Confessions of a Neonatal Nurse
'I can do this’ I thought, ‘I look after babies for a living! How hard can it be?? I've got this!’
How naïve, unprepared and surprised I was.
When I found out I was pregnant with my first baby I had been working full time as a Neonatal nurse for just over 3 years. I loved my job- and still very much do, but it is a rollercoaster of a ride. 13 hour shifts caring for the sick, premature, surgical, and sometimes even dying, babies. Every shift I would walk onto the unit and do my utmost to keep the babies safe and comfortable and provide their parents and family with a friendly, caring and supportive space amid the monitors, lines, equipment and chaos that is a Neonatal unit.
I very clearly remember looking after a baby who was born at 26 weeks gestation. He was the same gestation as I was with my pregnancy. I don’t remember saying anything that shift, but I must have given off an air of nerves because a fantastic consultant I admire greatly looked me in the eyes and said, ‘You will be fine Emma. Your baby will be fine’. I never compared my pregnancy to my patients again after that. If anything was ever to happen to me or my baby before it was due, it would be ok when there was a team of fantastic nurses and doctors working tirelessly to keep all the babies safe.
So confession time. I’m a control freak. I like order, and I like to know what’s in store for me.
Impending labour was not something I was looking forward to. A born worrier, I continuously mulled over every possible disastrous scenario of birth in my mind, 24-7. I had seen hundreds of births but all had been high risk with an outcome that involved intensive care support, the separation of parents from their newborn baby and a lot of uncertainty. This made me feel very frightened, but I hid it well.
Confession number two…I actually really enjoyed labour. It started the day before my due date and it lasted FOREVER! But once my body got into the swing of it, I went to a different place and with every contraction that gripped me like a vice, I invited the pain as it meant I was nearing the end. The waiting was soon to be over.
Labour didn’t pan out as I’d hoped. Failure to progress, baby back to back, face presentation and foetal distress dictated an emergency c-section under a general anaesthetic. I missed the birth of my baby daughter. I wasn’t the first to hold her in my arms, instead waking to my husband cradling her in his, with the room spinning, unable to sit up and hold her and feeling totally cheated.
I was ok though, she was ok and that was the most important thing. I’ve seen babies not make it after an ordeal like that so I didn’t have the right to feel sad for me, I had to feel grateful.
Why I was so cruel to myself I don’t know, and still don’t understand really.
I breastfed her successfully but that pep talk I gave myself when I found out I was pregnant felt like a lie. I didn’t know what I was doing at all when it came to looking after MY baby. I was ace at looking after my patients at work, but you throw in hormones, unruly swollen breastfeeding boobs, sleepless nights and a fear of failure and I really lost my confidence.
It was me and this tiny little lady. I loved her beyond compare but despite my years of experience as a nurse, I didn’t know what I was doing.
Then it happened.
One day I just put down my baby books. I stopped over analysing everything health professionals said to me. I stopped trying to find answers and started listening to ME. I turned my attention inwards and I trusted my instincts and listened to my intuition. After the hard time I’d given myself about my daughter’s birth, I learnt to love myself as a mother. I did know how to feed, how to comfort, how to care for and keep my baby safe. It was in me all along and still is now, ten years later.
I hold my experience of childbirth very close to my heart. It wasn’t as I’d wanted it to be, but it is my story of becoming a mother, it is my daughter’s journey into the world and into our family, and I use what I felt then- and feel now as a result, in my work to help the new mothers and fathers I meet on every shift on the neonatal unit.
There isn’t a manual for everything. Disappointments happen in life. Hold it lightly in your heart and find the positive from every experience. Love yourself and trust your ability to be a totally awesome mama!
Emma is a mum of two and lives by the sea. She loves dog walks, movie nights in with the husband and kids, chocolate and gin! She teaches LushTums Pregnancy Yoga in Bournemouth, is qualified in pregnancy massage and is about to start the LushTums Postnatal yoga training so she can soon offer Postnatal Yoga classes to women in her community.