Alex Wright is a Bliss volunteer on a neonatal unit. In this interview she tells us more about what she does, and why being a Bliss Champion is so important to her.
Bliss Champions are people who volunteer for Bliss on the neonatal unit. They provide vital information and emotional support to families with premature and sick babies on the unit.
Our son, Luke, was born at 31 weeks back in 2010. Although I was aware of Bliss and had been given a Bliss goody bag with some information leaflets at the time, there was no ‘human’ Bliss presence and it never occurred to me to reach out to the helpline for support.
Fast-forward several years and a baby sister later (a heavily monitored pregnancy but ultimately a SCBU-free arrival!), my thoughts returned to my experience with Luke. Scarlett’s arrival made me realise how challenging it had been.
A few friends and acquaintances had reached out to me when they had babies in neonatal care and I found myself being able to give them information and emotional support. More surprisingly, I found myself enjoying it. It was at this point that I started to wonder whether there might be a way of doing this for all sorts of people.
My dad has spent the last 36 years telling me that ‘no experience in life is ever wasted’ and I now realised how right he was! Luke’s arrival may have been a surreal, frightening nightmare, but in many ways I cherish it.
Chats with friends and some Facebook research led me back to Bliss and the revelation that my local hospital now had Bliss volunteers on the unit. At that point, the decision was made and the rest is history…
The national presence was key - I knew that by volunteering for a national charity I would have sufficient support and the training to offer support in the right way.
The range of activities that Bliss is involved in was also a significant factor. The fact that our local volunteers not only operated on the unit, but that there was also a family group in the area was important to me. Bliss’ acknowledgement of this being a ‘journey’ and providing or signposting to continued support for families beyond the doors of the unit is really important to me.
All I ever hope to achieve with a family is to make a time that is, frankly rubbish, just a bit less rubbish. I know there is nothing I can do to make things better. I can’t solve their problems but I can help them through that situation - whether it’s through signposting, coping strategies or simply being someone who will just listen to them.
Volunteering allows me to be someone who ‘gets it’, someone who parents feel safe and comfortable talking with. I’m not medically-trained - I am simply a neutral third party who can offer emotional support and information. Families get oodles of emotional and practical support from nursing staff but occasionally they need someone different. Bliss volunteers are able to work hand-in-hand with the nursing team and respect the boundaries of each other’s roles.
Bliss volunteers aim to help families feel less intimidated by the neonatal world. As a volunteer, I always want to give families the support and confidence to feel comfortable on the unit and involved in their baby’s care.
[For those babies who do leave the unit] our continued involvement with their families is really important. We make a difference and give them a place to celebrate their experience and how far they have come.
Families open up about expressing concerns and I’m able to signpost to information that can help accordingly. Simply putting their mind at ease that information and support is there can be a huge benefit.
Other families have thanked us for the donated books we have on the unit which allow them to read to their babies. Our focus is not about what parents can’t do, but what they CAN do. The reading scheme has fostered bonding and relationships, particularly for siblings and partners.
When Luke was born, friends, family and the nursing team were brilliant at providing support, but I do wonder how things would have been different, had I crossed paths with a trained Bliss volunteer on the unit. I never would have had the nerve to actively seek out help for myself at the time.
Seeking support requires an acceptance of the fact that you need it - this can be the biggest hurdle to overcome. When a baby is in special care you often prioritise everything ahead of what’s going on in your own head. You might believe that your reactions and emotions are medical, hormonal or from lack of sleep, so you tend to ignore them and just focus on getting through it. Having a Bliss volunteer on the unit allows a family to receive support without having to overcome that first barrier of accepting that they might need help.
It has changed my life enormously! To say it has given me happiness sounds over the top but it genuinely has. At times it feels like it has snowballed, but I don’t know what I did before Bliss! I genuinely look forward to my unit visits, family group sessions and events. I just always want to do the best for our families. I know that what I do actually makes a difference to people at a challenging time in their lives.
On top of that, the work I do with Bliss fulfils me in a different way to my paid job as an office manager. Once you become a parent it’s difficult to find a job that allows both flexibility for your family life and fulfilment outside of the home. It’s a very important part of my identity to have a life outside of the family home - my Bliss role very much helps me to do that.
One of the biggest moments for me was seeing one of the families I had supported on the unit come along to a family group once they’d been discharged. It was a proper lump in the throat moment and one that I’ll always cherish. Moments like those make you feel like you’ve done something right!
There have undoubtedly been highs, lows and some big challenges over the last twelve months or so. An unexpected bonus has been the fact that the Bliss training crosses into many aspects of my life. I’ve felt better able to support friends going through a difficult time simply by following some of the principles of the training.
I’ve also made some lovely friendships along the way, with the support team at Bliss, as well as fellow volunteers in the area and the nursing team. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of knowing that the nursing team have come to respect and appreciate what you do for them. We seem to have a mutual goal and work well together to try and achieve it.
To find out more about Bliss Champions, and how to become one, visit our volunteering pages.
Find out about our appeal to double the number of volunteers in units.