[image]Eloise r.jpg

As Miracle Mum, Pip reflects on her own personal journey through the NICU, she wants every Miracle mum and dad to know there is no rule book or right way to do the NICU journey. Don't compare yourself with other families and more importantly be kind to yourself.

There’s No Right Way to Do NICU
By Pip 

"I am a person who likes to get things right. I like to do my research before committing to things and I don’t really like being in situations where I feel like I’m not in control.

I’m sure any NICU parent can tell you that having a premature baby is one situation in life where you aren’t in control and that is why I struggled so much. If someone had handed me the book on how to have the perfect NICU journey I would have read it cover to cover and done everything I could to get it right. Unfortunately no such book exists.

Eloise’s doctor told me weeks into our NICU journey that he and other staff had been concerned about me from Day 1 due to my withdrawn nature. Looking back I can see how their concern may well have been warranted. The first three weeks I was in a state of complete shock. If ever a NICU mum was in shock at the arrival of her baby 3 months early it was me. I was in a complete daze. I had family and friends visit us who when I spoke to weeks or months later I had no recollection of ever seeing them at the hospital.

Eloise had no name for nearly three days because I just could not compute that I actually had to pick a name – I thought I still had months up my sleeve to make the final decision. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating and I could barely comprehend what had happened. When I finally started to emerge from the fog of the shock - it hit me that I had been falling short of my own expectations of what I should have been doing. Was I spending enough time at the hospital each day? Did I talk to her enough, sing to her enough, read to her enough? Should I have been asking her doctors and nurses more questions? Should I be there each morning for ward rounds?

When I told our doctor that I felt like I wasn’t doing enough for Eloise and that I was worried that the doctors and nurses might think I was a bad mother the next thing he said was actually one of the things that helped me enormously. He said - who cares what anyone else thinks? Stuff them! And of course he reassured me that I was doing enough!

It was in that moment that I realised that there’s no right way to do the NICU. While everyone in there is sharing the same heartbreak of having a baby in there who they desperately wish was healthy and at home, each family also has their own unique story.

I realised that my past experiences in life, my personality, my pregnancy experience and my birth experience all had an impact on how I experienced the NICU. I realised that as long as I was doing my best under my own circumstances, that was okay. Maybe there were some parents who spent more time with their babies, some less. But I spent what time I could with her, I was respectful of the staff and other parents and to me that’s all that you really need to do. Everything else is so incredibly individual to your own circumstances that there is no point in making comparison.

In the early days I worried that some parents were there every day for ward round and I wasn’t. Well that just wasn’t possible for me. I was still recovering from my pregnancy and surgery and I was suffering terrible insomnia and the only time I do manage to get some sleep when I’m in that kind of state is between 5-8am.

I remember one day I was so determined to make it to ward round that I dragged myself to the hospital on absolutely no sleep and sat beside Eloise’s isolette waiting for the doctors to come by. What they would have seen when they did finally reach her isolette was me nodding off in the arm chair. I actually think it would have been a bit of a sad sight. That’s when I decided that I wasn’t going to do that again. If I wanted to speak with her doctor, I would do it when I was awake and able to comprehend what he was saying, not when I needed to be asleep.

I also worried that although I visited every day, several times a day I wasn’t there all day. While spending long hours at the hospital may have suited some parents, it just wasn’t possible for me. As much as I wanted to spend as much time as I could with Eloise I knew deep down that in order to be the best Mum I could be I needed to get myself well by the time she came home. I’d had a difficult pregnancy and my body needed to do some serious healing. I was anaemic and needed an iron infusion, I had an umbilical hernia which I had to consult a surgeon about and my abdominal muscles required intensive physio treatment. With everything that had happened I also needed to make sure that I stayed on top of my anxiety that was bubbling away in the background, so I had counselling. In order to fit all these appointments in I had shorter visits at the hospital but would often come and go anywhere from two to four times a day, that’s what suited me, it may not have suited another Mum.

The next thing I realised is that you should never ever compare yourself to any other parent on the unit. So many times I sat curled up next to Eloise’s isolette bawling my eyes out and occasionally I would look around and wonder what on earth was wrong with me, why did all the other parents look like they were coping so much better than what I was? The answer is that maybe just in that particular moment they were but the day before or an hour later they might not have been (such is the nature of the NICU journey) and there are a couple of things that made me realise this. Our doctor told me about another Mum who had other children and was just absolutely lost at the sight of her premmie being so small when she had previously given birth to full term babies.  The times I had seen this Mum on the unit she had appeared quite composed but the reality was that at other times she was struggling too.  There was another Mum who was in SCBU at the same time as us but much further along in her journey, which I didn’t realise at the time (this is a crucial point - time makes a lot of difference in the NICU journey). When we both got into the lift at the same time one evening as we were leaving for the night we introduced ourselves and swapped stories. Something she said has stuck in my mind ever since. When I told her how much I struggled in those first few weeks she said that the first time she saw me, I looked exactly how she had felt in her early days in the NICU.

This simple statement was a very important lesson for me. When she first saw me it would have been maybe three days after Eloise was born - her little 25 weeker had already been there for over two months I think. While their journey was anything but smooth, she had had a bit of time to process the initial shock of her situation. So while in those early weeks I was looking at her wondering how on earth she was seemingly coping so much better than me I realised that maybe by the time I was a couple of months into our own NICU journey someone else might be thinking the same thing looking at me.

By the end of our NICU stay I was certainly in a better headspace than those first few hazy weeks (don’t get me wrong, I definitely still had my moments) but I had my own little routine going, I knew a lot of the staff, I even shared the occasional laugh with some of my favourite nurses.

So in my mind, there is no right way to do the NICU. There is no rule book. In my experience I would say that the only rules to follow are those that I try to follow in my every day life and that is to be respectful of others. Be respectful of the babies, the parents, the doctors, nurses and other staff. As for all the rest. You do what you feel is right for you to get you through what at times feels like an impossible journey to get through."

Thank you Pip for sharing that very important story.

 Pip Whitington - Eloise 29 weeks birth01.jpgPip Whitington - Eloise 29 weeks growing up.jpeg

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