We live in a fairly small town. Although there is more than one supermarket, the one we tend to use is frequented by a lot of people we know, especially nurses. One day we were frantically shopping, Joseph was about one, and not the world's biggest fan of shopping. We bumped into one of the nurses. "Oh my lord, he's huge!" she said. I made such a refreshing change from "how old is he? Are you sure? Isn't he tiny?"
I think a lot of my friends who have "done time" with their babies are the same, they have kept in contact with staff via facebook and/or in real life. Its such a boost to have these people comment on photos, or see you in the street and look with absolute joy on their faces at the transformation from dinky dot to ordinary baby or toddler.
One day I had to take Joseph to the hospital for an opthamology appointment, and we ran into one of the consultants that looked after Joseph. She grinned from ear to ear. "He's just massive, haven't you done a marvellous job?" And that made me feel wonderful. And, importantly, it made me feel that his progress was down to me, not them.
Because there was a time, when Joseph didn't feel like ours. From talking to othe rmothers who have been in the same position, this feeling is fairly normal. Although you are the parents, you have no authority, you are told what to do and when. You have feeding schedules, even when you can pick up your baby is very much controlled by staff. I don't think its easy to appeciate when you have had a "take home baby" just how hard it is to have someone dictate pretty much your every move with your own baby. You can't decide when to feed them, often what to feed them, you can't always do the sort of parenting that you want to do, that you've dreamt about, that you've read about.
And once you are on the "outside" it takes a long time for many people, to realise you can do what you like! I know I felt this way quite keenly. And I've heart other mothers of premature babies say exactly the same thing "Can I pick them up, do you think it's ok?" You can bath your baby when you want. If you want to go for a walk, or a weekend away, nothing is stopping you, you don't have to ask permission. It's daunting as well, when you have had 24/7 support, no matter how intrusive it becomes, having a ward full of baby experts is a comfort.
But there's another side to having your baby in hospital, a more positive one. I remember many times when the very experienced staff would show me things, how to swaddle, different positions for feeding, different ways of bathing, even things as simple as how to bottle feed and sterilisation techniques (which as confirmed breastfeeder I knew absolutely nothing about!) and I realised how priveleged we were. We had input from experts. And whilst at times it was a source of frustration, different people did things a little differently, so we could then decide which techniques we liked the best.
Whilst having a premature baby frightened me in many ways, and it was a shock, it has really given me a great deal of confidence in my parenting. I came home from hospital with my baby with a routine, and I had a set of skills that I wouldn't have had if my baby had been a "take home model".
I am so grateful to those angels, who work in NICU, and devote their time, not only to the babies in their care, but to the families who have had their world shaken to the foundations.