A grandparent on the neonatal unit – Josie’s story

What's it like to be a grandmother on the neonatal unit? Josie shares what it is like to be a grandparent of a premature baby.

I am a proud Nan to eight grandchildren with another one on the way. I feel so lucky to have all of these amazing grandchildren who are special in their own little ways.

My first experience of the neonatal unit was when my grandson Charlie was four-days-old and was taken in for 24 hours as they thought he had meningitis.

This was hard for me as I had never experienced anything like this before and was so worried for him. I also worried for my daughter who had to leave Charlie with the staff as they performed a lumbar puncture. Luckily, he was absolutely fine and was sent home the day after with what they thought to be a viral infection.

A few months later we found out that one of my other daughters, Donna, was pregnant after having four miscarriages.

Donna had a very difficult pregnancy from the beginning and her waters broke at just 17 weeks. I got the phone call from my sister and I rushed straight round to her house to go with Donna to the hospital.

I was devastated when the doctor confirmed that her waters had definitely ruptured and that the baby would not survive. It was explained to Donna that she could either continue her pregnancy and go into labor herself or they could start it for her.

I waited and waited in the hospital while they organised to take Donna for a scan to check if the baby had a heartbeat. When she came back she looked happy but scared at the same time. The baby still had a heartbeat and so Donna and her husband decided to let the pregnancy continue. They were also told that the baby may not have any kidneys and that she would need to go for a medical scan.

Over the next few weeks Donna attended day care twice a week for scans and blood tests. I knew I couldn’t do much for her at this point in time except support her in any way she needed. Feeling so powerless, I sat by her side at almost every appointment, held her hand and did the best I could to support her.

Donna managed to hold on week after week. Jaxon was born at 31 weeks through emergency c-section. I felt so helpless and scared as nobody knew what to expect with the baby and what condition he would be in after surviving 14 weeks with no fluid.

Both Jaxon’s lungs had collapsed shortly after birth and he had a really high heart rate. Jaxon was full of wires and chest drains as well as being intubated for five days.

I will always remember the first time I saw him, this tiny 3lb 1oz baby inside the incubator with all these wires and beeping machines. It broke my heart, but I had to stay strong for my daughter.

Although Mum and Dad were able to hold Jaxon on Day 5, I had to wait much longer. I was heartbroken as I have held every other grandchild as soon as they were born, and had missed this with Jaxon. I understood that this was best for Jaxon’s health but did worry about how this would affect my bond with my new grandson.

On Day 20, I was excited to finally hold him but also nervous because of the oxygen tube and because he was still so small. I cried with happiness, bursting with joy.

I spent every day by my grandson's side in hospital and watched him grow and develop. There were times where it would be one step forward, three steps back, but this precious little man fought as hard as he could and overcame so many hurdles.

I was lucky that the doctors and nurses made me feel included in Jaxon’s care. It meant I could support Donna so much more knowing exactly what was going on and could reassure her whenever needed. The staff were just amazing, I got to know them all by name and they also knew me too. This made the experience for me a little better as I knew that both Jaxon and Donna were in the best hands.

It’s hard as a grandma watching your baby and their baby go through such a difficult experience. My advice to any other grandparent out there going through a similar situation would be to never feel like your presence on the neonatal unit or phone is useless. Being there to offer support, reassurance or cuddles for your child and grandchild is a big help. If you are able to go onto the unit, do take that opportunity. I’m glad I had the chance to see Jaxon grow and develop and pleased I was there any time my daughter needed me.

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