As part of work I spend a few shifts here and there manning the reception in the Neonatal ward. I’m going to be honest here and say that before this job, I had never set foot in a neonatal ward. I had no idea even what went on in a ward just for babies. I wrote this after my first shift there a couple of weeks ago.
Dear NICU family,
I see you there. You with your tired eyes and exhausted smile, anxious to get to your baby’s side after a night away. I see the trepidation on your face at what the doctor might have to say today. I see the gentle squeeze that you give the hand of your partner as you head in, both of you hoping that today the doctor can answer the question you have every day – “how much longer?” How much longer until you can scoop up your baby and take them home? How much longer before they can sleep in the crib that you picked out for them? How much longer before you can hold them whenever you want and not worry about when the next test or observation is and what that will bring? How much longer before this is over?
I see you too, Mama. Mama of twins, one of whom is home with you and one who is here in the NICU. I hear your quiet phone conversations “he’s doing better. No, we still don’t know when he’s coming home” and hear your annoyance at people asking over and over. I see your eyeroll when a well meaning relative tells you “be positive!” again. I see you holding your baby close, promising that their sibling will be home soon.
I see you, mum who is still admitted but on a different ward. You gave birth less than forty-eight hours ago. You’re battered and bruised and feel like you’ve been hit by a car. But you also feel like there’s no time for recovery. You’re schlepping down the corridor every chance you get to see your beautiful baby. The baby you’ve looked forward to for years. You’re scared – terrified in fact – but you barely show it. You listen, you ask questions and you spend the day by your baby’s side. You’re trying so hard and doing so well.
I see you, partners and dads who come out into reception for a little cry. You apologise, but it’s ok. Really. You don’t want your partner to see you cry. You feel like you have to be strong for them, but you’re a human and this is hard. It’s not where you expected to be. It’s not how you envisioned your first days of parenthood. It’s not what you wanted for your little family. But it’s your reality.
I see you with the older child. Older than the new baby, but not yet old enough to understand. I see your little one’s excitement at bringing in a toy for their new baby sibling. I hear you telling them again “Not yet, he’s poorly. You can give him a cuddle soon.” I see you’re stretched and I see what a great job you are doing. I see family members coming to meet the baby in the NICU and I don’t even have to tell you where to sign in any more because you’ve been doing it for weeks now – you know the drill.
I see the little community of NICU parents. I see the joy you all share when someone takes their baby home. The devastation when someone’s baby doesn’t make it. I see coffee shared and cakes passed around. I hear you chat to each other about things I had never even thought about – going back to work, how much the train costs to get here every day and how sick you are of the sight of the hospital coffee shop. How you’re not sure how much longer you can do this and how overwhelming it all is. I see how much you need the community of other parents. Things I hadn’t even considered.
I see you all from behind my little desk. You don’t always see me, but I’m here. I’m not part of your medical team. I don’t know anything about your baby’s condition, but I’m here. I hear snippets of your conversations. I hear what you’re going through. I see you at the sad moments, the happy moments and the times where things are “just ok”. I hear your plans for the future. I hear you explaining to relatives what the doctors have told you. You’ve got such an understanding of your baby’s condition that most medical professionals would be impressed.
I’ve never been in your shoes. I can’t say I know how you feel, because I don’t. I don’t know anything about what you’re going through. But just know I’m here. I’m listening and I’m hoping more than anything that your babies all come home safe and sound. When I leave for the night or in the morning, you’re all in my thoughts. You’re all doing such a great job in some of the hardest circumstances out there.
With all the best wishes in the world,
Neonatal receptionist – The Neonatal Unit
(NOTE : This was written as a general observation of life on the NICU desk. Any link to any families in any NICU unit now or in the past is purely coincidental. I am not a medical professional and write this purely as an administrative member of staff. Views are my own and not that of my employer.)
If you need support with any of the issues raised here are a few websites that can help.
Bliss – For babies born sick or premature
Tommy’s – Saving Babies’ Lives