I knew in my heart I wanted to be a neonatal nurse - Lois’ story

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Lois had to overcome a battle with mental health issues and juggle single motherhood with studying to become a neonatal nurse, but her own neonatal experience gave her a dream worth fighting for.

Content warning: please note that this story mentions suicidal thoughts. Please take care while reading.

Finding out you are pregnant is often the most celebrated and exciting thing that can happen to you, at any age. I was 20 when I found out I was pregnant. I was still living in University accommodation and it came as a shock to me and my flatmates.

I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to bring this precious bundle of joy into the world. Although I was extremely nervous, I made the decision to continue my studies but to move back home with my grandmother where she could support me whilst I was pregnant.

I was studying for a degree in Criminology. I wasn't enjoying it and knew it wasn’t what I wanted to pursue as a career, but I stuck with it as I now had another future to think about.

At my 20-week scan, I was told my waters had already broken and there was no amniotic fluid at all in the sac. I was taken to a room where I was given the choice between aborting my pregnancy and continuing with it, with regular check-ups and monitoring. I was truly heartbroken, but I chose to continue with the pregnancy. I knew from that point that my baby would have to be delivered early. So in that sense, I was prepared. But, really, nothing could have fully prepared me for how my life was to change completely.

To my surprise, and that of my healthcare professionals, I continued the pregnancy until 32+2 weeks. I was at home when my waters broke again but this time there was a lot of blood and I knew immediately something wasn’t right. We headed straight to the hospital and the following morning I gave birth to my daughter Maisie-Rae, weighing 4lb.

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The doctors took her straightaway because she needed to be resuscitated as soon as the cord was cut. I wasn’t able to hold my daughter for a week after her birth, I could only look at her through the incubator, covered in tubes and wires and in need of constant monitoring. I was praying and praying that she would survive and be able to come home.

But although it was an incredibly difficult time, my experience of neonatal care was really positive. The doctors, nurses and healthcare staff on NICU were truly amazing. They would always ensure that I helped with the care of my baby, as they were introducing family-integrated care into their practice.

I loved being able to help the nurses with the tube feeding, nappy changing and all-around care. I never felt left out of my baby’s care.

After five and a half weeks, I was finally able to take my daughter home and we could begin our new life together. Of course she was tiny, but she fought through all the odds and truly was the family’s little miracle baby.

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Six months after leaving the unit, I began to notice my mental health beginning to slip. It began with panic attacks which were very real and physical. I found myself trapped in bed for six weeks awaiting any sort of change from the medication that my doctor had prescribed for the severe anxiety I was experiencing. I was so petrified of what the anxiety was doing to me that on many occasions I thought that to end my life would be the only way out of the suffering.

My relationship with Maisie’s father soon took a turn for the worst as I felt he didn't supported me through the changes I was experiencing with my mental health. I also lost some friends due to the depression, though my true friends stuck by me.

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As I started to feel slightly better, I realised that I knew exactly what I wanted to do for a career - become a neonatal nurse. I wanted to give something back to the amazing people who saved my daughter’s life.

When I initially decided that I wanted to become a neonatal nurse, a few people laughed at the idea. “You? A children’s nurse? You would never get a place in paediatrics” was one response. But I knew in my heart that it was what I wanted to do, so my mind wouldn’t rest until I was accepted onto the nursing course.

The following September, I was accepted into university onto a Paediatric Nursing course, with the aim of qualifying as a neonatal nurse. Although it was very challenging being a single mum and studying, I managed to pass my first year of training.

Then came my first placement, which happened to be on the NICU where my daughter had been treated. The first two shifts went very well, and I was so happy to be there on the other side as a healthcare professional and not the parent.

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However, it took a turn for the worst as my anxiety came back more aggressively than ever. I was diagnosed with severe anxiety, depression and PTSD. Being back on the unit had brought back a lot of memories that I didn’t know how to handle at the time. I became burned-out through trying to juggle my studies, being a young single mum and also fighting my daily mental health demons.

It was at this point I realised that I needed to take some time out and put myself first and improve my mental health before I return to my studies in September to pursue my dream career.

Having had this experience, I am passionate about the importance of neonatal mental health - not only for the mums and dads, but for staff too. As a volunteer on my local NICU, I support families who are going through a similar experience to mine. One thing I always say is that you should always chase your dreams no matter what is thrown at you.

I have accepted that this experience is something that will be with me forever, but it is also something I can control, and be grateful for as it has made me into the strong mother that I am today and the nurse which I will become.

My advice to other parents would be to use your experience to better yourself and support those around you who are going through similar situations. Never give up, and never stop fighting.

If you have been affected by the issues in this story and would like support please email us at hello@bliss.org.uk. You're not alone.