Nisha, her husband Roy, and their two year old daughter Sayuri were excitedly awaiting the birth of baby girl Sienna when Nisha went into unexpected labour at 32 weeks. Nisha told us about the struggle of having one baby in hospital and another at home in a story originally shared in our free magazine for families, Little Bliss.
"Sienna was very eager to come into the world at 32 weeks. She spent a month in hospital and soon we were facing a predicament which we never thought we would be in. How can we spend quality time with each child in two different places? The obvious choice is to spend time with the baby who needs the most care. Physically it was Sienna, but emotionally it was Sayuri," says Nisha.
When Nisha went into labour she and Roy left Sayuri with a trusted neighbour but Nisha says this rocked her sense of stability as she had never been left alone before. "Our neighbours later told us that she refused to take her jacket off, staring at the window constantly asking where Mama and Papa went."
After Sienna was born Roy went back to work and Nisha settled into a hospital routine spending the day with Sayuri and going straight to the hospital to see Sienna once Roy came home.
"We took this in turns as Sayuri was quite disruptive within the ward. Issues started to arise as I didn’t have much time for kangaroo care or to establish breastfeeding. I would look over at the women who had spent all day with their children, nursing them, bathing them and holding them close to their chest. I was so jealous.
"We didn’t have any friends or family near so our hands were tied with the amount of time we spent with Sienna. From 5-8pm my husband and I would take hourly shifts but this also included expressing time so during the week I only spent a little over an hour with Sienna. My husband took to our situation with a direct approach and created a timetable. We couldn’t stretch time and we couldn’t ignore Sayuri either. It made us both so upset."
Nisha said leaving Sienna at the hospital every night was like someone kicking her in the stomach but that she needed to create a sense of routine at home for Sayuri. She looked forward to the weekends when she could spend time with Sienna but Roy took the lead in her first bath, tube feeds and cares – Nisha was still in shock from all that had happened.
“I think lots of mums of a premature babies blame themselves for how early their child is born. It already feels like you’ve let them down before they have reached your arms. My first blubbering words to Sienna were “I’m so sorry.” My heart sank looking at her in her incubator with all the wires and tubes attached, foam seeping out of her mouth whilst she struggled to breath.
"Simultaneously, I felt I had failed Sayuri by damaging her sense of safety. She would literally scream down the hospital hallways when I left to spend time with Sienna. So eventually, I just started to take her with me, but any parent knows keeping a two year old quiet and their hands to themselves is impossible.
"We kept positive for Sayuri and tried to develop her relationship with Sienna by encouraging her to hold her sister’s hand and to talk to her. I’ll never forget the day we all laughed when Sayuri very loudly greeted Sienna with 'Hello gorgeous!'"
Nisha says that having to decide how to split her time between Sienna and Sayuri wasn’t something she was prepared for but that the neonatal staff helped enormously by being patient with Sayuri. "Nothing can prepare you for effectively choosing between your children’s needs, but looking back I wish I would have been more vocal about asking for help."
Today, Sayuri and Sienna are doing incredibly well and Nisha says they have an amazing sisterly bond. Nisha is hoping Sienna can attend the same nursery as her sister so that they can continue their journey together.
Bliss has a series of videos about life on a neonatal unit which can help children to understand the environment. You can also find information about siblings in The Bliss Family Handbook and Your Special Care Baby, which can both be ordered from our shop.
Bliss is supporting the work of Lynne Wainwright, a researcher who is looking at how children are affected by their sibling's admission to hospital. Bliss is sourcing families to take part in the research to identify whether a supportive intervention is needed for siblings, and to better understand how to effectively support the whole family.