"I call NICU 'parenting boot-camp' and I don’t think I’d be the parent I am now without it" - Rosie's story

With George being a full term baby, Rosie did not expect him to end up in NICU. Here, Rosie tells her birth story, how she and her family dealt with NICU, and the lessons they learned from it.

George was born one day after his due date in November 2019 via emergency c-section after a very smooth low-risk pregnancy. In the days leading up to his birth I’d felt him less, but contractions had started so we were on and off the phone with triage, who were telling us to come in when timings between contractions were closer.

When the contractions began to move further apart instead of closer, we began to worry. We called triage and went in around teatime on the 8th November. I was strapped up to have an ECG with an instruction to press the button when I felt him move.

Twenty minutes passed and I had felt nothing. The nurse came back in and said his heartbeat was supposed to fluctuate and it had remained consistently steady. She told me it was not a reassuring reading and to follow her.

Fast forward a few minutes and I was downstairs with a doctor who was explaining that it was in George’s best interest to get him out as quickly as possible by means of caesarean section.

I burst into tears and nurses rushed around getting me in my gown and taking me down to theatre and my partner to get robed up. In no time at all, George was being pulled out and I was frantically asking why he wasn’t crying.

The anesthetist and surgeons explained that he needed a little help with his breathing; he had swallowed some of the meconium upon delivery and was being given oxygen. He was immediately taken to NICU to get checked out.

I got a fleeting glimpse at him. He was beautiful.

I was taken to recovery, my partner went to see George and took some pictures for me, and then I was wheeled to the maternity ward and was with all the other women and their babies. It was quite a long and tearful night. As soon as the anaesthetic wore off and I could stand, I was wheeled (catheter and all) to the NICU and got to see my little boy in his incubator.

It was not how I’d pictured it all happening. Because it was the middle of the night, I had to go back to the ward and recover. Fortunately, I was then given a room of my own and woke to hobble to the shower, eat and somehow even put a scrap of makeup on!

I always wondered why I so efficiently got ready with a baby in NICU downstairs. I have been told by a professional that I was trying to normalise the situation, act as if everything was fine and regain some control of the situation.

My partner and I then went down to see George around 11am and I was finally given skin-to-skin and a chance to feed him. In that moment, a switch flicked and I was absolutely filled with love.

Within 24 hours he was taken off oxygen and the nurses were talking about ‘normalising’ him, which means taking him out of the incubator and putting him in his clothes ready to go home.

Two things changed the fate of our stay in hospital (I was told this in my debrief later down the line). The first was an episode George had with a doctor trying to fit his cannula: he was distressed and they weren’t sure if he’d had a fit. The second was that George had a suspected umbilical hernia, but the hospital we were at didn’t have expertise in this field and wanted to send him to be seen by a surgeon at a neighbouring hospital.

At the second hospital we stayed in the NICU for around two weeks. The head midwife who did my debrief told me this was because he wasn’t born at that hospital, they had to wait for notes and nobody wanted to sign off without absolute certainty that he was alright.

This was the right thing to do and we wanted the full MOT too. So we had an umbilical ultrasound and the hernia was confirmed, we had blood tests, antibiotics, antivirals, an EEG and an MRI just to make sure everything was alright. Thankfully he was.

George was treated in the lowest intensity room, so they were all full-term babies in there and for the majority of our stay we were put in a private room on the NICU ward which was built by a footballer whose child had been there as a baby.

We were so very lucky to be given this room, it was facilitated because I was breastfeeding and meant I was close by and could nurse him and change his nappy and look after him ‘as normal’. I couldn’t feed him in the beginning as he was on fluids, but as soon as my milk came in, a member of the feeding team came to see me and she was amazing. She taught me about pumping, feeding positions and more and I came to love breastfeeding. I totally owe that to the NICU.

I call the NICU “parenting boot-camp” and I don’t think I’d be the parent I am now without it. I’d been terrified of having a baby, didn’t want to breastfeed and was generally quite naïve about becoming a mum. They showed us everything from nappy changing to sterilising bottles.

Staying on the NICU had a profound effect on me; the amazing nurses, doctors, parents and babies all in one place showing incredible strength, dedication and most overwhelmingly – love.

We have been home for over a year now after our three week stay, the debrief informed me the chord had also coiled around George, which was a factor as to why his movements were reduced.

I try not to fixate on everything that could have been or the feelings of guilt/worry, I try to focus instead on how much we learned and how much we came to appreciate the little things once we were back home. George’s hernia has now self-corrected and he’s the apple of our eye, we are very lucky.