Most people I know have never stepped foot in a neo natal intensive care unit. Up until September last year I had never spent much time in there (aside from visiting my three beautiful nieces who were born prematurely)
No one expects to meet their baby for the first time in that type of environment. Nothing can prepare you for it. The neo natal unit is a strange and scary place to be at first. It's filled with machines and tiny babies in incubators. Every baby is attached to a monitor and so there is an array of beeping 24 hours a day. Parents are camped out next to their babies just willing them to survive. Some of my most heart wrenching moments in the neo natal unit were watching other mums. Watching their hearts break before my eyes and knowing there was nothing I could do to help them other than to pray for their baby each day as much as I did mine.
Then in-between the baby's and the machines and the heartbroken parents there are lots of nurses in blue uniforms. Darting from incubator to incubator moving tubes and monitors. Changing drips, preparing medicines, holding up tube feeds, changing nappies and writing notes. It appears that these nurses are the medical life line to your baby. They know what every beep and every signal means. But what you actually learn is that they are so much more than that. They love each baby like it was their own. They handle them with care, they talk to them, they encourage them, they adjust their blankets and position them so that they are comfortable. They get to know them so well that they challenge the doctors if they think a wrong decision is being made or if they are making too many changes in one day.
If your baby is very sick then you will go home on your own and leave your baby in the unit. You are essentially leaving your newborn with strangers. It seems like it would be the hardest thing to do each day (and believe me it is) yet despite this you know when you walk out that door each evening that they are not only safe but loved.
I remember so clearly the moment one of the neonatal nurses saved me from a breakdown. It was Day 3 and Felix was still very poorly. Ben had gone home to see Marley and my parents had come in for support. At this point we still hadn't been able to get Felix out of his incubator because he was too unstable. He started to cry and all I could do was put my hands through the incubator and stroke him. As the minutes passed he became more and more distressed and his heart rate flew up. His neo natal nurse stood with me calmly watching his monitor an encouraged me
"talk to him, talk to him" "he needs to hear your voice" "he knows who you are" "you can still be his mum"
I begged her to make him stop. I told her I couldn't make him feel better but I knew she could. I didn't know what to do. I hadn't even held him, how could I be his mum? All I could see was the flashing monitor telling me his heart rate was too high. My mum and dad both left the room because they were too upset. By this time I was sobbing so hard I thought I might never stop. Whilst still begging her to help him she came up behind me and took my hands with hers. She placed my hands through the holes of his incubator and put them onto Felix. She pushed them down onto him and asked me to talk to him. Through my sobs I did what she said (I can't remember what I even said to him) and he slowly calmed down. Once he had settled she said that she thought it was time to arrange for him to come out for his first cuddle. By 8pm that night the arrangements had been made I had him in my arms. She made sure the room was quiet and she made sure the other nurses knew I was wobbly that day. I can see now that the cuddle wasn't arranged for Felix it was arranged for me. It was at that moment I realised that these nurses do not only keep our babies alive but they allow the broken parents to survive too.
Their job is so much more than we can imagine. They care for desperately sick babies and of course they do all of the medical things they were trained to do to keep them alive. But they also love the babies like their own and they support the parents too. They do all of this in a 12 hour shift and then they go home and love their own families, their own children. No doubt they cook, clean and face their own personal stresses just like we all do. Then they go back the next day and start it all again.
They are without a doubt angels and I'm so honoured to have met the neo natal Nurses at East Surrey hospital. They saved Felix's life and they showed me that in this world where there is so much negativity there are truly beautiful people that go above and beyond their calling.