Our daughter's first Christmas was in NICU - Clare's story

Clare tells the story of her daughter Savannah's first Christmas, which was spent in NICU. They made the most of a difficult situation and her husband even dressed up as Santa and had pictures with the babies on the ward.

We never in a million years thought that we would be spending our baby's first Christmas in NICU.

Our daughter Savannah was born at 28 at weeks, weighing 620g. She was born in Birmingham, however, we were previously sent to Liverpool Women’s Hospital, due to there being no Level 3 beds in the Midlands.

Luckily for us, a bed became available at the last minute in Birmingham Women’s Hospital, and that was where our baby girl was delivered by emergency C section. She was then transferred to New Cross Hospital for two and half weeks, then back to our originally booked hospital for a further 9 weeks. It was at this hospital that we spent our first Christmas with our daughter.

In the lead up to Christmas, all I kept thinking about was how it would be our daughter's first Christmas and that she wouldn’t be able to see Santa. That broke me in two. I kept thinking how this should not be happening and how she should not have been born in 2016, it should have been 2017.

Then I was thinking about not getting presents for loved ones and how I was going to manage being at the hospitals with our baby, day in and day out, for as many hours that I could physically do. If I could, I would have been with my daughter for 24 hours a day.

It crushed me every night I left my baby girl. I would repeat a motto to her that even today I repeat: “us girls, we fight together and we stick together, girl power” and that is exactly what our little girl did. She overcame so much whilst being in NICU.

I will always remember when staff allowed a brass band onto the unit and they played Silent Night for the parents and staff. There was not a dry eye on the unit that day. This was followed by receiving a card from our baby, where staff had painted her feet and created a holly wreath.

A lovely dear nurse who became very special to us said to me: “you can either accept something you can’t change and make the most of the time and make it special, or we can be sad”.

Of course, we made it special and we brought our daughter's first Christmas dress to wear on the day. We decorated the outside of her incubator with decorations (only ones we were allowed to use) and myself and the nurses on the unit convinced my husband to dress up as Santa.

We decided that we would go back to the hospital on Christmas Eve night and see Christmas in with our daughter, and then return later in the morning. It was so magical seeing all the lights twinkling and our daughter, Savannah, had already been dressed in her Christmas outfit ready for when we arrived. It was so lovely and so peaceful.

We were allowed to sit with our daughter and hold her hand as the clock struck 12am and Christmas had arrived. In true style that is our daughter, she was wide awake waiting for Santa (that is something that hasn’t changed!)

We said our goodbyes to our baby and went home feeling very sad. I didn’t even have it in my heart to open up my presents. It was if a part of me was missing and I did not feel complete when I was not with my daughter. That is still the case, even though she is now a healthy four year old.

When we returned to the hospital later that morning, we were overcome with emotion, as there was a gift bag and a stocking waiting to be opened and we were informed that past parents have donated gifts for other parents.

This was truly amazing and I felt very humbled to receive some lovely gifts for both myself, my daughter and my husband. This is a very lasting memory for me and very close to my heart.

Then of course, 'Santa' (AKA my husband!) arrived on the unit and my baby was able to have her first picture with Santa. This was amazing: she glanced up at Santa and I snapped the perfect picture. ‘Santa’ was of course asked to stand by other incubators to have his photo taken for other families to share the memory and then had a picture with all staff as well. We were happy that we could make the day that little bit extra for the families on the unit. I know it made our day.

The following day, we received a bigger surprise as we walked in: our little girl had been moved into a cot by her ‘special’ nurse. We got to hold our daughter tight to us and she was safe.

To sum it all up, and if I could give any advice to other parents, it's to never give up. Yes, you feel like you’re on a roller coaster, but eventually the ride will stop. If you have a baby on the neonatal unit, cherish that time, make the most of a difficult situation and make it special in anyway you can.