could go ahead.  We followed him along the corridor in his travel incubator as he went to theatre then had to wait for what seemed to be an eternity for news. We were told not to go far in case we needed to be called into theatre. 3 long, long hours later we saw the nurses going to collect him, great news he’d made it. Then we got a message that the surgeon wanted to see us, which brought us right back down wondering what was wrong; why did he need to see us, Jake was here.  Thankfully he wanted to let us know that the operation had been a success; that all was good and we had the best possible outcome! However, Jake had returned with a stoma, he’d had NEC (necrotizing enterocolitis), a perforated bowel.  The next couple of days were ropey to say the least, morphine keeping Jake sedated while all we could do as parents was watch his sats monitor. Beep. Beep, Beep.  Kyle was doing ‘ok’ but we were told to take it hour by hour not day by day for now.

day-25

After 2 weeks paternity leave I was due to return to work, but there was too much going on to even consider it.  Thankfully work were understanding and told me that the boys were my priority, they understood the seriousness of the situation.  I did make it back for half a day but then Nic took ill with a cellulitis infection and was readmitted to hospital.  When I did see friends & colleagues it was clear that some people didn’t really know what to say, were congratulations in order as with most babies, or not.

3 weeks in and we got to understand what a stoma was; we learnt to empty the stoma bags that were attached to Jake’s stomach to catch the poo, a nice pleasant experience!  His skin though was so soft and transparent that the bags didn’t like to stick, and needed changing regularly due to leakage.

Reading to the boys gave us some more interaction with them rather than just changing nappies and cleaning faces for 10 minutes twice a day. That was all we were allowed.

Day 25 was another hurdle to overcome, an early start led to a trip to the Freeman Hospital for a heart operation for Kyle.  All babies have a duct in the heart that usually closes at birth.  However premature babies’ ducts can remain open as they’re not ready to close yet, meaning that surgery is the only option. Without it, it’s unlikely that he would breathe without the ventilator keeping him alive.  Consenting to allow a surgeon to operate on a heart so small is not the easiest thing to do, however there was no alternative.  Thankfully all went well and Kyle was back at the RVI by lunchtime.  The next couple of days were again more worrying, as Kyle took longer to come off the morphine than Jake had after his bowel op.  Every time they tried to bring him round he was fighting against the machines so they had to keep him sedated while his body learned to pump blood through the heart the right way. They say every baby is different but you can’t help but compare.  6 days later and Jake had the same heart op, different surgeon but the same result, a metal clip to close up the duct.

nurses

From here on in it was all about growing and getting both boys breathing on their own and feeding of course. Well when I say on their own I mean not the ventilator taking breathes for them, them doing it on their own but still with oxygen support.  From ventilator to Bi-Pap, Bi-Pap to C-Pap, C-Pap to Humicare, humicare to Low Flow Oxygen.  Massive steps along the journey and not steps that were taken easily and sometimes steps that had to be taken backwards as well as forwards.

When Jake came off the ventilator on day 75 I got a massive surprise – it was the middle of ward round when it was pointed out to me that he’d made the big step and seemed to be doing well – so happy the tears flowed!

Along the way though we managed happy times: On day 39 it was Halloween and we decorated the incubators with blankets and pumpkins, day 42 and we finally got to hold both boys at the same time! That moment had been a long time coming but fantastic when it happened.

halloween

Other milestones were reached; joining the 1 kilo club was a massive achievement, first baths after more than 60 days of topping and tailing, progress with feeding too, going from continuous feeds via a tube to syringe feeding to bottles.  All big steps for little boys.

During the journey the boys also had to have numerous blood transfusions and Jake had to receive platelets too. This was scary the first time but then you get used to it.

Growth was a big thing.  “The bigger they get, the stronger they are”, said one of the consultants.  Granda described them perfectly as “massive tiny babies” as they grew well. Kyle more quickly than Jake due to his stoma. He was having problems gaining weight which seen a lot of doctors have input to what fat/calories he was to have through the TPN.

ROP (Retinopathy of prematurity) is a common problem in prem babies.  Both Jake and Kyle had regular checkups to gauge how and when action was required. This wasn’t pleasant as their tiny eyes are clamped open.  Jake’s eyes were the worst and his only option was to have Avastin injections (which weren’t even licensed in the UK) after 67 days, Kyle’s not as bad and was given laser surgery 2 weeks later.

Christmas in SCBU can feel like a lonely place and not something that you look forward to.  All you want is for your babies to be at home with you, but you know the best place for them is in hospital.

xmas-nicu

However, getting involved is important.  The nurses and doctors painted and decorated the unit in the lead-up to Christmas and we joined in, painting a reindeer and a present.  We bought the boys their first advent calendars to put beside their cots and we spent Christmas Eve on the ward and waited until after midnight to ensure we were there at the strike of Christmas Day.  The boys had festive blankets and Xmas babygrows (although Jake couldn’t wear his as he wasn’t well enough). That’s another story, Jake going for his reversal of his stoma! Santa even arrived at SCBU and all of the babies received stockings and presents.

christmas-nicu

Just before Christmas we paid a visit to family in Cumbria, delivering presents (the first time we had been back since the boys had been born).  It was difficult travelling so far from the hospital, worrying in case anything happened to the boys.  As it happened, is was us that we needed to worry about, as we got stuck in floods and had to travel a long way round to get back.  We just had to visit the hospital on the way back though, even though it was around 1am when we made it.

So Jake and his stoma reversal just before Christmas… This had to be done earlier than planned as at this point we were struggling with his weight and his skin had started to break down from all the leaks of the bags.

Following the operation he was re-ventilated and back in the intensive care area. Something that me and Nic feared as Jake had needed steroids to come off the ventilator originally which have their own risks. It felt like a big backward step being back in the “Red” area after progressing round onto the ‘’Blue’’ area and Kyle been a ‘’Green’’ baby, but we needed that stoma reversed as he wasn’t growing.  They were rocky days over Christmas as it looked like the reversal hadn’t worked and his scar was leaking. Jake was back on the morphine again keeping him pain free, we feared he would have to be rushed back to theatre while his surgeon was on holiday. But eventually things started to pick up and on New Years’ Eve he was out of the incubator and into a babytherm, a heated cot – and yes DRESSED!

After 108 days in hospital, on 8th January 2014, we took the first true step towards bringing a baby home.  We got to spend the night alone with Kyle in 1 of the hospital ‘flats’, rooms on the ward dedicated for parents of premature babies getting ready to face the big wide world.

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We had to get used to changing his oxygen cannulas on our own, bathe him and finally look after him like we should have been able to do all those weeks ago. Knowing that we were on our own with Kyle was scary, but helped  knowing the nurses were just outside if we needed anything.  And Jake was just round the corner too!  2 days later and the time came that we’d been waiting for.  Most parents get to take their babies home within a day or 2 of them being born; for parents of premature babies this sadly isn’t the case.  Therefore, to finally get the chance to leave the hospital with a baby is such an emotional time and tears flowed.  Sad that Jake wasn’t quite ready to join us, but overwhelming knowing we had Kyle with us and he was allowed to leave!

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Kyle visited his brother in hospital every day and the nurses kept a cot handy for him to use.  The boys regularly had “twin time”, sharing a cot and getting close to each other.  To see them together was a magical experience.  Jake’s scar healed and stopped leaking, he started putting weight on and medicine requirements dropped pretty quickly, as if he knew his brother had gone home.  Things progressed very quickly after Kyle came home, Jake took to bottle feeding without a problem even missed a few stages and on day 123 it was time to Go!!  23rd January 2014 and Jake left a message for the nurses before he & Kyle were united at home for the first time.

The end of a true rollercoaster ride as predicted, but the start of many adventures for two amazing boys who defied the odds to survive and thrive.  As I complete this story (it’s taken a few months), Jake has just come off oxygen completely, rounding off our SCBU journey nicely.  We will be back on the unit at Christmas to take in chocolates for the nurses and snacks for the parents who find themselves in the same position we did last year.  The fact that I am able to still know the details of our journey this far on is thanks to Nic keeping a diary.  A very personal diary, detailing not only practical things like weight gain and oxygen requirements, but also the emotions we experienced as we went from hour to hour, day to day, week to week.  A diary that we almost lost nearly 80 days in, but that’s another story…

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With thanks to Colin French for sharing his story.

If you have a story you’d like to share, please contact Catriona at The Smallest Things – smallestthings@yahoo.com

How NICU Mums Are Chosen

NICU mums are tough: We may not feel like we are tough, indeed we often feel like we’re only just holding on, as if we could slip at any moment. As preemie parents we all need support, of that I am certain, but within us there is a strength, perhaps found in the love and courage of our little ones.

Even years later, I find myself digging deep to find that strength. When I comfort my youngest as he coughs a cough I’ve heard too many time before. A sound that fills me with dread and sets my heart racing – will we be going to hospital tonight?

I don’t believe I was ‘chosen’ to be a preemie mum, it’s just one of those things. But when times get tough and I struggle to find the strength I remember the poem by Erma Bombeck….

How Preemie Moms Are Chosen
by Erma Bombeck

Did you ever wonder how the mothers of premature babies are chosen?

Somehow, I visualize God hovering over Earth, selecting his instruments for propagation with great care and deliberation. As he observes, he instructs his angels to take notes in a giant ledger.

”Armstrong, Beth, son. Patron Saint, Matthew.
Forrest, Marjorie, daughter. Patron Saint, Celia.
Rutledge, Carrie, twins. Patron Saint…give her Gerard. He’s used to profanity.”

Finally, he passes a name to an angel and smiles. “Give her a preemie.”

The angel is curious. “Why this one, God? She’s so happy.”

“Exactly,” smiles God. “Could I give a premature baby a mother who knows no laughter? That would be cruel.”

“But does she have the patience?” asks the angel.

“I don’t want her to have too much patience, or she’ll drown in a sea of self-pity and despair. Once the shock and resentment wear off, she’ll handle it. I watched her today. She has that sense of self and independence so rare and so necessary in a mother. You see, the child I’m going to give her has a world of its own. She has to make it live in her world, and that’s not going to be easy.”

“But Lord, I don’t think she even believes in you.”

God smiles. “No matter, I can fix that. This one is perfect She has just the right amount of selfishness.”

The angel gasps, “Selfishness?! Is that a virtue?”

God nods. “If she can’t separate herself from the child occasionally, she will never survive. Yes, here is a woman whom I will bless with a child less than perfect. She doesn’t know it yet, but she is to be envied. She will never take for granted a spoken word. She will never consider a step ordinary. When her child says momma for the first time, she will be witness to a miracle and know it. I will permit her to see clearly the things I see— ignorance, cruelty, prejudice— and allow her to rise above them. She will never be alone. I will be at her side every minute of every day of her life because she is doing my work as surely as she is here by my side.”

“And what about her Patron Saint?” asks the angel, his pen poised in the air.

God smiles. “A mirror will suffice.”

November is World Prematurity Month. Please share to raise awareness. A journey through neonatal care lasts long after bringing your baby home 💜

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World Prematurity Month – November 2016

World Prematurity Month, a time for charities, health professionals, families and organisations around the world to come together to raise awareness of the 15 million babies born premature each year.

For me, a mother of two small boys born too soon, World Prematurity Month is an opportunity to reflect upon and highlight the realities of neonatal intensive care; a chance to shine a light on a hidden world and a journey that lasts long after bringing your baby home from hospital.

As expectant parents you make plans, you allow yourself to dream and imagine.. the first hold, the first baby grown, the first feed…. but for parents of premature babies all plans and dreams are shattered as the trauma of neonatal intensive care kicks in. You don’t recognise the world around you find yourself grieving for a baby take from you too soon and placed within the protective walls of an incubator – “A womb with a view” as a friend once said.

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On leaving neonatal care, full of conflicting emotions, you think that your NICU time is done… only there are new challenges to face.

Incubators, life support machines and monitors are behind you, but the memories and worries last. One day you feel brave enough to leave the house. You might visit a mum and baby group – and that’s when then it comes, the dreaded question…

“How old is your baby”?

I know I’m not alone in rounding down my baby’s age and even then I would see the quizzical. I would tell them that my baby was 6 months old, although developing according to his corrected age he looked and acted like a 3 month old.  Next comes the dilemma; either explain that he was born premature and risk being asked often insensitive and upsetting questions or endure the inevitable developmental comparisons. I didn’t like the feeling I was making excuses for my baby – ‘he’s six months old, but really he’s only three months’ I would hear myself saying.

With the benefit of hindsight (and a bit of preemie mum strength), I might now tell those mums that my baby hadn’t quite mastered sitting independently yet, but what he had mastered in those six months was to teach himself to breath, to learn to co-ordinate sucking and swallowing, to regulate his own heartrate and that he trebled his birth weight – pretty impressive milestones I would say!

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Unless you’ve had a baby in neonatal care, or a close relative in that position, you have no reason to know about life in NICU, so I tried to brushed remarks like ‘I could never have left my baby alone in hospital’ or ‘is he normal now?’ aside, but they hurt and I felt alone.

Not only was it the mum and baby groups I began to avoid though, community health professionals, who I thought would be there to support me, also seemed to lack awareness. I lost count of the number of times I was asked if he was smiling yet. Each time I gave the same response – ‘he hasn’t reached his due date yet’! I was forever asking that his weight be plotted according to his corrected age and the six week check was laughable. I felt like putting a big sticker on the front of his read book saying “remember I’m a premature baby!” (Which is why, years later I developed the “Preemie Proud” Red Book stickers!)

I launched The Smallest Things blog two years ago, writing about my own experiences to raise awareness of premature birth and the challenges faced by families following neonatal care. This World Prematurity Month I will continue to write, as well as sharing guest blogs, about a journey that does not end at the hospital doors.

Raising Awareness really does help to make the Smallest Things matter – even if only to help with the dreaded “how old is your baby?” question!

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Don’t forget to follow The Smallest Things on our Facebook Page for all the latest stories and news for World Prematurity Month!

 

My Life as a NICU Mummy

Guest Post by Vicky Jackson, for World Prematurity Month 2016
I remember the day like it was yesterday. I got into bed at 2350, and I couldn’t actually believe this was happening, my waters had broke. I was 32 weeks pregnant.
I went into auto pilot, called the hospital and they said to come in ASAP. My husband and I ran around packing everything we thought we would need including size 2 nappies and car seat (we laugh about this now, not expecting to go hunting around Mothercare in the weeks to come for micro nappies).
On route to the hospital I remember googling about having a baby at 32 weeks and starting to panic. I felt like I had let everyone down especially my baby. I still do blame myself for my little boy arriving so soon. ‘Why couldn’t I carry till full term? I feel guilty he had to spend the first 3 weeks of his life in hospital when he should have been in my womb or at home with me.
When we got to the hospital I wasn’t having any contractions so they said they would give me a steroid injection now and one 12hrs later to help babies lungs mature. Boy did that hurt! And there was a possibility my waters would refill and I could be discharged home the next day, being monitored for the rest of my pregnancy. This made me a lot calmer.
But by 2pm it was another story. My contractions had started!
4pm came and it was time to push, I was scared ‘was my baby going to be ok?’ I had 10 doctors and nurses in the room with me to help my baby when he was born.

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1825 on Mother’s Day, Ethan was born at 4lbs 3, a good size for a 32 weeker. When I heard him cry it was the most amazing feeling ever, he is a fighter I just knew it.  They wrapped my baby up, I had just a quick glance and touch, then he was whisked off in an incubator. Daddy went with him. That was the hardest hour of my life as I couldn’t be with or see my baby.
After an hour I was able to go see my gorgeous boy. I was numb when I saw him, he had wires coming out of him and the beeps from the machines were so loud. Can he hear that? Will he be able to sleep with all that noise? All these thoughts and questions taking over my mind, I felt like I was in a bubble! All I wanted to do was pick him up, run and take him home! I felt lost and empty, my arms ached, I just wanted to hold my baby.
That next evening I was discharged.Leaving the hospital without your baby is the most unnatural thing to ever go through. It felt so wrong and so unbelievably painful. Every day I would get up early and get to the hospital as soon as I could. I would stay there all day.
My life as a NICU mummy was another world, in which I heard the same words daily – Hiflow, Loflow, long line, picline, CPAP, mummy have you expressed today? Making sure you had enough micro nappies,  endless trips to the expressing room,
washing your hands constantly until they were red raw, and wishing the consultant would say today’s the day you’re rooming in.
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Hours passing by I would sit there just looking at our strong gorgeous boy reading to him, singing to him, longing to hold him.  I never thought the first time I would hold my baby I’d be fighting the millions of wires, but that just became my life and the more I was getting Ethan in and out of his incubator the more I was becoming a pro!
We moved up to the ‘Nursery’ section in NICU after day 3 and the nurses like you to do your babies care while you’re there this includes nappy changes, mouth/eye care, temperature and feeds, getting you ready for going home.
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Our son was getting stronger and bigger by the day and eventually his tube came out and I could breastfeed him. He took to it like a pro. We roomed in for 2 days and he did amazing so they said we could go home. Those were the words we had longed for since the day he was born, but I was so scared to take him home. I even asked if I could take one of the machines with us and even looked at how much they were, those beeps were my life for 3 weeks.  Going home was the most amazing feeling ever!
Our son is doing amazing and is now 7 1/2 months and over 20lbs! He is a joy to be around and is meeting all expectations, we are so overly proud of him. I have met some amazing mummies from NICU and I know we will be life time friends as we have one thing in common.
Our sons are NICU graduates!
If you have a story to share like Vicky, please get in touch with Catriona e. smallestthings@yahoo.com

Through NICU: 2 becomes 5!

Jade’s triplets were born at 31 +6 by emergency c-section. Below is a poem she wrote to her babies telling them of their NICU story.

Kids before I’m thirty, is what I’d always said.

Kids before I’m thirty, was always in my head.

Lets just try to not try, and then who knows, we might.

Three weeks later pregnant like a bolt out of the night.

I remember waking up in bed, such pain all down one side.

Using Dr. Google left me scared so much I cried.

Seven weeks exactly we went for an early scan.

Sombre like a funeral home full of dreams not gone to plan.

In the room I shakily laid down upon the bed.

Thoughts of loving what I never had running through my head.

I held my breath, I clenched my fists, I kept my eyes low down.

The nurse went quiet all at once and wore a surly frown.

She turned the screen and pointed out three dots for me to see.

Three blinking lights, three little hearts beating inside of me.

I laughed, I cried, I was amazed, and Daddy turned to stone.

No longer would we ever be two people on our own.

“The pain”, she said, “is just your womb stretching out for size.

You need a lot of room in there for growing those little guys”.

And there we were, a family of five, full of wonder and of dread.

Who knew just growing you would leave me cooped up, trapped in bed.

I’m not going to lie to you and say it was all a dream.

Cooking up three buns in you is not as easy as it seems.

Mammy cried and Mammy tried to keep you safe and sound.

Growing day by day I was swollen, stretched and round.

Each little kick I felt from you was a miracle and a fright.

That I might not keep you safe inside was a worry every night.

There are no words to describe what we all went through.

The extra scans and hospital to put off meeting you.

And then far too early for us all water gushing out.

I gave a cry, a fearful gasp, and gave your Daddy a shout.

Dr said you were too early and they had no room,

to care for you three miracles who were coming far too soon.

Mammy taken all alone trying to hold on some more, 

to the Dr’s far away, by now my heart was full and sore.

Sore because I’d failed you and not kept you safe and tight.

Sore because I wasn’t ready for you to come this night.

I felt so guilty that I’d moaned at how my body ached.

That now you were all coming out my buns just partly baked.

But once again you amazed me and held on good and strong.

For three more days you stayed inside but I knew it wouldn’t be long.

My body hurt, my back was sore, nothing was quite right.

A few hours later, a little check, a head was full in sight.

To panic stations was where they went, and wheeled me to the room, 

where you would all be taken out for meeting all too soon.

The next part is not a part I remember very clear.

Too much blood and dropping stats and lots of gloom and fear.

I just recall being comfy and drifting quiet away.

Your Daddy trying to wake me, his memory to this day.

Twelve hours did they watch me and kept us all apart.

Daddy took your photos to hold close to my heart.

And then they wheeled me to you still strapped up in my bed.

To look at you through glass, so many tears I shed.

And that is where I met you, in NICU and in pain.

Knowing that my little life would never be the same.

So delicate and wrinkly, just like a little bird.

So small and perfect you all were, the first, the second, the third.

So many wires, so many beeps, so foreign to us all.

Too afraid to pick you up, scared you were so small.

Fed with a tube and not by breast but milk for you a must, 

Mammy expressing colostrum like actual golden dust. 

And one by one you began to breathe without any help at all, 

And every day became a waiting game for the transport call. 

One by one you were taken away to the Dr’s close to home, 

and once more I sat bereft, just a woman on her own. 

Finally I joined you out of glass and into beds, 

Still connected to the wires, tube fed and lots of meds. 

And so we struggled on and on the hardest time of life.

Leaving you every day alone, my heart hurt and full of strife. 

And finally at three weeks I learned what breastfeeding was all about, 

To hold you close to nurture you, so in love I had to shout. 

To shout about your wonder, shout about your strength, 

To shout about your courage, true fighters breadth and length. 

And eventually the day came when we could take you home, 

To start our new life together we’d never be alone. 

My three amigos, my little clan, my Musketeers so true, 

All for one and one for all, I’ll always be there for you. 

And even though we all came home it’s not plain sailing as they say

But I will be forever grateful every single day.

Grateful in the way you’ve changed me to my very core, 

Grateful that we made it with all that went before. 

I will never be the same, now I’ve met you three.

I never want to be the same, I want to be you plus me. 

And some days will be fantastic and some days we might all cry,

But I can promise you one thing, I will always try. 

I will always try to be the best I can for you, 

And some days I might mess it up and leave you feeling blue.

But I will always love you and keep you safe and sound, 

In a way I couldn’t do it when I carried you first time round. 

I will always try and smile when people point and stare, 

And teach you how to rise above and that you shouldn’t care. 

I worry about when you can understand the silly things they say, 

“Nightmare”, “trouble”, “chore”, “oh bless” a few times every day. 

But they will never understand just what we all went through,

Just to get you where we are a five, no more a two.

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The NICU Roller-Coaster

Jaxon was to be my third child. My precious two pregnancies and labours were as straight forward as can be. My midwife this time was encouraging me to have a home birth! I never felt quite right during this pregnancy, I was catching coughs and colds very easily and felt ill constantly. All Jaxons movements were very low compared to my last two pregnancies, but my midwife said it was “because your stomach muscles are not what they used to be”.

At exactly 24 weeks I had pains constantly all day – I even googled if it was too early for Brixton hicks! Then in the evening I started to bleed so my husband and I went to the hospital.

I was adamant that I was having a miscarriage and repeatedly kept apologising to my husband for losing our boy. The thought that he was trying to come early did not even enter my mind until the Dr said I needed steroid injections to boost the baby’s lungs before he arrived!

Over the next couple of days I remained in hospital; I continued to have pains that would come and go and I continued to bleed which would stop and start. On day 3 I was having much stronger pains which felt very much like strong contractions. By 8pm I literally had to beg for someone to examine me because at this point I was having strong pains every 15 minutes. At 10pm a doctor finally arrived and examined me, she couldn’t hide her shock – I was 6cm dilated. I was rushed to the delivery suite and was frantically worried, how was this happening?

A doctor from the NICU visited me and explained that my son had 40% chance of survival and that the hospital wasn’t equipped to care for 24 weekers. He said my son would be made stable and would then be sent to another hospital. As if someone flicked a switch, my contractions just stopped!

By 10am the next morning they had completely stopped and the doctors decided it would be best for the baby if I was transferred to another hospital before the birth… but the only hospital available was 60 miles away!

I didn’t care, I would go absolutely anywhere if it gave my baby a chance. Two hours after arriving in Sheffield Jaxon was born. He was taken straight to NICU. A couple of hours later we were allowed to visit him. I didn’t know what to expect but despite all the tubes and wires I could tell instantly that he looked like his big brother.

When Jaxon was only hours old we were called to speak to the doctor. Jaxon had suffered from a grade 4 and grade 3 bleed in his brain. He had not responded to treatment for over an hour and his stats were only in the sixties despite being on 100% ventilation. The doctor felt that Jaxon was not going to make it through the night and didn’t want him to die without us holding him. We were advised that the best thing for Jaxon would be to switch the machines off and spend time alone with him in the quiet room until he passed away. I will never forget the sound of my husband’s cries during this time. The most heart-breaking sound I have ever heard.

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We both wanted Jaxon christened before so we waited with Jaxon for the priest to arrive. I spent that time stroking his head, repeatedly begging him to make it saying “come on baby don’t give up”. My husband nudged me – Jaxons stats were rising!

I did not dare to hope. He was christened as planned and afterwards the medical team were amazed that he had started to respond and we were told that for now his machines would not be turned off.

The next few days involved a lot of discussions of what level of disability we would ‘accept’ as Jaxons bleeds were so severe. There was no question for me, this was my boy and if Jaxson surviving involved moulded wheelchairs and hoists I didn’t care. I just wanted my baby to survive.

He continued to improve slowly each day, but it was a long and slow journey. At 5 weeks old we were told that he had hydrocephalus as a result of the bleed and he would need a shunt inserted. The operation date was planned and involved Jaxon being transferred to a children’s hospital in Sheffield. On the day of the operation Jaxon reacted to the sedative used to transport him and the operation was cancelled as it was now too risky. Instead they removed the fluid manually and monitored his head circumference, all the time trying to delay surgery until he was stronger.

He remained ventilated till 8 weeks old and needed steroids to get him off the ventilator. It was like he was a different baby; in just 24 hours he went onto CPAP and then off CPAP and onto highflow. He was allowed the top off his incubator and was transferred into high dependency. We were told that he was now strong enough to be transferred to a hospital closer to home. I had spent the whole 8 weeks in Sheffield away from home – including Christmas.

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Jaxon was transferred to a hospital an hour from home where he remained for the next 8 weeks. His head circumference was slowly increasing yet they still felt he was not strong enough for surgery. His lungs were proving the biggest problem; we were told that we needed to get him onto low flow oxygen so he could have the surgery. His new doctor was not positive at all for Jaxon’s future. He told us that he would definitely have a severe disability; that he wouldn’t go to a mainstream school, that he wouldn’t be able to orally feed and that he had the worst case of chronic lung disease he’d ever seen.

The news hit me like a train.

Once I calmed my tears I took great pleasure in telling the doctor that Jaxon had in fact consumed 6 bottles within the last 24 hours!

At 37 weeks gestation he was finally able to be on low flow oxygen and three days before his due date he was transferred to another hospital for surgery.

We spent the next few days having tests and MRIs. His head circumference was growing very rapidly now and later that week he had a shunt inserted. Afterwards we were transferred back to his previous hospital while oxygen was arranged for going home.

At exactly 4 months old Jaxon came home!

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We were so happy to finally have him home; but he wasn’t quite right though. He was very grumpy and unsettled with his sleep and his feeds. I put it down to having his injections the day before, but 6 days later it became apparent what was truly wrong.

He developed a lump on his head where his shunt was, so I took him straight to our local A&E department. They told me they thought his shunt was either infected or broken and we were blue lighted back to the hospital where he’d had his shunt inserted.

The next few hours were more and more tests and we were told that Jaxons shunt was severely infected. He needed emergency surgery to remove the shunt and he would need two weeks of strong antibiotics via a long line before having a new shunt inserted.

I felt so angry – when was our poor boy going to be given a break from all of this!

He began having seizures and I was told it was due to the infection being so severe. It took a few days to find the right antibiotics to fight the infection but once they did Jaxon responded quickly. Two weeks later he had a new shunt and after another 4 days he was finally home again.

Over the 4 months since Jaxon has been home he has gone from strength to strength and he has been off home oxygen for the last three weeks! He is doing everything he should be doing for his corrected age and is such a happy, cheeky, little boy. His pediatrician and physiotherapist are delighted with his progress.

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There is no roller coaster like NICU, but ALWAYS believe in your baby; they are stronger than anyone could ever imagine!

Aimee Davis

Mumsnet 2016 Best Campaigner Award – Shortlisted!

I am thrilled and so very proud to announce that The Smallest Things have been shortlisted for the Mumsnet 2016 Best Campaigner Award!

It was a wonderful and very unexpected surprise when I received the notification yesterday evening; and it is a huge honour to be included alongside 5 other inspirational women who have all shared their own experiences to help others.

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The recognition of our campaign now is particularly timely – our PETITION to extend maternity leave for mothers of babies born too soon nears 20,000 signatures and it comes just days before the launch of our NEW  Smallest Things red book Preemie Proud stickers.

Although The Smallest Things, launched in September 2014, campaigns for better care for parents following a NICU stay and for extended maternity leave for parents of premature babies, our site also offers hope and support to parents.

“Your site helped me to understand what we had been through…..unless you have lived it, no one truly understands x”

“I had PND and even now 6 years down the track I panic when I hear a baby cry- I thought it might be PTSD but was unsure. Your article has helped me to know that I am not alone.”

Just been reading your blog & it’s so reassuring to know that a lot of the thoughts & feelings I had whilst baby was in special are common amongst prem baby mums! Hated my thought train at times but now know it’s not just me!”

The three finalists will be chosen through a public votes; so please, if you’d like to help make The Smallest Things matter, VOTE for The Smallest Things in the Best Campaigner category.  click here and VOTE NOW!

Why not share the link with your friends and family too?

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Small but Mighty!

Making a Difference!

Sometimes it really is the little things that can make a difference… and for the parents of premature babies we hope that our new “Preemie Proud” stickers will make a BIG difference.

Acting as a visible reminder, our Smallest Things Preemie Proud stickers are there to alert health care professionals to a babies NICU history. The support for the stickers has been amazing, with extremely positive feedback; and we offer our sincere thanks to all our Smallest Things mums who have contributed to their design.

Preemie Proud!

Used to personalise a baby’s red books, parents can choose from a series of stickers all of which are designed to meet the particular needs of NICU babies and their families.

Our “Preemie Proud” stickers are designed to –

  • Raise awareness of premature birth
  • Prompt a conversation between health professional and parent about their neonatal care journey
  • Engage health professionals in learning more about the realities of neonatal care
  • Highlight the extra support parents of premature babies may need
  • Increase awareness that parents following neonatal intensive care are at greater risk of developing postnatal depression, anxiety and PTSD
  • Offer a gentle reminder to use a babies corrected age when plotting their weight on a growth chart
  • … and to say how amazing our tiny babies are!

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Small but Mighty!

A sticker; it’s only a small and a simple idea, but it could make a dramatic difference to the lives of thousands NICU families.

Each year 80,000 babies are born requiring specialist neonatal care in the UK, with 20,000 of them spending a prolonged period in hospital…. and it is our aim that “Preemie Proud” sticker packs are available to each and every one of them.

Help make the Smallest Things matter!

It’s a big task, so we are excited to have begun our Crowdfunding drive, fundraising for the launch of the Preemie Proud sticker campaign.

If you would like to see Preemie Proud stickers available in all UK NICUs and to all parents of premature babies them please do consider donating a small sum to the campaign below.

images (1)http://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Smallest-Things

 

Life After NICU – 5 Years on

It’s been five years since my world turned upside down; five years since the shock and the uncertainty of neonatal intensive care.

The birth of my baby boy at just 30 weeks gestation happened quickly and with little warning. I was numb and the process felt surreal – it happened in a blur, yet I still remember those moments as if they were only yesterday.

My baby was whisked away to neonatal intensive. I had become a first time mum, but I had no baby to hold.

I went home later that evening, lost and empty, my baby left in the care of the neonatal staff.

Smallest Things

Like many parents, our journey through NICU was one of ups and downs; one step forward, two steps back. I quickly got into the routine of the unit, visiting each day and attending to cares where I could. I had a baby, but I did not feel like a mum.

 

Five years on – I am happy to say I feel like a mum!

This didn’t happen overnight though; it can take a long time to recover from the trauma of NICU, time to put the fears and worries behind you and precious time needed to bond.

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At home I felt so alone in my feelings of grief, loss, jealousy and anger. There was a place on my chest that ached, where I longing to have had my baby placed straight after birth. A special place where he should have laid his head and where I should have held him tight.

I was alone in my feelings of sadness and worry. I couldn’t relate to the stories or day-to-day concerns of other new mothers who I met.

And most of all… I dreaded the question – “How old is your baby?”

 

Five years on, the memories of NICU are still there;

I think that they will always be….

….but over time they have faded and don’t seem quite so raw now.

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We have made so many more memories together as a family and knowing that my feelings following NICU are shared by others who have experienced the same journey has helped me enormously.

I no longer feel alone in the feelings of grief and loss, feelings that I felt so acutely after coming home. I know now that those feelings were entirely normal and am thankful to all the mothers who have gone before me and who have shared stories of their own.

Five years on, yes the worry and uncertainty continues… but those emotions are manageable now, becoming part of our every-day life rather than ruling it. Yes, I worry about coughs and colds, the ones that have landed us back in hospital, but I try to take a pragmatic approach, we have got through it before, we have been through worse, and we’ll get through it again.

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Five years on I have an amazing little boy who has been making me proud since day one.

His strength and determination has always been an inspiration to me and as I watch him grow and develop the days of NICU seem further and further behind us.

 

download  If you believe that mothers & premature babies need more time together after neonatal intensive care please take a look at our PETITION to extend maternity leave for mothers of babies born too soon  – https://goo.gl/KeLrVv

Premmie Mum: Things I Want you to Know

Preemie mum, there’s a lot I could tell you; so much I’d like you to know.

I’ve been there, a NICU mum; sat in a state of shock beside the incubator. So I know that the last thing you need is more information or ‘helpful’ advice when all you really want is answers…

Why did this happen? What could I have done? When will I hold my baby? Will my milk come in? Am in pumping enough? Will I bring my baby home? When will my baby leave hospital? Will they be okay?

Smallest Things

These  are the questions that fill your mind as you get to grips with the world of neonatal care, and as much as I’d like to, I simply cannot answer the most important ones and sadly the answers to some of those questions are never known.

What I can tell you though (and believe me when I say it’s just as important) is this –

  1. Take time to notice the little things; with emotions running high you can miss precious moments. Remember the feel of your babies hand as they grip your finger tightly or the shape of their tiny features.
  2. You are not alone. There is a community of parents who have been before you and will be ready to support and advise. Wonderful staff will help you through the most difficult days and your baby will become your strength.
  3. We are ALL mothers. To those who have lost babies we will always remember them and say their name.
  4. Please let others know how you’re feeling. It can be scary to share your emotions, but by letting friends and family know your thoughts they can empathise and better support you.
  5. Ask for practical help. People may ask ‘what can I do to help’ and you may like to share our top ten list of ways to help prem parents in hospital.
  6. Mum knows best. Yes, it’s true! You know your baby better than anyone. Never forget that or be afraid to speak up.
  7. Take time to rest. Yes, I know! It’s easier said than done, but really it is so important for both you and baby.
  8. Be preemie proud! Oh so proud! You will see your baby accomplish things that most parents will never experience. Your baby is learning to breath, learning to co-ordinate their suck reflex and is developing right in front of your eyes. How amazing is that?!beautiful
  9. Preemie mum, know this – you are amazing!
  10. Preemie mum, remember this – you are doing great x

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If you believe that mothers & premature babies need more time together after neonatal intensive care please take a look at our PETITION to extend maternity leave for mothers of babies born too soon  – https://goo.gl/KeLrVv

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Launching! Recognising the Mental Health needs of NICU parents

images (1)And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in”.

Haruki Murakami

Parents shouldn’t have to weather the NICU storm alone. Yet we know, after discharge from hospital, many of them do.

That is why The Smallest Things is launching a new mental health campaign, addressing directly the lack of understanding among primary healthcare professionals of the mental health needs of parents after premature birth.

Having a baby in neonatal care can test you to your very limits. The uncertainty, the shock; the highs and the lows.

As your body recovers from the physical realities of birth, your mind tries to piece together the medical world that surrounds you. People would often ask how I managed to get through our time in Neonatal Intensive Care; “You must have been so strong”, people would say, “You must have been so brave”. The truth is I was neither of these things. Like thousands of parents, I simply had no other choice.

Lost in a sea of emotions, the rituals of NICU soon took over. Expressing, traveling, incubator nappy changes, kangaroo care and hours and hours of watching and waiting. Your life becomes neonatal care and in the agony of leaving my baby each day I would turn to the advice of Piglet and Pooh – “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” AA Milne.

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The sun was shining on the day we left the hospital and I still remember the feelings of relief and hope for the future. The days of NICU would soon become a distant memory – or so I thought.

I quickly came to realise that our journey as prem parents had only just begun, only now the safety net of the neonatal unit and of other NICU parents who ‘got it’ had gone.

Questions about how I’d had made it through NICU became redundant – I’d made it this far because I had to. But I was still battling; just about holding on, trying to make sense of all that had happened. Rather than well-meaning comments from my health visitor such as “I bet you’re glad you’re home” and “it must have been difficult” (as well as other ill-informed comments about expressing, breast feeding and corrected ages), I was crying out for someone who understood. Someone who knew and would tell me that the overwhelming emotions of grief, loss, guilt and jealously, the anger, the anxiety and worry were completely normal for a NICU mum.

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The support for parents following neonatal intensive care is limited and The Smallest Things have received countess examples of where primary health care professionals such as GP’s and health visitors simply do not understand the needs of premature babies and their families. And yet, we know that more than 40% of mothers go onto experience post-natal depression following NICU, and that more than 50% show signs of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. More must be done.

In launching our new mental health campaign, The Smallest Things will call for GP’s and Health Visitors to be trained to recognise and support the needs of parents following neonatal care. Will you help to raise awareness too?

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SIGN NOW! https://www.change.org/p/the-nursing-and-midwifery-council-gps-and-health-visitors-please-recognise-the-mental-health-needs-of-nicu-parents?recruiter=83525408&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=share_email_responsive

A POEM – To all Those NICU First Time Dads

A POEM – To all those NICU first time dads

By Samuel Wilson

 

To all those NICU first time dads,

Your journey will be tough

You’ll cry and laugh and probably yell

‘why can’t I wake up from this hell?’

This nightmare I feel trapped inside…

This fear filled incubated ride.

 

Where life and death lock horns each day

Where you dread the words consultants say

Yet yearn to hear, you need to try

To understand, to reconcile.

‘Why her? Why him? Why us…WHY ME?

Why can’t this nightmare cease to be?’

Yet…

 

Despite the bleeping sounds and lights

Where fluorescent bulbs merge days and nights

In spite of vital readings dropping

And pale blue lips and small hearts stopping.

 

Even with the daily resuscitations

And crash teams sprinting from nurses stations

 

Even with the phototherapy and scans

And long lines, CPAP, feeding plans Through NG, NJ tubes so frail,

 

This tiny girl, her skin so pale

 

And hydrocephalus and drains

From in her spine to ease her pains

Of swelling brains, please stop…no more.

Those words: IVH Grade 4

 

To all those NICU first time dads:

 

Despite this, all of this you’ll smile

And find the strength to reconcile

Those darkest times with future hopes

Of climbing frames and skipping ropes

And realise that markers change

And joyous moments mean so much more,

Where cooing smiles and kicking limbs

Mean more than they ever would before.

 

She fought so hard

To be with you:

Shouldn’t you show the same fight too?

 

Dig deep and go the extra length

And find the will and find the strength

To show the care and love they crave

They’ve already shown how to be brave

 

Consider how your wife has been,

And how she’s fed and nursed and cleaned

Your little child through day and night

And pushed through fear and hurt and fright

 

Take courage from each other here

And share a laugh and share a tear

And soon perhaps just share a beer

And take a trip out to Ikea

And do those normal things each year

That new dads do without the fear

As the pain will pass, it fades away,

With every hour, with every day

Just the wonder of your child will stay.

 

Be strong, for both your child & wife

Enjoy your special, wondrous life.

 

Copyright 2016

Samuel Wilson

 

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Neonatal Intensive Care: A Fathers Journey

My little boy Cameron had to be delivered nearly 2 months early; he had fluid around his lungs and his movements had reduced. We would later come to know he had hydrops fetalis, a life threatening condition.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked into the obstetric theatre, our daughter Beth had been born naturally and was full term and healthy. As well as the usual theatre staff there was a team of 7 from neonatal waiting to look after our boy. The theatre staff were great at keeping us calm and talking us through everything, but I will never forget the deafening silence when Cameron was born. There was no first cry, no tears of joy, no hugs or pictures, just a busy team working to save our son.

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I remember my wife Laura asking me if I could see him, but all I could see through a sea of scrubs was a cracking set of black sideburns – just like his dad!
Cameron couldn’t inflate his lungs so it took them a long time to stabilise him. He was intubated and had chest drains inserted, Laura was ready to go to recovery before Cameron was stable enough to move to NICU.

Walking into NICU that evening was terrifying. Cameron had tubes and wires covering every part of his tiny little body and his alarms were going off continually. The doctors were blunt in that many babies like Cameron don’t make it; he had no figures on survival rates, only that the coming days and weeks would be critical in seeing Cameron respond to treatment and see if the fluid reduced.

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The next day we introduced him to his big sister, it was a hard decision to make, he was so very ill but Beth had been so excited throughout the pregnancy, she needed to meet her brother. I underestimated how difficult it would be, it hit home how sick he was when I took her in. She gave him a little cuddly hedgehog and asked some questions, she took it all in but I struggled to hold it together. She would however become a regular visitor, reading her brother stories, singing him songs and using up all the hand gel! She was a complete ray of sunshine, she said it like it was and easily saw past all the medical equipment.

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I googled hydrops one day for more information, it was very grim reading and I was too scared to google it again so I started googling medical equipment and downloading the manuals, I needed to get a grasp of how they worked. I would take pictures of his ventilator setting every day and became obsessed with his fluid balance and chest drains!

Cameron had so many doctors looking after him, I was desperate for him to get the best care that I took to google again, this time googling his doctors to find out their specialities and expertise! Something that sticks in my mind is one particular doctor who we respected very much, (she saved his life one week!) telling us that Cameron had a fighting spirit in him, that he was most definitely here because he wanted to be. She was so right, Cameron went on to prove this in subsequent admissions to hospital.

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I can honestly say that I learned the true meaning of heartache in NICU. It is a pressure cooker of emotions, complete exhaustion and a constant battle to hold it together when you’re on the verge of completely losing it. But it’s not just about your own baby; you feel the pain of the other parents too. There was a baby next to Cameron that had become really unwell. I didn’t know his parents well but we had shared some chats while sitting by the incubators together. I gave his dad a hug that night and he told me that all they could do now was pray. I’m not religious but I told him that I’d say a prayer for him too. My heart sank the next morning when we saw an empty space where his incubator had been. I think I cried that whole day and night; it brought it home how fragile life is. I still think about that little boy and his family frequently.
I am thankful however for the other parents in the family room, they became such a support, family and friends struggled to understand what we were going through, these people got it without words even being spoken, they were on the rollercoaster too. There was always a chat and a laugh to be had no matter how rough a day you were having, it cheered my days up no end. We still keep in touch with many of the other parents and it’s great to see how our babies are getting on, especially as they all approach their first birthdays.

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I can’t describe the feeling of finally moving upstairs to SCBU. We knew that the next step would be home and we finally felt like parents to Cameron, able to hold him without having to ask, change him and dress him whenever we wanted to and most importantly just able to enjoy him. He was going to be okay, we were soon going to be able to take our boy home!!
Cameron has various health problems and requires future surgeries but he is the happiest wee guy around. He has taught us what life is all about and our family is definitely a much happier, kinder and thankful one for having Cameron in our world.

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With special thanks to NICU dad – Jason Smith, for sharing his journey through neonatal intensive care with The Smallest Things.

If you have a story to share, please contact Catriona at e. smallestthings@yahoo.com

More time for mums and their premature babies

It’s quite simple really, when your baby is born prematurely you miss out on weeks, often months of maternity leave.

Thousands of people have now signed to extend maternity leave for mothers of babies born too soon and this is what we are asking the government to do….

When my first son was born ten weeks early, I had no idea that maternity leave would begin the very next day, months before we would bring him home. Born too soon, the reality of life in neonatal care is very different from what a mother would usually expect from the early days of maternity leave. Lines, monitors, life support machines and recovery from what is often a traumatic birth. Mothers wait days, if not weeks to hold their babies for the first time and face the agonising journey home without their baby each day. The very real cost of premature birth is not only measured in terms of financial pressures placed on families, most recent studies suggest in excess of £2,000 for an average NICU stay, but also upon the long term health implications for the mother, her ability to return to work and her babies development. Extending statutory maternity leave and pay would give mothers the emotional and financial support needed at a time of great stress and trauma – in turn leading to better postnatal health, a more positive return to work and better outcomes for babies development. We call on the Rt Hon Savijd Javid MP and colleagues at the department for Business, Innovation and Skills to recognise the significant and unique needs of families with children born prematurely and to extend statutory leave accordingly.

Not yet signed the petition to give mums more time with their premature babies – SIGN NOW! 

An incubator holds my baby

An incubator holds my baby; a baby I am no longer with.

I long to feel just one more kick, to feel and see my belly move one last time.

I promise I won’t complain about my aching back, the tiny feet that push at my rib cage or the baby that bounces on my ever weakening bladder. 

I miss my baby; I miss my baby bump.

An incubator holds my baby; a baby I am no longer with.

Inside I feel so empty and outside I feel numb.

I do not recognise this person the NICU nurses are calling ‘mum’.

Through the incubator, I’m almost too scared to touch, my tiny little person who has arrived here far too soon.

My baby isn’t ready, in fact nor am I! And now he’s here, my heart breaks every time I say goodbye.

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An incubator holds my baby; the incubator that has taken my place…

and here I stand, desperate to shout – ‘it’s me, I should be the one keeping him safe’.

Inside I feel so empty and outside I feel numb.

I do not recognise this person the NICU nurses are calling ‘mum’

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Mothers of premature babies wait days, if not weeks to hold their baby for the first time. The uncertainty of neonatal care and the journey from birth to discharge home can last months – this is why the Smallest Things are campaigning for NICU mums to have more time with their babies.

If, like us, you think paid maternity leave should be extended for mothers of premature babies, please SIGN our PETITION!