“Visiting my own baby – I couldn’t comprehend it” - Ashley’s story #FamiliesKeptApart


As part of our campaign, #FamiliesKeptApart, Ashley illustrates why it was so important to stay on the unit with her baby.

I went into labour unexpectedly on 23 July 2019, despite being booked for a planned c-section due to my baby being breech. However, initially no one (except me) seemed to realise I was in labour.

It was the start of me fighting for what was right for me and my baby. The plan was to send me home, but I insisted that I should be admitted as my partner was away.

Fast forward four hours and I was 8.5cm dilated and rushed for an emergency c-section. Everything seemed to go perfectly, though my son is recorded as weighing 5lb 14 and was born at 38+1 weeks. He was described as a ‘growth-restricted baby’.

No one informed me that because of being a small baby they do specific checks, so at five hours old they checked his temperature and sugar levels and rushed him off to NICU due to hyperglycaemia and hypothermia.

Here he would stay for the next 19 days.

Now I have to say the staff were amazing in getting me to NICU, but three days post-birth, a nurse came to my room to go over discharge notes.

"Wow are we getting to go home? That's amazing," I said.

"Oh no, not both of you, just you," they replied.

That sentence hit me like a train. I was devastated! How could I go home empty handed, without my baby?

The staff nurse came to see me an apologised that this hadn't been explained to me before now. She said that I was ready for discharge but my baby wasn't, so I could go home get plenty rest and come and visit!

Visiting my own baby! I just couldn't comprehend it.

They let me stay another night to process what was happening, but the following day I asked my mum to take my stuff home and I decided that I wasn't leaving him. In my working life I teach parents the importance of attachment, bonding and that probably didn't help with the anxiety around leaving my four day old son with people who had lots of other babies to attend to, not just him.

What if he needed a cuddle and they were busy, what if he was hungry and there was an emergency with another child? I just couldn't do it the thought of him crying and thinking no one was coming to him broke my heart.

That first night I sat by his incubator in a semi-reclining chair and knew that would be my bed until we could go home together.

The staff nurse at NICU came round to ask me if I was going home at about 3am. I asked if she was telling me that I had to leave.

“No, it's just we don't have any rooms for you," she said. Firstly I hadn't asked for a room but it made me realise actually there's nothing there for parents even if I wanted it.

Well, not for all parents. When we were ready for discharge I could stay then to get a chance to be with my son alone and prepare for taking him home, but prior to that the rooms that were there were allocated to families preparing for discharge.

I learned over my stay there weren't facilities to get a shower (unless staying in one of the rooms), there was a small kitchen to keep some things to eat and a café in the main lobby but even when you did stay over preparing for discharge, you’re not admitted, and as such meals aren't provided.

Takeaways, ready meals or sandwiches were my options unless people brought me food.

How was that conducive to recovery, positive well-being, and breastfeeding?! I did leave on occasion to go to my mum's for a quick shower before returning.

That first time walking through her door alone, I'll never forget. I have never felt more alone – I fell to my knees and sobbed.

Even when I did get to stay over in the hospital, there was no way to adjust the temperature of the room and I had to report twice how freezing it was. Having a baby who has struggled with his temperature and then having a freezing room, was not helpful. The system was centralised so maintenance had to be called out to fix it.

I was still alone even in the room. I believe there were some rooms where dads could stay but I was never asked if I needed this.

My maternity unit is on the site of a purpose-built super hospital, but there was no thought given to the maternity unit. If I was admitted as an adult to the main hospital I'd have my own room with an en-suite, yet mothers have to leave their newborns in the care of strangers and visit!

We are nearly five years on now, but my experience of NICU never leaves me and has greatly impacted me. I'm only now processing it all and getting help with this professionally.

I only hope that the government will take action to invest in the facilities parents need because no family should be kept apart.