I can pinpoint the moment where the support network I had when I was giving birth melted away; the next morning. After Elijah, had been admitted to neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) overnight and I was moved to a side room. I asked her where my baby was, how he was. The midwife shrugged, she didn't know and left. She didn't bother to find out and I was left in the room on my own. I had even asked the tea lady where my baby was. I just wished someone, anyone had just tried to update me. I was a mother who had just given birth and no one could tell me where or how my baby was. I was so overwhelmed at seeing Elijah like that I fainted and had to be taken back to my room.
I am not using this post to badmouth the midwives and nurses of the hospital as I think they do an amazing job. I had some amazing midwives who would sit with me, talk with me and ask me about Elijah. I needed someone just to talk to me like I wasn't the poor mother whose baby had a heart defect. Elijah had been in NICU for three days before anyone at all gave us any information about having a baby on NICU. That was a quick visit in the form of some leaflets.
For those first few days we heavily relied on other NICU parent support; to tell us how things worked, what we could do, the best Doctors to get something done. That information was invaluable to us, we passed this on to others too. I think back to the time I was in hospital for those 7 days and think back to everyone who came to see me. The heart consultant, the NICU Nurse, the breastfeeding specialist (I wasn't allowed to so slightly pointless), the Bliss volunteer and discharge rep who wanted me to fill out a survey! No one came to see me to check I was okay, that I was coping. 80% of the people that visited were informing me about Elijah's condition. No one noticed I wasn't eating, that I was asking for as much medication as they would give me.
I find it unbelievable that they have someone to come around and ask you to rate how you found your stay was, yet they have no one coming to check the mental health of mothers? Especially mothers who have had a traumatic birth, and have had a baby admitted to NICU, mothers who are leaving the hospital without their baby. After we were discharged we were under the care of the NICU Outreach team. We didn't particularly need to go and see the Health Visitors as most of what needed to be done, had been done by the Outreach Team.
Here is where we slipped through the net. As we were under the Outreach Team, most didn't bother with us. What about me? Where was the support for me? I never felt able to go to them to say I wasn't coping. No one ever asked. Why are NICU mothers not being offered support? No one bothered to come and check up on us which I find quite odd. I had a baby who was waiting for an impending lifesaving operating and we never received one call from the Health Visitor. In the whole 6 months. Or to check up on him afterwards, or me, nothing.
It took 18 months for me to get the courage to go and get help from the GP. I was diagnosed with PTSD shortly after. I was worried, they would judge me and take my baby away, or call social services, I was a mess. The counselling didn't stick, I had an encouraging telephone call with someone who asked me a lot of questions over the phone, and for once I was completely honest. I was told someone would get back to me, I would be a priority, over a month passed before I heard anything. I chased them, and chased them and nothing. Counselling was over before it began. This made me wonder, if I was a priority how many other mums, NICU mums, PND Mums are getting the mental health care we need?
This is surely the time our mental health is likely to suffer? Why is there not some sort of check system to go and visit those who have had a traumatic birth or had a NICU baby, or even lost a baby? Perhaps then it won't get to the point where we are diagnosed with a mental illness.
90,253 premature and sick babies were admitted to a neonatal unit in the UK. [Neonatal Data Analysis Unit, 2014 report]. Parents of these babies are 10 times more likely to suffer post-natal depression. 41% of neonatal units have no access to trained support; 30% no support at all.
There is currently a petition calling for change, created by Little Miracles whom I am helping. The details can be found; https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/169168
One in nine babies is born needing neonatal care in England, that's one in nine families that need care too. It is not just your baby in NICU, you are in there with them. There is a reason why the statistics are so high for mental illness when you have had a baby in NICU. It is one of the most anxious and traumatic times of your life. If I am not wrong, after most traumatic events or incidents, isn't counselling on offer? So why is the mental health of the NICU parent less of a priority?
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