“We need to get you into theatre as soon as possible”. My world started to become a surreal place at that moment. My baby was poorly and needed to be delivered NOW 10 whole weeks early. I was about to become a preemie parent.

“What have you eaten today?”

“What have you had to drink today?”

“Are you allergic to anything?”

“Strip! Jewellery off! Steroid injection, magnesium drip and catheter all going in ok?”

A game of 20 questions anyone? I got a quick fire round before going down to theatre. My son was delivered at 15.32 and I was allowed to see him for about a minute through an incubator before they whisked him away to work on stabilising him further. I was later taken up to see him at 21:50. In the time between delivery and me meeting my son I was being regularly checked by nurses and my mum and husband were there with me. I had plenty of time to think though and those nasty little negative thoughts kept niggling away. Why has this happened to me? Did I do something wrong?

Medical team walking down a corridor.  Photography credit: Luis Melendez
Medical team walking down a corridor.
Photography credit: Luis Melendez

Could I have done something differently?

In time I realised that it could have happened to anyone, I didn’t do anything wrong and of course I could have done something differently but in all likeliness it wouldn’t have given me a different outcome. This is just the start of the insecurities that crept into my mind.

The next set of insecurities up were: am I spending enough time with my son on the neonatal unit? Maybe I am there too much and annoying the team looking after him? Have I provided all the stuff he needs? Am I doing any of this right? Will I look stupid for asking that question? Are they getting sick of me crying every 2 minutes? I’m sick of me crying every 2 minutes!

A premature baby in his incubator
My little boy in his incubator

I quickly realised that the doctors and nurses had seemingly endless amounts of patience. I could ask them anything, no question was stupid (even though some I asked clearly were but my brain was too scrambled to realise it at the time!). They provided my son with everything he needed and let me know what I needed to start providing and when. I could spend as much time with my son as I wanted but they also encouraged rest and recovery.

Argh more insecurities

Round 3 ding ding! After a week I was allowed to get more hands on with my sons care needs such as changing his nappy, swapping the probe on his hand or foot, or tucking in his bedding while the nurse lifted him. Initially I was so nervous I was all fingers and thumbs! This was my first child and we haven’t had any babies in the family for a long time. I managed to knock off sensor pads that were stuck onto his skin, get wires all over the place and get my positioning all wrong in the incubator when changing his nappy making it really hard work – how did the nurses make it look so easy?!

Then the day came and we were allowed to clothe him, we didn’t have any!!! The hospital did and they were specially designed to accommodate all the wires coming from his little body. My thoughts though were that the staff and other parents must be thinking “that poor child, his mother hasn’t a clue!” In reality they weren’t thinking that at all, they were thinking: she’ll get it in a minute or I’m glad I’m not the only one that made that mistake!

You and your parenting skills are very much on display in the Neonatal Unit and I felt these insecurities all the time, looking back I realise I wasn’t being judged at all but it felt like it at the time. The only person judging me was me and I am a really harsh critic of myself it turns out!

Time to go home!

It doesn’t stop when you go home either. You’re so excited to hear the words that you can go home, you rush off to gather your belongings, whip the car seat out and tell loved ones this amazing news! In reality it takes ages to gather up all the medication and go through the discharge procedure. But finally you are home and you carry on with the routine the hospital has set. Suddenly your baby does something unfamiliar to you and you are in a panic, the big support network you had is no longer there, what do I do? Can I cope? What if I get it wrong? Below is Neil’s first day home:

A three month old premature baby in a baby bouncer
Home at last

Then friends and family want to come and visit. You are home so baby must be well, right? Erm… no! Visitors that came to see my son were still told to not come if they had a sniffle, to wash and sanitise their hands before touching him and to remove outdoor clothing. Most of our friends and family waited until invited to come and meet him and we were really grateful for this. The more people your little one comes into contact with the more likely they are to pick up germs. Germs are just another insecurity and something that baby will need to be exposed to but it’s one of the few things a preemie parent can try and have a little bit of control over.

My top tips for friends and family of preemie parents are:

  • Wait to be invited to meet baby and don’t be offended if they ask you to wait.
  • A preemie parent may have a lot of insecurities that you want to tease them about because they seem so far-fetched – try to be understanding of these. Some they will come to realise they are being over the top other things are the only way they know to work in protecting their baby.
  • Be patient! I am not saying you have to be on the same level of patience as the doctors and nurses but I am saying expect insecurities to be around for a while.
  • Lastly if a preemie parent shares their insecurities with you don’t judge. Be supportive and listen.