Catriona Ogilvy, founder of The Smallest Things and mum of two sons who were born premature, knows first-hand how having a baby in neonatal care can impact a family. Here, she tells us about her campaign to extend parental leave for parents of premature babies, which Bliss is supporting. This story was also featured in Bliss' magazine, Little Bliss.
What inspired you to campaign for extended parental leave?
Both my sons, Samuel now aged five and Jack aged three, were born prematurely. Samuel spent eight weeks in neonatal care. I just couldn't understand how each day I spent sat beside his incubator whilst he was on a life support machine could be classed as my maternity leave.
When we finally came home my time with him had been cut short. His corrected age meant he was developmentally only five months old when he first went into a childcare. He was too young and I wasn't ready.
Why is it so important to you?
Bonding with a baby in neonatal care is incredibly difficult. It is an unnatural medical world of lines and wires, machines and monitors, and as a mother you can feel lost. Although any change now won't affect my own experience of premature birth, it is incredibly important to the thousands of families who experience premature birth every year. If I can make that change happen, meaning that babies born too soon have the time they need with their parents, it would be amazing!
What have you achieved so far?
The campaign has achieved so much, and has received overwhelming support since I started my petition in 2015.
The petition currently has over 127,000 signatures and this was presented to Margot James MP, who is responsible for parental leave, on 17 November 2016 (World Prematurity Day). Ms James agreed that we had a compelling argument and her department will now look into the possibility of bringing about this change.
My local MP Steve Reed, who visited the neonatal unit at Croydon with Bliss, introduced the Maternity and Paternity (Premature Birth) Bill in October 2016. And the campaign was debated by members of the Scottish Parliament in December 2016.
How does it feel to have such support for your campaign, including from the media?
The support has been amazing and at times I have been overwhelmed by how far it has reached. The media coverage across all the major news channels was more than I could ever have hoped for and really has helped to raise awareness of what is often a hidden world of neonatal care.
What will you do next?
Next we will focus on the neonatal journey that doesn't end when you leave the NICU doors, using the lasting impact of NICU to support our argument for extended leave.
For example, we know that mothers of premature babies are much more likely to experience post-natal depression, yet their needs are often overlooked. More time through extended leave would allow mums to recover, to seek the support they need, and most importantly to have that precious time to bond with their new baby before having to return to work.
How can people help?
The best chance of bringing about this change is if policy makers back the campaign. You can either write to your MP, or even better still, go along and visit them at one of their constituency meetings. Details of how to contact them should be on their local websites.
Follow the campaign and get involved at thesmallestthings.org/
The Government has pledged to develop new guidelines for employers on how they can support mothers of premature babies during their maternity leave. While Bliss welcomes this, we believe the government needs to go further to support parents who face extra financial and travel pressures, as well as losing time as home with their baby before they have to go back to work. We will continue to campaign for changes to maternity leave legislation that better supports parents of premature and sick babies.