“It’s so hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when your baby is in NICU” - Jade’s story

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Jade's son Teddy was born at 32 weeks, and spent over a month in neonatal care. In her story, Jade describes the ups and downs of her journey at Worcester's neonatal unit.

My waters broke at 31 weeks. I had been monitored at Birmingham Women’s Hospital twice that week until Teddy decided it was time to make his appearance at 32 weeks. I remember feeling scared and in sheer panic that he was coming early. They rushed me for an emergency c-section due to his being breach, but Teddy had other ideas and decided to come feet first on the operating table.

They said they would bring Teddy up for me to have a quick look but as soon as they went to get him, I knew something wasn’t right. I said, "No, take him and make sure he’s okay, please." The silence was deafening until I heard, “Put a crash call out.”

Teddy had no heartbeat so they began chest compressions. I wouldn’t classify myself as religious but at that moment I remember just praying and praying and praying. Thankfully after around five minutes, we heard him cry and my heart sank in relief.

Teddy was stable on oxygen. After I held him quickly, he was taken off to the neonatal unit. It’s such a surreal feeling as I’ve had two children previously whose births and pregnancies were fine. I had that cuddle, that special moment with them – but with Teddy, I didn’t.

After a few hours, he was transferred to Worcester Hospital. This is where the panic set in as I had a one-year-old and a five-year-old at home, and Worcester was further away. How was I going to balance home life and hospital life? Being discharged and sent home was the weirdest, saddest feeling I’ve ever felt - it didn’t feel right. I felt useless when I was with him, just staring through the incubator, but so much guilt for not being there with him.

My pumping journey also started and boy, was it hard - waking every two hours for a baby I didn’t have with me was gut-wrenching. I had all these feelings that come with having a baby but no baby!

Teddy had a brain scan which showed that he had suffered a previous brain bleed, that he had two small cysts on two veins and a tumour on his neck muscle. Despite this, he was doing well. Going into NICU just hurt my heart - I would sit there, and my head would tell me to run and take him home. I never would because I knew he was in the best place but it was that instinct of wanting him with me all the time.

It was manageable while Teddy’s dad was off work for two weeks. We could take it in turns and travel up when we wanted, but when he went back to work I cried for days because it was so hard. I had limited childcare but my mum was amazing - she would come home from work and have my younger two children so I could go up and see Teddy.

On the unit, I always felt like I couldn’t take my time and had to rush to get my other two children in bed. It was hard, not just physically but mentally. I felt like I was constantly juggling, trying to be there for my babies at home but wanting to be there for Teddy too.

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Worcester neonatal unit was amazing. I remember bursting into tears one day as it was all getting too much and the lovely nurse grabbed me before I left, hugged me and said she would pray for me. I don’t think she realised just how much that hug and her words meant. I got in the car and cried some more, purely at her kindness because I felt like everyone around me forgot I had just given birth and had all these emotions because I had no baby to show.

I was getting on with it, but I was also struggling massively. It’s so hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when your baby is in NICU. To sit watching people get to ring the bell and take their baby home knowing their journey had been equally as hard as yours, or in some cases worse, but you still wonder, ‘When is it my turn?'

I craved the newborn bubble I loved with my other two. I questioned if Teddy knew I was his mom as I felt I wasn’t getting to spend time with him. All the other mums were with their babies - some mums were there all day, but I couldn’t do that. You must remember that everyone's circumstances are different - some have a big support system while others don’t, and however alone you feel you have to remember you’re not. We’re all on the same emotional rollercoaster.

I felt judged for not being as active and involved as the other mums (although nobody was judging me), seeing them doing most of the feeding tubes themselves but I didn’t have the confidence yet. One day I asked a nurse to show me again and watch me do it so I knew I was doing it right and it was fine.

It’s okay if you find it all overwhelming and scary, and to ask things again as no question is a silly question. We’ve just had this massive information overload and are trying to process things in our heads, so we can’t be expected to remember everything while trying to look after ourselves too.

Teddy spent just over a month in NICU. It felt like the longest month ever, but when we came home it was amazing. He still had his feeding tube but was taking some bottles and it was so nice to bond over feeding him. Some days I even forgot NICU ever happened, although, of course, I will never forget the journey we’ve been on.

To all the parents sitting in NICU, the other side is coming - you will get that one-on-one bonding time and all those things you feel like you’re missing out on will come.

My mental health has improved massively now I’ve got all my babies together and I’m not feeling pulled pillar to post. I still have moments where I worry, but Teddy is now five months old and thriving. Looking back at his journey still makes me emotional – there are still things that I need to process but I also remember how lucky and blessed I am that Worcester took such amazing care of Teddy for me. I will never be able to thank them enough for their love and support.

Most importantly: be kind to yourself, cry when you need to cry, shout when you need to shout, feel the emotions, ride the rollercoaster and fingers crossed you come off smiling at the end.

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