Typically, when a baby is born premature, they stay in hospital until around their due date, or at the very least, until they are term (37 weeks gestation). In the UK it is usual practice that the mother is discharged as soon as they are physically well enough, for a caeserean section the guideline is 5-7 days post operative recovery, for a vaginal delivery it can be as little as 1-3 nights.
As a result the mother (and father) will be spending a lot of time visiting their baby, who is living away from them, sometimes many many miles from home.
Hospitals vary widely in how well they cater for mothers and fathers visiting their baby. In our hospital we didn't even have a room where we could express, most of the time I did this at Joseph's cot side. Staff would get us water, but we had no ready access to the water fountain, much less to make a brew.
Fot the first week of Joseph's life, I was an inpatient. In the second week I was home, but still very weak. I went in every day but only once, and could only stay for about an hour, before I had to go home to sleep. After a week or so of doing this I still went once a day, but stayed for 3 - 4 hours, having a lunch break at the hospital, either in the cafeteria or outside under the trees when the weather was fine.
Towards the middle of his journey I was going twice a day, arriving at around 10am and then leaving at 2 and going back around 6 until 8. I did all this on public transport! All the bus drivers wondered what on earth I was doing, and Joseph soon became a minor celebrity.
So what did I do when I was there? I found it was easier to cope if I had structure. I used to do containment holding for the first 5-10 minutes, and I would tell Joseph about my day. Then I would massage his feet, and sing to him for a while. Then I'd express my milk for him just before doing his cares. I'd wash his little face, and in the early days he'd take some of my milk on pippette as a moutwash. I'd change his nappy too, not easy in an incubator!
Then I would read a story, or even OK magazine! Or I would describe photos, telling him all about his home, and his extended family.
Medically, I would try to always be present for ward rounds. I was a pain in the arse. I make no apology for it, but I am quite sure the consultant team and their registrars and house officers referred to me as "that bloody Hodges woman". I would ask questions, I'd take notes, I'd ask for things to be explained, to be written down for me if I felt I needed to refer to it later.
I soon got used to life on the NICU. Monday was Consultant Day. The consultant would personally attend rounds and do a summary of each baby and talk to the parents if they were around. It was also Head Day, the ultrasound technician would come around and examine the babies - checking for brain bleeds and other inconsistencies. Tuesday was eye day. The opthalmologist would come and do examinations for ROP (Retinopathy of Prematurity). Wednesday was bloods day. I used to hate Wednesdays, particularly in the early days, news was never good. Results were available within hours. Thursday was often blood transfusion day for Joseph, following his results, he had anemia for a long time. Friday was another chance to see the Consultant before the weekend.
I used to love and hate weekends. The good part of weekends was that sometimes nurses had more time. Cuddles were longer, there was less hassle. The less good part of weekends was that there was less medical presence, there was a consultant on duty but they weren't there as much, so if things went wrong, it could be quite scary. However, what was lovely was Joseph having us both there, and of course, my husband had the car, so we could come and go a bit more readily, and I didn't have to rely on buses!
It took me a long time to get used to being at home, without the rhythm and routine of hospital! And I think both Joseph and I missed our staff!