Today is International Nurses Day – and I’ve never had so much interaction with nurses as I’ve had over the last year. For six long weeks in the Neonatal Unit, my precious little fighter was cared for by a fantastic team of nurses at the University of Wales Hospital Cardiff.
Nothing can prepare a new mother for handing over (not literally – most NICU mums don’t get that golden hour after birth) the care of their baby to someone else unexpectedly. Despite the many hours NICU parents spend at their baby’s bedside, they cannot be there 24/7. As a minimum, parents must leave for handover times. More likely, parents will leave the unit for a night’s sleep (or broken sleep whilst setting alarms to pump). Parents must accept the difficult reality that their baby’s 24/7 caregiver is the NICU nurse.
I found it hard to accept this. I missed the opportunity to put clothes on L for the first time. I wasn’t the first person to see him in his cot, after a long month staring at him behind his incubator walls. I was constantly told that I needed to touch L a certain way, hold him in a particular position and ask permission for skin-to-skin. I began to resent the nurses, feeling jealous that they got to call the shots on the best care for my baby.
But once the shock of L’s premature arrival began to slowly subside, I started to appreciate that the nurses wanted the absolute best for my little fighter. They wanted to support me to be the best mother I could be, adapting my expectations of what a newborn needs. They talked me through the myriad of medical screens next to L’s beside and involved me in his care, showing me how to feed my baby with my own milk by holding his syringe. It sounds so mundane in writing, but it felt amazing to be helping the milk flow.
After three weeks, L was transferred from NICU to SCBU for his final three weeks of care (not that I knew the timescales back then – a discharge date is never promised). I was told that the SCBU nursery would be the chance for me to get more involved in L’s care, doing things myself and preparing for home. But the nursery was the hardest stage. Home was in sight, L was doing well and I desperately just wanted to get my little boy home. My fighting-against-the-nurses mentality was slowly creeping in. I constantly questioned why they weren’t pushing him more, increasing his feeds, rousing him to wake. I was frustrated and would often sneak off for a little cry when I didn’t hear the answers I wanted. I needed help.
And along came Becky. With a stroke of luck, Becky was in charge of L for a number of consecutive shifts. She used her experience to talk me through why things weren’t moving as quickly as I liked – and why that was the best thing for L. She would let me rant my frustrations out and then discuss the next practical goal to focus on, helping me look forward to milestones rather than constantly fixate on the end goal of home. Slowly, I could recognise the progress that was being made. L would take an extra feed from the breast. His incubator would be turned down a degree. Becky changed my outlook and I enjoyed the small successes along our journey.
One of my favourite NICU memories is L’s first bath. I had so jealous watching other mum’s get involved in bathtime and always nagged Becky to remind me when L reached the allowed gestation for a dip. When the big day arrived, despite my excitement, I wanted to wait for Becky’s next shift so we could do it together. The reality of putting my 3lb-something baby into a bath was more daunting that I expected. So it was Becky that gave L his first little dunk; she swished him about on his tummy and he seemed so content. I plucked up the courage to do it myself and tried to copy Becky’s moves.
Thankfully, L did get to go home. By changing my mindset, I had been focused on the things that I could do (such as seeking breastfeeding advice) to benefit L rather than getting frustrated. A few weeks after discharge, I took L along to the SCIPS (the UHW’s Neonatal Unit charity) teddy bears picnic and L was reunited with Becky. She was delighted to see him and beamed when I handed him over for a cuddle. I got the chance to enjoy a much-needed cup of tea in peace as Becky had scooped L off to coo over him. It was so lovely to see that even outside of the unit, she cared about L just as much.
Becky is a wonderful nurse who shared her expertise with me to make my life easier on our NICU. There are hundreds of other neonatal nurses like Becky around the UK, working closely with parents each day to provide the best care for premature and sick babies. I’ve recently blogged about the incredible new nappies for preemies – the Pampers Preemie Protection range – which is designed for babies as small as 1lb 8oz. The expertise of NICU nurses has been used by Pampers to produce the perfect preemie nappy; Pampers conducted 10,000 hours of research with over 100 NICU nurses to design the contoured fit that helps them grow without mobility challenges, the noiseless tapes help to protect tiny ears from stressful sounds when being changed and the breathable materials designed to protect their extra delicate skin.
To celebrate International Nurses Day, Pampers is continuing their partnership with Bliss (the charity for premature and sick babies) in their amazing work to support premature babies, families and also their work to support NICU nurses, including neonatal care training and education. Following the success of the #PowerOfBabies call to action, Pampers will donate another £1 to Bliss for every ‘Thank You’ message about NICU nurses shared on social media using #alittlethankyou.
So please get involved and share your stories – let’s celebrate the amazing nurses around the world who care for our little fighters in their most vulnerable times.
This post has been developed in conjunction with Pampers UK to raise awareness of the new Pampers Preemie Protection nappies and the social media campaign #powerofbabies for Bliss, the charity for premature babies.