So close yet so far – Natasha’s story #FamiliesKeptApart

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As part of our accommodation campaign, #FamiliesKeptApart, Natasha shares how important it is for parents to have access to good quality accommodation while their baby is in neonatal care.

I knew at 25 weeks that something wasn’t right.

At 25 weeks and five days, I had a show, which I was told was unusual but not completely unheard of.

For a week I battled with my local hospital to be seen, one day I ignored the staff and turned up at the hospital demanding to be seen. Within an hour I was admitted and told that I was in premature labour and my cervix had started to open. I was terrified.

I was taken to Liverpool Women's Hospital (LWH) by ambulance and put on strict bed rest and monitoring. After five days I was discharged and told I could go back to work the following day, but I knew I wasn’t fit to do that.

The following morning, I felt off again, so I rang my local hospital demanding to be seen. Within an hour, I was in the maternity bay and nobody was telling me what was happening.

As soon as my consultant entered the room my heart sank, I just knew. We had three rounds of IVF and this was our miracle baby who came on his own no medication needed, we started trying for a baby in October 2018 and now we were being told he was coming early.

Teddy was transferred to LWH again, where I had to stay in a flat away from the hospital complex even though the hospital had a new unit with rooms above the NICU.

It was difficult walking around the block in Liverpool at night unaccompanied as the hospital wouldn’t let me take a pump to the flat they provided. I had to walk over at midnight and 3am as advised by the nursing staff to establish my supply.

After a week of staying there, I was approached one night by a gentleman twice, so it was only then when I raised it to staff they said security would escort me back to the flats if needed.

My flat was like living in student accommodation when I was in 2008. I had to sign an inventory to state what items were available even down to knives and forks but stuff had been stolen.

The appliances were filthy, the floor boards were no longer securely connected together, and sometimes at night when walking around you would nearly slip over as they moved. My husband is of a big build and nearly went over a few times.

I still remember laughing with the nurses that I had no instructions on how to use the combi washer and dryer and one cycle of our clothes would take nine hours to wash, and even then, they would still be damp and we would have to dry them again overnight.

We had to buy our own food or the donations provided which was just loaves of bread and as a mum trying to establish her supply it wasn’t good enough.

Our oven was filthy, we tried to clean it and it was just too far gone, we couldn’t use it to cook as it was filthy. We were told that the flat was basically “gutted and cleaned” after every stay, but that oven was never cleaned.

There was black mould on the windows and blinds and it made me get poorly but I couldn’t take anything due to pumping, and I didn’t really think about a doctor’s appointment as I was an hour away from home, and leaving Teddy was not an option.

The bed sheets were used. stained and again we were told they were donated. We actually got our family to bring our bedding from home so we could sleep with that instead.

We slept with the heating on as it was cold, but needed the windows open due to the mould. My chest got so bad, and at one point I didn’t see Teddy for two days as I was so worried I would make him poorly. I did so many COVID-19 tests that were all negative, and my hands were red raw in the end after all the sanitising and washing.

The bathroom was falling apart again mouldy and cracking. There was no plug to run a bath and to use the shower you had to keep pressing the stop-start button and even then in between shampoos or washing when you switched it back on again as it was an electric and no gas building it was freezing.

I don’t understand how a new hospital like that had accommodation which was so poor that I wouldn’t put animals in it. I remember cleaning the sofa and hoovering all the food residue out of the sofa and the dust from the heaters that we could smell the burning through.

I spoke to nurses several times about getting a room upstairs because I was told by other parents some were vacant, but I was told my baby wasn’t sick enough even though he was born at 26+5 weeks.

At one point we were asked to leave the flats because a family needed the flat and we were willing to sleep in our van in the car park, but we were put upstairs in the new rooms for one night! It was like sleeping in a Premier Inn - I have never felt such relief!

I had a hot shower, clean towels an array of food in the donation kitchen, and a tumble dryer that was done in 40 minutes. The difference was insane. I felt safe and secure and I was directly above Teddy and could go down and pump without having to worry about walking the streets at night.

We stayed for one night and then we were sent back to our local neonatal unit at Leighton Hospital, where I was told I could not stay because I lived close. It was only when I complained to the hospital about staff looking after Teddy and my crippling mental health that the nurses I made a bond with made it possible for me to stay.

I could walk down a hallway and be with my baby whenever I wanted to be. Leighton provided food for in-house parents but only cold snack packs for non-residentials, such as bread.

I felt like I couldn’t stay because I lived down the road - I basically lived at that hospital and was forced to go home and rest. I was allowed to stay until another parent needed the room more, but how can you justify to a parent that someone needs it more than you when in my world it was crumbling?

Sometimes I would have to drive 25 minutes to get to my son in the middle of the night. There were two pull-out sofa beds I remember seeing but there were ten beds in the nursery and at least four incubators in HDU.

Teddy was the first case of COVID-19 in the NICU at Leighton, and at this point I was allowed to stay with him when it was touch and go, but again it was always felt like it was the extreme. I felt guilty and always gave up the room when I could for parents who lived far away.

A selfless act for another parent but one so painful for me when I had to leave Teddy. My husband always had to pull me away crying. I’d stand there staring at him before I would leave filled with guilt so much the only way it left my body was through tears.

78 days of pain and we were allowed to take our miracle boy home.

So long… but he wasn’t so far anymore.

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