Guest post from Catriona Ogilvy, founder of The Smallest Things.
They say that nothing can prepare you for parenthood (I’d be inclined to agree); but for nine months you can plan, imagine, hope and dream.
For parents of babies born too soon though the anticipation is dramatically interrupted and the hopes and dreams become a distant memory replaced by the beeping sound of monitors and life support machines.
I have written about my experiences as part of the Smallest Things campaign after my first son was born suddenly at 30 weeks. My memories from that day are as hazy and surreal as the day itself. Calling my boss in-between contractions to say I wouldn’t be in work, being shown my tiny baby for just a nanosecond before he was taken away to intensive care, being given a bag full of leaflets and booklets about anything and everything, being told that my baby would spend up to ten weeks in hospital and that tomorrow would be my first day of maternity leave. That night climbing into bed at home the feeling of emptiness was all consuming and the sense of unfairness lingered at the back of my mind. How could I be on maternity leave? This isn’t how it was supposed to be.
For many mothers of babies born too soon maternity leave begins weeks if not months before their baby comes home. To me this just didn’t feel right and in some way I felt I was being punished for having my baby early. I’d missed out on my final trimester with him, and now I would miss out on our precious time at home together as well. Since launching The Smallest Things, our most popular post to date has been around extending maternity leave for mothers of premature babies. It is an issue that matters, and is an issue that resonates.
It is well documented that parents who have spent time in neonatal intensive care are at increased risk of developing anxiety or depression, with many reporting symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. Bonding with a baby in hospital can be difficult and coming to terms with all that has gone before shattering. After weeks you finally bring your new baby home only to start thinking about childcare options for return to work. That precious time together at home to bond is small, your time to accept, heal or seek necessary help is cut short and your baby, who although is chronologically older, is still tiny and totally dependent upon you.
Alongside the emotional trauma of having a premature baby there is also a very real cost to being in hospital. The latest survey by Bliss reports that on parents spend an extra £2,256 over the course of their hospital stay and I can certainly relate to this as we saw our cost of travel, parking, eating out etc mount up. This is a significant amount and with the worries and anxieties of having a baby in neonatal care parents do not need the added burden of whether they can afford to visit their baby in hospital or pay the monthly bills.
The Smallest Things is encouraging parents of babies born too soon to share their stories and to speak openly and honestly about their experiences. This is vital to increase awareness around the realities, both emotionally and financially, of having a premature baby, and is key in building an effective campaign calling on Government to extend maternity leave for mothers of babies born too soon.
More information can be found at our website www.thesmallestthings.org