Mums-to-be often dream of maternity leave as a beautiful, joyous and peaceful time with their new bundle of joy; hours of cuddles as you bond with this precious newborn while learning to become the perfect mother. The reality is not always so idyllic as you quickly realise your little one doesn’t come with a manual and you are now on the steepest learning curve of your life, while also being in a permanent state of exhaustion. That said, I look back on my first maternity leave with such fond memories. Despite all the new-to-motherhood challenges I was completely besotted with my new daughter and loved every minute of her company.
However unprepared emotionally I was for maternity leave number one, nothing could have prepared me for maternity leave number two; 143 days of that time spent in NICU when my little girl arrived 15 weeks early. This time was so radically far from that idyllic maternity leave I had once envisaged. Here are the 10 ways time in NICU is most definitely not maternity leave:
1. Leaving the hospital empty handed: as you leave the hospital alongside many Mums & Dads with their beautiful bundles (and balloons), you go home with a heavy heart and to an empty Moses basket.
2. You are not your baby’s primary care giver: you have to let the medical team take over while you as the parent have to play a somewhat secondary role in the care of your baby for weeks and months.
3. Feeding through the night: waking every 3 hours through the night not to a beautiful baby but instead to an alarm and a breast pump.
4. Visiting your baby by appointment: you have to get up, dressed, and into the car to see your baby and according to NICU visiting times. If you yourself get sick you can’t see your baby at all.
5. Cuddles with permission: you have to hope your baby is well enough for a cuddle and often have a long wait for that first hold after birth, waiting days or maybe even weeks. When you finally get that special moment, it might only last 15 minutes.
6. No visitors: for the first many months of your baby’s life, you and your other half will be the only people to see your baby.
7. The virtual baby: for siblings and extended family your baby exists virtually through photos and videos.
8. The guilt: you are constantly torn between your baby in the hospital and your baby/babies at home. You dream of seeing your children at the same time, on the same day.
9. The journal: instead of a daily log of your baby’s feeds and nappies you find yourself taking note of things like intubations, extubations and blood transfusions.
10. The Fear: NICU is a scary world of the unknown and each day you live in fear of what might happen next.
You can sign the petition to have maternity leave extended for mothers of premature babies by clicking on the link below: