Catriona Ogilvy of The Smallest Things is one of three speakers who will be leading our session on Parenting Under Pressure. The session is part of our conference in October which aims to explore expectations and evidence around the early days with baby. “Growing Families: Facts, Fiction and Other Stuff” is a not-for-profit event, and you can read more about the aims and organisers here. The conference is taking place in Manchester on Thursday 6th October – please click here to book your place or join our Facebook event to register your interest.
In this post, Catriona explores what it is like learning to be a mother on NICU.
When you are expecting your first baby you begin to imagine how your life might be; you think about holding your baby for the first time, dressing them in their babygrow, caring for them and nurturing them. You think about introducing them to the wider family, of the celebrations you will have and of the new ‘mummy’ friends you will make.
Sometimes though, things don’t always go to plan.
When a baby is born with complications, or like my first son, born prematurely, everything you had imagined and dreamed of is shattered in a matter of moments. The moment I gave birth to my tiny son he was whisked away. He was resuscitated on a table beside me for over six minutes as my husband was torn between caring for me and helplessly looking over at the medical team desperately trying to ventilate and stabilise our baby.
I had become a mother for the first time, yet I did not have a baby in my arms. Arriving 10 weeks early with little warning I was in shock.
We had landed in the world of neonatal intensive care; a world of medical devises and babies housed in perspex boxes. This would be parenting under pressure!
I remember leaving my baby for the first time. He was only a few hours old. I held his tiny fingers through the incubator portholes and whispered ‘see you soon’. That night I climbed into bed at home and an overwhelming sense of emptiness consumed me. I was numb and grieving for the baby who I had left behind.
He was in the care of an exceptional medical team and wonderful nurses cared for him 24 hours a day as if he were their own. Their kindness made leaving him a little more bearable each day, but behind the safety and warmth of his incubator I was a mother, but he was not really mine.
For weeks I would ask permission to hold him; on occasions I would be told I was holding him too much. Nappy changes were done on a strict timetable and feeding was scheduled around charts and numbers. The unit where he slept was behind security doors and rigorous hand washing became the norm. Hours were spent beside his incubator, yet I was not able to do those seemingly basic mummy tasks of cuddling, consoling, feeding, bathing and dressing him. I cared for him as best I knew, but he did not feel like mine and I did not feel like a mother.
I still remember the nurse who helped me to be a mum in NICU. She not only showed me how to change a tiny nappy, she understood how nervous I was. She got how scary it was to move your babies stick thin limbs, and how the sound of alarms and buzzers terrified me as I contend with tangle of wires and tubes.
I remember the nurse who asked if I’d like to dress my baby for the first time; how she helped me to manoeuvre him limbs and lines into tiny sleeves. He started to look like my baby, dressed in an outfit I had chosen.
Parenting under pressure? NICU takes parenting to the very edge of extreme!
But, it is a NICU nurse who can give you hope. A NICU nurse who can provide reassurance. And a NICU nurse who can meaning in a world that at times can seem so empty.
Finally, when parenting under pressure it is a NICU nurse who can help you to be the most important person to your baby – mum.