‘Our time in NICU shaped who we were going to be as parents’ - Leah and Ricky’s story

BBC news presenters Leah and Ricky Boleto's son Enzo arrived at 36 weeks. Here Leah recalls their experience of the neonatal unit.

It had taken us a really long time to get pregnant, so when we saw the first pink lines on the pregnancy test, like most couples, we were over the moon.

It was a pretty easy pregnancy looking back, I sped through my first trimester with minimal morning sickness, I bloomed in my second trimester and then as the third trimester landed I was ready to meet my little man. I was tired, uncomfortable and not sleeping too well. But I was happy enough. By 35 weeks, I remember really feeling like things had slowed down. Ricky was just about to start sorting the car seat, setting up the Moses basket and just preparing the best we could.

Then I reached 36+2 weeks and my waters broke. I drove myself to hospital and called Ricky, in quite a calm matter of fact way. I think mostly I expected doctors to say nothing was happening and I thought I’d have my feet up that evening watching Neighbours with a cup of camomile tea.

So when the doctor said: “Your baby is on its way” I burst into tear because I wasn’t ready. In that moment, I left my care free life behind and parenthood - with all its worries and anxieties - weighed heavy on my shoulders all at once. My baby wasn’t ready to come out I thought, or more to the point I wasn’t ready for Enzo to be here. I needed just another few weeks. But that wasn’t to be…

Seven hours of labour later and all the pushing in the world, our baby was trying to come out but couldn’t. Later we found out the cord was wrapped around his neck, so all of my best efforts weren’t going to help the situation and we were whisked off to theatre. Doctors administered an epidural and with a push and a little snip, our beautiful baby arrived into the world in such a dramatic fashion. I thought that was it and I would get to hold my baby all night long but quite quickly it became apparent there were problems with his breathing and he was taken to NICU for help.

There’s nothing that prepares you for seeing your little darling baby in the sterile world of NICU, the low blue lights, the beeping machines, the hushed tones of doctors and nurses. He was mine but at first I felt I couldn’t touch him. More to the point, I didn’t feel like I knew how to. We found out soon enough that Enzo needed some help with his breathing and he needed time to clear the fluid that had acclimated on his lung, he was also suffering jaundice and his little foot was bent from his position in the womb.

Dazed and confused, Ricky and I had to regroup and tackle each day as it came. We became familiar with the nurses, they were great at guiding us and made us realise we could have as much or as little involvement while Enzo was in NICU. It really can be a hard time for parents to adjust to but we got stuck in. I turned into mother hen; changed all nappies, did all of his feeds and spent quite a lot of my time expressing milk. A nurse got me a huge blue nursing chair so my time was at least comfy.

Two days passed and it felt like a week but we were then moved onto a special care baby unit where we spent five days preparing to come home. We changed nappies through the incubator without thinking about it, and it’s not easy I can tell you. I expressed so much milk and began to store it in the hospital fridges, getting used to the labelling system. We bathed him, weighed him and eventually passed the car seat challenge that saw Enzo’s heart monitored while he sat in his brand new seat.

It was a cold winter’s night at about 5.00pm when nurses told us we could go. Ricky and I looked at each other terrified. Suddenly after all this help and support we were meant to go it alone. As we step into the cold winter night we realised that our time in NICU had completely shaped who we were going to be as parents, in a really good way. It gave us the strength to realise even when things aren’t going to plan, you can survive. Although at the time it felt incredibly hard, we got through it.

Now we have a tireless, funny, kind, little toddler who’s so strong and determined. One day we will tell him about his time in NICU but for now we’re really enjoying watching him grow each day.

Listen to Leah and Ricky talk about their experience on our podcast

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