‘I wanted Christmas Day to disappear’ – Laura’s story

Laura Costello

Laura describes how having baby’s first Christmas in the NICU can bring up all sorts of emotions.

On December 1st 2016, I remember bouncing on my ball in the living room, watching my husband put up our Christmas tree. We had a tree bauble made with a poem inside about how our baby was spending this year in mummy’s tummy but couldn’t wait to spend next Christmas with us, and there it was - pride of place on our tree. He was due on January 31 but 14 days later I was in spontaneous, preterm labour.

Our baby boy, Ruairi, was born at 33+3 weeks on 15 December 2016. We had our first Christmas as a family when he was just 10 days old, and we were spending it in the NICU. This was never how I would have imagined things would be.

I was absolutely dreading Christmas Day. I wanted it to disappear. The very thought of spending the day away from our families, and in the hospital with our tiny preemie boy was more than I could bear. But we had no choice.

Christmas morning arrived and my husband and I rushed into the unit first thing to be with our boy. We were allowed to bath our baby and we dressed him in a red and white stripe baby grow with little elf booties and a Santa hat. We brought in a card that we had written to Ruairi, and a ‘first Christmas’ tree bauble that we sent my mum out to get for him.

The staff on our ward in Wishaw General were absolutely fantastic - real life angels - and they went above and beyond to be sure we all had a nice, peaceful day. The nurses wore Christmas outfits with bells and hats; the day room was set up for a tea party with lots of treats; Christmas music filled the ward and even Santa had been to visit the babies! Each tot had a Christmas stocking on their incubators, filled with baby grows, a soft toy, a letter from Santa and a card for the parents. I was totally overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness of the staff who went to so much effort. Mince pies and chocolates were unlimited, and with every staff change, a new ‘elf’ would appear. The atmosphere was lovely.

And yet, I can’t deny that there was still an ache in my heart all day. I just wished we could be home. We did nip back for an hour in the evening while nightshift handover was done, but it was really hard. I remember our families saying ‘stay home for a bit, have some dinner, maybe a wee drink, try to relax, he’s in safe hands’. But both my husband and I were so angry at the very suggestion. I know now that our families were trying to help, but how could we possibly even consider doing any of this when our son was in hospital on Christmas Day? Nobody understood what we were going through. We didn’t want to open any gifts, have any dinner or have any Christmas cheer whatsoever, without our son with us. We couldn’t get back to the NICU quickly enough.

It was a day full of all sorts of emotions, and all of these emotions were ‘okay’. It is okay to feel them; you just have to let them come and go.

We spent the rest of the evening enjoying cuddles with Ruairí and chatting with the other families and the staff. Everyone seemed to be making the most of the day and we all kept each other going We all spoke about ‘next year’ and our ‘real first Christmas’, meaning our first one home.

Eventually we went back home sometime after midnight when our baby was settled for the night, and to be honest, we were glad Christmas Day was over. We had some good laughs that day as well as a lot of tears; we felt angry, we felt sad, and we felt blessed at times too. It was a day full of all sorts of emotions, and all of these emotions were ‘okay’. It is okay to feel them; you just have to let them come and go.

Our boy celebrated his third birthday last Sunday, and he’s a perfectly happy and healthy boy with many, many magical Christmases ahead of him. So my message to any families in neonatal units this Christmas is: you will get through. Take strength from the other families, from the staff, and don’t feel guilty about whether you have a nice or bad day. Everyone’s journey is different.

Laura Costello 2