Blog post by guest contributor, Sam The NICU Mummy
I became a first time Mummy in 2017, although my entrance into motherhood was not the way in which I had planned or hoped for when we had planned to start our family. My husband and I attended our 20 weeks anomaly scan and were asked to return the following day to see a foetal medicine consultant as the sonographer was unable to see our baby’s anatomy in its entirety. We were informed the following day, that our son had a large lesion growing on his left lung, so large in fact, that it had pushed his heart to the other side of his chest. We felt blindsided. Never in a million years did we expect to be told that our baby was poorly, even before he was born.
When our son was born at 39 weeks, we had been told that the medical team were unaware of what his condition would be, that we should expect him to be taken to NICU for an assessment. Giving birth with a room full of people and then 30 minutes later, to be alone, without husband or baby, was the most bizarre experience. I had given birth, with intervention having needed forceps at the last moment, and yet, there was no “golden hour,” no photos of our new family, no skin to skin for my husband. Instead, I was sat with my toast, by myself, waiting for my husband to return with an update on our son.
We spent a total of 31 days on NICU, at both our local hospital and Great Ormond Street Hospital. Our son, T, was in fact born with 2 lesions on his left lung, one of which was causing him a lot of issues and required surgery at GOSH when he was 19 days old. He is still living comfortably with the other lesion.
It was the worst experience of my life so far. NICU tested me massively, and it took me a long time to be able to talk about it like I can now. It took me almost a year to realise that I wasn’t myself, and that my mental health had taken a hammering due to the experience that we had. I felt very conflicted about my feelings around NICU knowing that we were so fortunate that we were able to take our baby home, knowing so many families are not able to do so. I felt like I had no reason to find it so difficult to come to terms with, but now I realise that my feelings were perfectly valid.
I have thought a lot about our NICU experience ever since it happened and have realised that there are things that I would do differently. Hindsight. It’s a wonderful thing! I wish I had been kinder to myself and taken better care of myself and my husband. We had a great support network around us, but with our days spent in hospital from around 9am-7/8pm, we weren’t giving ourselves time to have any respite.
Self-care is spoken about a lot more now, and I wish I had taken more walks outside the hospital, we should have had a couple of days a week where we went home early to have the long bath, eat a proper home cooked meal and got lost in a boxset on Netflix. At the time, it almost felt like we couldn’t do anything that could make us happy, because we couldn’t possible feel happy during the worst time of our lives. Thinking about it from another perspective now, I realise that it had nothing to do with feeling happy. Doing those things would have given us a change a scenery, given us the time to rest and recoup and gather our thoughts at a time when it was a struggle to articulate exactly how we were feeling.
For any families who find themselves in NICU now, or in the future, be kind to yourselves. Cut yourselves some slack. There is no rulebook when it comes to NICU, everyone’s circumstances are different, and everyone will deal with their experience differently. It doesn’t matter if you’re there 3 days, 3 weeks or 3 months, the effect it can have on your mental health isn’t determined by the length of your stay.