Last week was World Prematurity Day, and I took the girls back to the Rosie Hospital & Addenbrookes NICU – the hospital where they were born and the ward where they spent the first two months of their lives – for a reunion with the staff and some of their old roommates.
The event was 100% totally sweet. We paraded through the halls of the hospital with little tea lights, wearing purple (the colour of prematurity and also, I recently learned, of pancreatic cancer), and then convened in a hospital seminar room with a table of cakes and tea and coffee for a reception that lasted about 45 minutes. And then we left. It was perfect.
Many of the NICU staff had provided baked goods and there was a great turnout from consulting doctors and a few of the nurses (many, of course, were working and not able to come). Seeing the staff, the people who literally saved our children’s lives, was fantastic, and while I appreciate it wasn’t at the top of their list of things to do, I wish I’d been able to see more of them. Sarah and Sophie from room 7 or Denise and Ben from room 12…I get a little emotional thinking about it, even now. The NICU staff made it possible for me to go home and sleep every night even when Fiona’s oxygen needs were going up or when Daphne had green goo coming out of her stomach. They took care of my daughters when I couldn’t, and I will never be able to say thank you enough. I hope they know that.
None of the midwives or maternal consultants were there, which is a shame – because as critical as the NICU nurses were, the only people I wanted to see more were Kasha and Catherine, the doctors who watched over my uterus week after week and then ultimately delivered the girls by emergency C-section. Catherine came to debrief me before she left the hospital, as I was coming down off the heroin derivatives you get when you have a c-section, too, which was awfully kind,
There were probably about fifteen families, mostly with children under a year old, including at least two women casually slinging oxygen for their baby and a six-month-old three-month-old who looked like the tiniest old man you’ve ever seen.
A number of our girls’ NICU contemporaries were there. In December of last year, there was a family of quads born at 27 weeks at the Rosie, and the smallest of them ultimately spent over five months there. They were all there and were, naturally, like visiting celebrities. There was another family of twins born two weeks after mine who were our roommates for a couple of weeks and two other single babies whom I hadn’t actually ever seen in person – I’d just seen their mums in the pumping room.
It was a funny thing. I know these women (it was mostly women, because the milk kitchen was where the bonding happened) from one of the most difficult phases of our lives. Our children spent months occupying the same rooms and our breastmilk sat side-by-side in little purple trays and we passed each other in the halls wearing pyjamas, or swallowing tears en route to the toilets. We chatted through the beige curtains to background music provided by Medela breast pumps and then swore at the bizarrely hot tap water we used to wash our pump parts, exchanging small talk as we each microwaved our steriliser bags for three minutes.
I liked a lot of the people I met in the NICU. The super-religious family; the family with a silent husband and a wife with more than enough personality for two; the couple with a dad who was always dressed in expensive loungewear; the French woman who showed up two days postpartum with perfect hair and makeup; the ones who always ate tinfoil-wrapped sandwiches in the parents’ room and the American military man who thought my excitement over Teddy Grahams was hilarious (I mean, it was). But when people ask if I made friends, I say ‘well…I made Facebook friends.’
It was so good to see these families again – with parents looking less wan, mums looking slimmer, and babies looking chunky and normal. I’m so pleased I got to go, and to show off the girls a bit too. But it is also funny to think – given all the solidarity I got and gave with these people – that actually, half an hour of shmoozing turned out to be just about right. I walked back through the hospital and packed the girls into the bike, grateful to have seen everyone and even more grateful to be leaving the hospital behind for a while.