How NICU accommodation made the world of difference to my baby’s neonatal stay – Katherine’s story #FamiliesKeptApart

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Katherine’s daughter Alice was born at full term and very sick. Alice needed urgent care and was transferred to a level three unit over 42 miles away, so a flat was made available for Katherine so she could be by her baby’s side. Katherine explains how this accommodation allowed her to spend time with Alice and be more involved in her care.

I’ve wanted to be a Mum for as long as I can remember, so at the age of 38 - still single, and clutching fertility test results that told me my time was running out, I decided to go it alone and attempt to become a solo Mum by choice (SMBC). After four difficult rounds of IVF using donor sperm, I fell pregnant.

My pregnancy went really smoothly and as I sailed past 37 weeks I naively thought I was home and dry. How wrong I was. In November 2022, at 39 weeks, my consultant recommended induction and after three tough days on the induction ward at Worcester Royal Hospital, my pregnancy ended in a frantic emergency c-section.

My daughter Alice was born in very poor condition and required 25 minutes of resuscitation - the longest and most traumatic 25 minutes of my entire life. I was quickly told that Alice urgently required cooling therapy to try and minimise damage to her brain, but that it wasn’t available at Worcester and she needed to be transferred to a level three neonatal unit.

The nearest available bed was in Wolverhampton New Cross Hospital - 42 miles and one hour away. It was made very clear to me, and my family, that Alice was in a very critical condition and may not survive. Alice was transferred that evening, and I followed in an ambulance a couple of hours later - distressed, disorientated and under sedation. I arrived to find Alice settled in the NICU, wired up to numerous machines and monitors.

As I had undergone a c-section I was also admitted to New Cross. However, with my physical recovery going well, I was discharged on day three. Alice was so poorly and I was still in shock and very traumatised - and a long way from home - so I was told a bed would be made available for me in a ‘flat’ on the NICU ward. This made a world of difference to both me and my mum, who had been my birthing partner and had stayed by my side throughout. Mum was treated in exactly the same way as a traditional ‘dad’ would have been, and that acceptance of my circumstances and support for her was hugely appreciated by us both.

The flat was just a small room in the NICU ward, but every effort had been made to make it comfortable and welcoming for families going through the worst time of their lives. Being in the flat meant I could spend as much time as I possibly could with Alice - doing all of her care, feeding, talking to her, stroking her and just finding every small way possible to bond and be her mum.

It also meant I could be present for every ward round. I could listen and ask any questions I had so I didn’t feel I was missing anything. Occasionally I left the hospital to grab a coffee in the retail park opposite and I found this so difficult - leaving the hospital without my baby felt unnatural – and the thought of having to go home for the night without her was unbearable. Being around so much meant I got to know the nurses well, but I didn’t want the nurses to look after her, I wanted to do it myself. She was my longed-for baby and I didn’t want to miss anything.

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Due to the traumatic nature of Alice’s delivery and her initial prognosis, I was in a very fragile state. Being on the ward meant the nurses were able to keep a close eye on me as well as Alice - I felt they knew instinctively how I was feeling and exactly what I needed.

My whole family also had access to a family support nurse and a psychologist who both helped us come to terms with what had happened, as well as what may have happened. Despite being discharged and not in my ‘booked’ hospital, I was regularly checked by the postnatal midwives who made it clear I could go and find them at any time - even if it was to leave NICU briefly for a cuppa and a chat.

As Alice's condition improved we started to think about establishing feeding and as I wanted to breastfeed I needed to be on hand around the clock. This just wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t had the chance to stay in the hospital with her and also gave me access to the lactation support nurses whenever I needed them.

At this point, we also got introduced to speech and language therapists and physiotherapists, who were there to help us get Alice home. I know these people would have been there whether I was staying or not, but I felt reassured knowing they were at hand at any time.

Miraculously, after two weeks in the NICU Alice had an MRI scan that showed no signs of brain damage and she was allowed to come home. I’m very aware that if we’d been closer to home, I would not have had the ability to stay with her all that time, and during the worst days of my life, that was one small thing that made a massive amount of difference. She’s now a thriving nine-month-old, and I couldn’t be prouder of her.