Thursday 6 October 2011

Money's Too Tight to Mention - Finances and the NICU

Money is such a hard thing to write about. When you have a baby prematurely, obviously you are very grateful that your baby is alive and well and is in the best possible place. However emotionally, physically and also financially it's a tough time. This a very UK based post, as the issues with finances and the NICU are very different for those families in the US, who may not get paid maternity leave and also may incur very high medical bills as well.

The first obvious problem with finances when your baby is born prematurely, is that legally maternity leave kicks in as soon as the baby is born. It seems naive of me now but I had no idea. I actually thought work would continue to pay sick leave until my certificate ran out. In my case I was on Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) only, which was considerably less than my normal salary, and it had started 2 months early.

The second problem is that paternity leave in this country is ridiculous, two weeks pay only at a very low rate, somewhere around £100 per week. We felt that we wanted to save this until Joseph was coming home, so Corey took a week's annual leave when I was in hospital, and then went straight back to work. This was a cause of great stress to me in particular, as I felt completely abandoned.

The third problem is that hospitals are not cheap places. Whilst some provide parking to long term patients, many do not. For me, whilst parking was available (if you could find it), there was no provision for public transport assistance unless you were on benefits. The fact that SMP is less than income support and is, to all intents and purposes, a benefit is not taken into account. Most hospitals will cover expenses whilst you are "rooming in". Typically rooming in occurs at the end of your stay. In our case Joseph was in 76 nights, and my costs were only covered in the last 2 nights, and that only amounted to meal vouchers. Alarmingly the vouchers only covered certain items, fresh fruit not being amongst them.

The fourth, and very real problem, is that babies are not always accommodated near home. Take the Andersons as an example. This family are from Manchester, they were on holiday in Scotland when their baby arrived at 27 weeks. So far from home, the baby is not stable enough to be moved, so they are stuck in Scotland, still with household expenses at home, and also mounting costs whilst living away from home. This situation happens so often, I have heard heartbreaking stories of people being stuck abroad, with minimal insurance, and often in dire financial straits which can take years to sort out.

In some cases a baby may be born at the local hospital but then transferred if there is insufficient bed space, or if they have needs that cannot be met at the local hospital. This can result in additional cost, and families being separated. If there are other children at home, there is also the cost of looking after these children if mum/dad are out of the picture supporting the baby.

I think there is sometimes a reluctance to talk about money and the NICU, and sometimes people get defensive or even offensive when discussing this. I recall when Joseph was in hospital and I was complaining that whilst new born nappies often go on 3 for 2 offers, micro nappies never do, I was told off. I was told I should be grateful I had a baby to by a nappy for. Over 2 years on that comment still really hurts. Of course I am grateful but why should we have to pay a premium because we have small babies.

What I am getting at, is that if your baby is born prematurely, or poorly, there is a financial inequity compared to if your baby is born at term, and I think its time we talked about it and brought the issue out into the open.

Tomorrow I will blog about my tips for surviving financially and encourage you all to share your experiences.


  1. My theory is that this rule started back when premature meant around 6 weeks early, and no one has had the courage/foresight to revisit it. I feel for employers in a sense, as its pretty much set in stone.

    It worries me that no one is aware of this. Finding out when you are poorly yourself, you are not sure whether you baby is going to live or die, and then you have to start worrying about money and how you are going to survive, it just isn't fair.

    Congratulations on your son coming home Lilly but I am so sorry for your problems and you won't be able to stay home with him for as long as you would want to.

  2. I also thought that I would be on sick leave for 6 weeks and then the maternity leave would start (my boss was going to pay me my full wage for those 6 weeks). I was off sick for 2 days and then my son was born (July)...I was devastated when I found that the maternity leave starts right away....What's the result? my son just came home not even 2 weeks ago but in december I'll have to go back to work due to financial problems....Oh, and my boyfriend was not even entitled to paternity leave since he had just started a new job when my son was born...Not fair...