Building a family and a business - Helen’s story

Helen Davies, founder of Lovely NICU Gifts, one of Bliss’ partners, tells the story of her twins’ premature birth and how her experience inspired her brand.

Couples plan home births, water births, hypnotherapy births ... but nobody plans for a premature birth. It took four rounds of IVF for us to conceive, and we were blessed to get pregnant with twins! So, after years of hope and fear, we started to plan for our babies’ arrival in July 2013. They were due on 31 July and a C-section was booked for 18 July. But it was two months before then, one Sunday afternoon in the middle of May, while I was watching TV with our eldest son, Zac that my waters broke.

Two hours later and our twins were born, at 29 weeks. Anya Elizabeth Rose came first and made a cute little kitten meow sound. 6 minutes later, Xavier Andrew arrived, but he was silent.

The consultants and nurses worked on both babies whilst still in theatre, intubating both before they whisked passed my head in their transport incubators to the NICU. That was the moment our lives changed forever.

The babies spent the first 10 weeks of their lives in neonatal care. Both babies had worrying complications and Xavi in particular bounced between Critical Care and Intensive Care a couple of times. Yet both babies were strong, determined and progressed well eventually making it to the SCBU.

Those days were long and hard but they were also full of joy, love and laughs. I made great friends with other parents and the nursing staff. We supported each other, picked each other up when we needed it and cheered when our little ones reached new milestones.

The nursing staff were incredible: they cared for Jason, Zac and I as much as they cared for our babies, and it’s thanks to them that I was able to bring my babies home. While building up my own health and strength was the last of my concerns, the NICU nurses helped me to understand that I needed breaks, time away from the unit, sleep, and wholesome food (when I mostly wanted to smuggle chocolate biscuits or endlessly spoon Nutella into my mouth). They would remind me that I couldn’t pour from an empty cup, and prepared me properly for the twins’ homecoming.

Every day during that time our friends used to say how hard it must be to leave my babies and yet, apart from the last week, I can honestly say it wasn't. I knew I couldn't care for them as well as the medical staff could. They were safe, well looked-after and loved. But right at the end of their neonatal journey, as they and I had become stronger, it became harder to leave them at the end of each day as I felt they were finally ready to come home.

I hired cleaners to blitz the house top to bottom. I had all the carpets and sofa deep-cleaned. I arranged for balloons and banners for the day we would walk through our front door as a family of 5. That day, 17th July (the day before my c-section had originally been booked for!) was like a new beginning. It was a new start in more ways than one, as I took what I had learned during those 10 weeks in neonatal care to build my business, Lovely NICU Gifts.

For weeks I couldn’t change, dress, or even move my babies because of a combination of their condition and my fear. So, the blankets, snuggies and incubator clothes we sell are inspired by how much buying these things for my twins helped me to feel like a ‘normal’ mummy and we have tried to make it easy to find premature items that fit and don’t restrict.

I also learned the importance of keeping a record of the twins’ progress by writing a journal and holding onto the precious keepsakes, like tiny oxygen masks, which the nurses gave me. The keepsake boxes that a friend bought for me to hold these items are now my most treasured possessions.

One of the first things I did when I was strong enough was to write a keepsake journal especially for preemie parents to record milestones specific to a premature baby's first few hours, days and weeks. Their first milestones are so different to those of a baby who doesn’t need neonatal care that there are chapters and chapters of hurdles overcome before a 'normal' journal even starts!

We have since learned from our family and friends that they felt helpless, they didn’t know what we would need, appreciate or use as new baby gifts or the right words to say. None of the usual cards or presents seemed appropriate to our situation. So, I hope that our Lovely NICU Gifts range also helps the friends and relatives of families with babies in neonatal care show that they love them.

And most of all, I wanted to make meaningful thank you gifts for families to give to their neonatal nurses. I used to sit and stare at the staff in the days before we left and wonder how on earth I could ever thank them? How could I let them know how much I appreciate them, how much I owe them and, after 10 weeks, how much love each and every one of them? A box of chocolates didn’t seem anywhere near enough!

We were determined to try to express to the individuals who cared for us just how much we appreciated them and so as a family we committed to a number of activities to raise funds and in six months we raised £52,722.00 for Hull NICU who bought a transport incubator, cooling mat and cooling cap later that year. We are immensely proud of the legacy our twins were able to leave behind.

I didn't plan for a premature birth, but now, with two healthy boisterous twins, I wouldn't change my experience for a second. It opened my eyes to so much, made me more appreciative for what I have, look harder, love deeper and, above all sparked a whole new direction for my career. Now, by supporting Bliss with this new store, I’m not only able to make a difference to the individual families who buy or use our products, but to families with premature and sick babies all over the UK.

Helen is donating £2 to Bliss for every order placed at Lovelynicugifts.co.uk. Bliss supporters can also get a 10% discount by using the promotional code BLISS10.