When the evening shadows and stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love
To Make You Feel My Love- Bob Dylan
The other day, Joseph and I went on a mission to visit a friend of mine and her little lad. Her little boy had broken his leg and was in hospital on bed rest. This hospital really isn't that far, in the grand scheme of things, about 14 miles. But it was a mission. We had to get to our bus station, about a 15 minute walk, catch two trams, and then a bus, which took another half an hour. With a fair wind behind us it took us just over an hour and a half. Each way.
When Joseph was in hospital, about six weeks old, another baby was admitted, also a 27 weeker, unfortunately she didn't do as well and had to be transferred to this very hospital that Joseph and I visited. It would have taken her at least two hours in peak hour, and cost about £7 a day. I often wondered how she coped, I never saw her again, and doing this journey really made me think.
Last night a documentary was shown on ITV1. Called Baby Hospital, it follows families whose babies are in a special care unit at the Liverpool Women's Hospital, only 30 miles or so from here. Unlike other documentaries I have seen, this is very gritty and doesn't sugar coat it. Last night's episode was about single parent families.
All over Twitter and Facebook there were comments about one particular mum. Only 21, her baby had been born at 28 weeks gestation, and she had two other children, aged 1 and 2 at home. Home was a temporary accomodation facility 14 miles from the hospital. When they showed the baby, the voiceover said the mother hadn't been in to see the baby for 15 days. She then attended when he needed surgery, but then didn't come again for at least another 8 days. The baby was then transferred to a hospital closer to home.
The mother appeared on camera from her home with the other two children, and explained that she hadn't bonded with the baby, her other two children needed her more, she had been poorly herself, and it was too difiicult to get to the hospital.
It was heart wrenching to see this baby, who had started noticing his surroundings more, just lying there, no one to cuddle him, to have kangaroo care, to provide breast milk, just lying and waiting. It broke my heart.
But I can see how it happens. I don't care what anyone says, or what anyone does to make it better, but Neonatal Units are horrible. Yes, they are essential, and the way they are set up is necessary, but they are not nice places to be. They can be scary, and confronting, and just plain uncomfortable. You can't take children in there, not all the time, usually there are only a couple of hours a day kids are allowed in, and its not a place for toddlers. I did feel for this mum, because it looked, from the outside, that her life was quite chaotic. I only managed to visit as much as I did because I was structured, organised, had people to help, and had money. I saw comments last night that people would have walked the 14 miles, with their toddlers, to see the baby. But would you really? If a baby is hospital for months and months, its very difficult when you have other children at home. In some countries, like the US, many mothers return to work when their babies are in NICU, as there are not the same maternity leave provisions as here.
The thing about special care baby units is that they are not full of middle class families with money in the bank, and nice ordered home lives. All sorts of families find themselves in these places, and I am glad the documentary hasn't edited those people out. It's important to show the different walks of life and outlooks of the mothers who find themselves there.
As much as it saddens me that this little boy was lying there with no one to love and care for him, I'm not sure I can judge this mum too harshly. I haven't been in her shoes. Who knows what trauma she has suffered in her 21 years, and what has brought her to have 3 children under 3 before she has had a chance to grow up herself. Who knows how alone she is, or what influences and troubles she has to deal with. Drugs maybe? Crushing debt? Certainly poverty and social isolation.
My baby was my first born, I had no other commitments at home. I had no one else sharing that heart space. I had nowhere else to be, but my baby's cot side, reading and singing, hoping and praying, and most of all, loving. As hard as it was, I could afford the bus fare, meals at hospital, tiny nappies and premature baby clothes, as much as it was hard to budget, and annoying to having to be paying for these things instead of buying nursery furniture and pretty things for him to grow up with, I could do it.
I had my husband, who loves me, and adores Joseph, and always stood by us and believed in us as a family.
I just hope, that as he grows up, this little baby has someone who will love him, and care for him, and go to the ends of the earth for him.