I will never forget the moment I finally did a pregnancy test in November 2008. I had just booked in for hand surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome, and decided that on the way home from seeing the surgeon to get a pregnancy test. I really, honestly didn't think I was, but didn't want to go under an anaesthetic without checking first.
My husband was home, we were about to have dinner, I popped into the loo, and peed on the stick. "Pregnant" (I bought one of those that had "the word") I couldn't believe it. I exited the loo grinning from ear to ear.
My pregnancy wasn't easy, I felt sick a lot, I felt "weird" a lot. My moods were pretty low, I never felt that confident that my pregnancy would continue, and there were a few rows along the way. Whilst we dearly wanted a baby, to be a family, we were expecting to be one of those couples that had to try for a long time. We were living in a one bedroom flat, that we owned, circumstances weren't ideal.
I've mentioned before, but when my husband took me into hospital at 3 in the morning the day before Joseph was born, he left me there and went to work, thinking I was just having a "moment" and everything would be fine.
Once things started really kicking off, I saw a side of my husband I had never seen before. He was organised, forward thinking, and very caring. He brought in food (our hospital's meals were awful), he rang people, he fetched me magazines, and personal care items. In a crisis, he was the person to have around.
But as time went on, and Joseph's hospital stay continued, times got very very hard. Sustaining a relationship, caring for a child, recovering from a severe illness and surgery, and dealing with the stress of it all, is very difficult. I resented the fact my husband had to work. Not resentful of him, but angry that his company did not seem to understand what we were going through. We were treated as if I'd had a bouncy newborn and was sat at home with my baby. I was angry that I had to catch buses to hospital, had to struggle every day with exhuastion. Angry that I had to deal with doctors and nurses, with information overload, with attitude of young nurses who seemed threatened by a vocal, assertive mother. And we were lucky. Joseph's stay was only 10 weeks, many other babies stay a lot longer. But unfortunately that anger and resentment, coupled with post traumatic stress disorder, was very difficult for me to overcome, and I took it out on my husband. Not proud of it, but there it is.
It isn't suprising then, to learn that the rates of divorce are a lot higher for couples who have had a baby in special care. It's something that is referred to quite a lot, however I struggled to find statistics. I know of quite a few couples who had babies around the same time as we had Joseph, who are no longer together.
For some families, the discharge of the baby from the unit is not the end of the story. Many of these babies have long term health issues that require a lot of input from the parents. For some families, finances are so adversely affected by a lengthy special care stay, that it takes years to recover. For others, one or both members of the partnership may be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress disorder. The heightened awareness, inability to "stand down", the nightmares, the flashbacks are very difficult to deal with. And, the additional problem is misdiagnosis. Often it is assumed that a mother, in particular, is suffering from Post Natal Depression, and the treatment is often very different. And in the case of the father, they may not have received any assistance at all in terms of their mental health.
I think as a community we really need to think about how we support families. Bliss strongly believes in treating the whole family, not just the premature baby, but in cash strapped, understaffed units that is incredibly difficult.
I am so grateful to my husband, he is a wonderful father, and a great support to me, and I am glad, thus far, we have survived together.