Parenting a child in the neonatal unit is a bit like putting sugar on frosties, Somehow it feels like you're just not needed.
I remember those early days, the feelings of helplessness as I loomed in the background,clinging to hope, terrified to invest anything more than a physical appearance.
I think it was my second visit, post c-section when upon entry,it appeared to me as though all the parents and the entire staff team were focused on me. I turn to Steve, who is propping me up with both hands and I say 'They are all looking at me..'
'They are all looking at me and they are thinking..'there is the mum...there is the mum of that tiny baby'
'Don't be silly' says Steve as I blubber snot into his one remaining clean shirt.
'They aren't thinking that at all, they are thinking.. there is that mum, so off her head on morphine,she needs propping up'
'Really.' he confirms, giving me another hug.
In truth I don't think I ever fully accepted my role as a NICU mummy.
The doctors and nurses did all they could to help me feel a part of the team. They offered detailed explanations and updates,they tried to encourage me to change nappies, put on new sheets and assist with tube feeds.
The difficulty was I didn't want to be a part of the team. I wanted to be the one in charge and frankly, being thrown the odd nappy wasn't really doing it for me.It just felt a bit like being assigned the role of 'baby' in the game of mums and dad's. You just just have go along with everyone else's ideas, let out the odd cry and hope that one day you get to play mummy.
Similarly, as is the case with all well behaved children I waited patiently for my turn.Well at first I did, but then what would happen next? the rules would change, and we'd be carted off to a different hospital and there would be a whole new staff team.
When we arrived at the fourth and final hospital,after the sixth transfer I was all but shouting 'I'm the mummy, it's my turn!'
I would turn up with little piles of carefully ironed sheets for the incubator, and muslin squares to go over her 'nests.'
'She doesn't like those towels in there' I'd tell the nurse
'She likes muslin squares, they are softer on her skin' Then I would race down to the milk kitchen and get the milk before she had a chance to even think about it.
Of course its not that neonatal nurses don't understand a mums need to feel involved in their babies care, On the contrary they are always 'saving poo's and such like, but gestures like these,although appreciated, did little to enhance my sense of maternal well-being .You see I didn't want to be 'invited to participate' and I didn't want to do jobs that any old nurse could do. I desired independence, craved exclusivity,and the only way it seemed I could achieve this was to shunt the nurses out of the picture and 'take the reigns' myself.
The nhs bed space dilemma did add to my stress. It was difficult always being on new territory. Also,different hospitals vary in the approaches they take to parental involvement and like the over keen advocate that I was, I never ceased to miss an opportunity to highlight inconsistencies in care.
'You don't know her as I do..' I'd gloat to the nurses whenever I disagreed with a decision.
'I have been with her all along, you haven't ' (so.. na-nah-na-nah-na)
As embarrassing as it is to recall, this was none the less all a part of my NICU experience.Looking back I feel the utmost admiration for the neonatal nurses who bore the brunt of my emotional distress.
Who smiled when I smiled and acted appropriately somber when I looked stressed or angry.
Who worked with patience, kindness and humanity when I was confused, tired and upset.
Who showed relentless compassion, courtesy and respect when I was being an argumentative, self-righteous old bag.
And, who always found the time to do all of these things in between delivering life saving interventions, administering drugs, writing up notes and tending to the countless needs of a case load of babies.
It really is a truly amazing job that they do! :-)