Christmas in the NICU
– by Fiona Mylchreest
Fiona talks about her first Christmas with her first born, Finn, who was born prematurely.
There was a time we thought Finn would be in NICU for Christmas. Not so surprising, you might think, considering he was due in December and born in September. Somehow Christmas is a marker: when people talk about a baby’s first Christmas, they don’t mean in hospital.
The wonderful NICU staff reassured us it would be fun. They had special holly-patterned incubator-friendly babygros. We could spend the day with him. They decorated corridors (not the wards with the machines). I found a tiny prem outfit of green dungarees with a reindeer on. We tried to be brave.
“No other Christmas present will ever compare.”
Finn came home on 23 December. No other Christmas present will ever compare. He was four months old and still couldn’t breathe so we had piped oxygen in our house, produced by a machine the size of a fridge. We could plug him in in every room and for going out we had cylinders which weighed five times as much as he did. In the downstairs loo we had a huge cylinder in case there was a power cut. There are actually a lot of very short power cuts in the night, which you never realize until you have an oxygen machine which alarms within a second of every fluctuation.
The oxygen didn’t matter. Our baby was home. We took him on walks, we fed him on the sofa while watching TV. We did things which are so normal you can’t imagine not doing them, like I fed him still in my nightie instead of being fully dressed, we tucked him into a tiny Moses basket, not a plastic hospital cot and sometimes he fell asleep in our bed, between us, oxygen tubes and all.
I remember on Christmas morning slipping out of bed to put the turkey in the oven and leaving Finn in bed with Julian. They were fast asleep and facing each other and so complete. I hadn’t imagined having my baby home would feel like this. Perhaps I just appreciated it more because we had waited so long, because there had been days when it seemed like it would never happen. I stood and looked at the big head and the tiny head and the two sets of ridiculously long eyelashes and I went to get my camera before I bothered with the turkey.
Here’s the picture. It’s still very special to me: my baby, two days’ home, and my husband, four months after the horrors of the birth, now completely relaxed, breathing in time with his tiny son. Finn had a stocking, he lay under the Christmas tree and he had turkey flavoured breast milk (I guess).
We treasured every minute. It was special because we understood how precious and fragile it was, because we had done four months in NICU, because we owed so much to so many people.
But it would have still have been special, albeit in a different way, if we hadn’t had those four months, if Finn hadn’t been so premature, if we hadn’t cost the NHS a fortune; if we could just have had our baby on time and gone home two days later.
That’s my hope for other parents; a special and ordinary birth, challenging and common problems; taking their baby home. I hope that instead of feeling a priceless gratitude to NICU, other parents thank Borne for healthy babies born at the right time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fiona Mylchreest is mother to five children, all of whom were born prematurely. She has written a number of pieces for Borne where she shares her experience and reflects on the implications and lifelong challenges caused by prematurity.