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Christmas in the NICU - Kate's story

When our baby, Jack, was born at 29 weeks gestation on 9th November, 1999, weighing 960 grams, we were told by the Royal Women's Hospital that they would "do what they could" to save his life. He was very sick, so we knew his chances of survival were slim.

Apart from the "normal" premie problems of jaundice, blood transfusions, PDA, surfactant and antibiotics, Jack was on oxygen and ventilated. He developed chronic lung disease and hydrocephalus.

My life became a blur of hospital, medical lingo, doctors, nurses, specialists and bad news. I spent 14 hours a day, 7 days a week by my baby's side - talking to him, singing to him, touching him and, when allowed, cuddling him. I became obsessed about being with Jack. I read no newspapers. I watched no television. I became completely disinterested in everything and everyone, apart from Jack.

The more excited the world became about Christmas and the new millennium, the more despondent I became. I was meant to be 37 weeks pregnant, beached in a chair somewhere, not praying for my baby's life. It felt like we would be in this damn hospital forever. There had been so many setbacks. We were told that he would just turn the corner one day, but that day never seemed to come - that is, until Christmas Eve.

I arrived at the hospital, as usual, around 9.00 a.m. I was very depressed. I just didn't want Christmas Day to happen. I walked into Jack's room but he was missing. His isolette had disappeared. It took me a few seconds to realise that the baby in the open cot was Jack, and his ventilator was gone! I looked up and his nurse was beaming at me. She said she didn't ring me because she wanted to surprise me. This meant that I could hold him whenever I chose and that I could bath him for the first time. He had turned that corner! He was still on oxygen and still had to learn to suck his feeds, but he was on the way home.

It was at this point that I looked around me. For the first time I saw the Christmas decorations and the nurses all jollied up with tinsel and Christmas outfits. There was an air of excitement that I hadn't noticed before. Later that day a children's choir sang carols in the hallway. The children were delightful and the gesture was very sweet, but it reminded me that tomorrow was Christmas and Jack wouldn't be there. I had family commitments so it would be the first time I wouldn't be able to spend all day in the hospital; and the very day that I needed to.

Just before I left the hospital on Christmas Eve, I got another surprise when Santa came roaring into the ward to visit all the babies. Santa was one of the paediatricians who had taken it upon himself to try and cheer up all the parents and families. It was such a beautiful thought and it did manage to cheer me up enormously.

When I awoke on Christmas morning my husband showered me in gifts. Excessive of course, but his way of trying to cheer me up. It didn't work. As we drove into the hospital, a dark cloud of gloom engulfed me. The thought of my tiny sick baby spending his first Christmas without me was too much to bear. I was sobbing as I walked up to Jack's room, with my husband doing everything he could to comfort me.

What struck me as I walked into Jack's room still amazes me to this day. The foot of his cot was covered in Christmas stockings and bags full of gifts for Jack - baby clothes, toys, products and hand made items, all of which had been lovingly made and/or donated by the public. Jack was dressed in a new outfit and wrapped in a Christmas quilt. At the head of the cot was a bottle of champagne against which was propped an envelope. The envelope read "to Mummy and Daddy". The envelope contained a close up photo of Jack and the card read "to Mummy and Daddy, Merry Christmas, Love Jack"

I was absolutely overwhelmed. We were later told that the hospital employs a team of people to arrange such occasions as Christmas in NICU and Mother's Day on the wards. One of the nurses had made the babies' clothes and quilts with fabric donated by other nurses. I sat down and sobbed again, but this time for different reasons. I was not alone. There were people out there who cared and understood. My faith in humanity was, at that point, renewed.

Christmas Day 1999 was the saddest day of my life, but it was a day that was made so much easier by the kindness and support of so many wonderful people.

© 2000 Kate Wilson

This article was originally published in Premie Press, Vol.1, no.4, December 2000
and is reproduced with permission.

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