I have had this post open in ‘drafts’ for a number of days- the beginning of Finn’s hospital journey and I realised it was also the end of mine. I want to tell his story chronologically, factually but without the intention of terrifying others. I want you to hold onto the knowledge that there are positive outcomes, even when times are so dark they seem impossible. For me, this still touches a nerve when I attempt to explain it and I think perhaps even more so now, because in those first days, in reality, I was clueless. I have been very lucky that up until Finn’s birth I had never spent any time in hospital, nor had any of my family or friends been in hospital for anything too serious or for any length of time and so I had no first or even second or third hand experience of hospital life. The daily routines, pharmaceuticals, staff change over, food, opening hours, visiting hours, hand washing, bed space, it was all brand new! After Finn was born and then revived on the resuscitare, he was taken directly to the NICU where we were then unable to see him for a number of hours. Interestingly, and I guess quite obviously, at that moment Finn and I became separate patients: I, Patient A on the Labour Ward- at this point to now be treated as a postnatal mother, and Finn, Patient B, on the NICU. I was moved for bed space on the Labour Ward into a room (or cupboard) further down the corridor with no windows within about 30 minutes, Finn was born at 00:30 after which I think I managed to grab about two hours sleep out of pure exhaustion in my new cupboard before 06:00 came and a nurse told us that Finn had been stabilised and that we were allowed to see him. In addition, though, I was also now being moved up to the Postnatal Ward where they wanted to keep me for an additional night, so, she asked, ‘Could I please gather my bags?’.
I will come to the part of seeing Finn for the first time but I do feel it is of great importance to talk of my experience as Patient A. I was, understandably, not in the right frame of mind, nor was it my priority to contest my room changes x3 in the space of less than eight hours. Being a first time mother, and therefore naive in relation to the aforementioned hospital routines, I was not aware that I, being completely well, was able to discharge myself to focus on Finn. There was absolutely no reason I needed to stay an additional night in hospital; I required no medication except perhaps over-the-counter pain relief, I personally suffered no complications, and with Finn being on the NICU the only time I would need to spend on the ward would be to sleep. Let me tell you, it is quite simply brutal to put a new mother, following a traumatic birth, separated from her critically ill baby (who may never make it), onto an open ward of women and their crying, healthy bundles for the night to ‘sleep’ and recuperate!
I lay in that bed, with my hands over my ears separated only by a curtain from the five other women and their babies surrounding me. I had not cried until this point for the purpose of self-preservation and to try my hardest to be in the right frame of mind to make decisions with the doctors over Finn’s care. I wept, uncontrollably, like a small child struggling to take inward breath. As all of the mothers around me cooed and fussed over their newborns, their partners whispering encouragement, nurses and midwifes popping in to offer support in the darkness, I realised with full force the lack of a bassinet in my own bay. I stayed, my knees tucked up to my chin, behind my curtain- not once did a midwife visit me. Sore and exhausted, I left the bay and hobbled toward the nurses station in the vain hope of a paracetamol, too shocked and exhausted to appreciate the fact that it was quite possibly the cruellest thing I would ever have to endure, and that I had a choice- I didn’t have to be there, to be subjected to that.
To make matters worse, I begged the next morning, to leave, in tears I explained to the midwife on duty that I had not been visited by anybody for pain relief or indeed to check on my emotional state, I also made a point of mentioning that it was not remotely sensitive of the hospital to place me on an open ward full of mothers and their healthy babies. It took another three hours before the discharge papers were processed. I sat in a sterile waiting room on a cold leather sofa while a midwife and, looking back now I assume a student, came to speak to me about my leaving hospital. I am so angry as I think back to this and have to write my next sentence. The pair of them then proceeded to tell me the safety measures of caring for a newborn baby. They asked me if I knew how I should bath a baby. They told me where to hold him, to support his head, how to test the temperature of the water…how to put him to sleep in his cot- to make sure I positioned him so that his feet were at the bottom of the cot so that he couldn’t wriggle beneath the blankets… I sat staring, exasperated, shocked- dismayed at the ignorance! To tell a woman, visually distraught, her notes in your hand, how to care for a healthy newborn when (if at all), it is going to be a very, very long time before she ever gets to take a baby home…I can’t even begin to comment. You might think that somebody would have realised that perhaps it was not the right time to have that particular conversation. It was so by the book, so impersonal, so shockingly ignorant to attempt that dialogue that it broke me. Up until that night in the Postnatal Ward, I had held it together, I had stayed strong, I had with resolution and determination, visited my baby, my thin frail foetus of a newborn and spoken with the doctors about his progress and potential fate, but that conversation with the two midwives who discharged me and the night I endured on that ward I will remember for the rest of my life. I walked with my husband out of the doors of the Elizabeth Garratt Anderson Wing to a fierce blast of freezing February air. My poor father, desperate in his grief, tried to help me into the car, Danny carrying the bags behind me. I was numb.
This is in no way a diatribe on the NHS, but it was an unfortunate, and at the time, devastating oversight on the part of whomever was responsible for moving me along that night, or a fault of the system in general. My care, antenatally on the Labour Ward was exemplary, but this has stuck out to me as a very serious aspect of postnatal care that needs to be addressed- the care of women after birth who are exceptionally vulnerable following either still birth or any birth resulting in the separation of the mother from their newborn child.
Should you ever need to raise concerns with the NHS department or hospital where you have received treatment, every hospital has a PALS office where you may submit complaints, observations or indeed commendations. Let us not forget that this is one unfortunate example, one that I have articulated with the view to raising awareness around preterm care for not just babies but also their mothers. Finn, in contrast, was a recipient of the exceptional.