Making friends on the neonatal unit – Lucy’s story

The neonatal unit can be a lonely time. Lucy - whose daughter was born at 29 weeks - describes the value of making friends with other parents.

It just takes one person to say hello and that’s how it started for us. We'd seen each other around, thrown each other a cautious smile but it was Shoshi who started talking to me, then I started talking to Mariam, then Sinem arrived and we welcomed her to the ward and that’s how our friendship began. I don't think I even realised I needed their friendship, I thought I was content to hold my teeny tiny baby for hours in silence, with the occasional chat to a nurse, a quick break in the canteen, maybe even five minutes fresh air. But the moment these wonderful women came into my life the sun started to shine again.

We are all from very different backgrounds and cultures; they say you should never discuss politics or religion but it was strangely one of the first discussions we had! When you are all sat facing each other for hours, bonding with your tiny miracle you can end up discussing the strangest topics. Despite our differences, we all shared a unique bond. All of our babies were born before 30 weeks and we went on the neonatal journey together. Each one of us had our own pathway – one day we’d be planning to go home, the next we’d be back in ITU. It was always one step forward and two steps back. But we had each other for every step and always found a way to make a joke about something and keep each other positive.

My ‘amazing’ Grace was born at 29 weeks and was making incredible progress, so much so we started to talk about going home with the doctors. She was even moved on to the “going home formula” then one day she just stopped breathing. I had popped to the hospital canteen when I saw the ward matron walk in and just knew in my gut she was looking for me. She calmly took me back to the ward and explained that Grace had apnoea and had been taken back to ITU to be intubated.

For the next 72 hours we didn’t know what would happen or what was wrong. She had every test they could offer and all I could do was hold her tiny hand. I have an incredible husband and family who were supporting me but unless you living it I don’t think anyone truly understands what you are going through. My group of friends from the unit gave me the most amazing support, whether it was a hug, a message, or a chocolate biscuit- it was exactly what I needed to get through.

Aside from having each other’s backs through our neonatal journeys, we also updated each other when we had to leave the hospital. Most of us had other children so couldn’t be on the unit 24 hours. We set up a WhatsApp group and found a lot of comfort from updating each other on small things like: "Your baby is happily asleep". We never provided medical updates, we knew that wasn't what we should be doing. Besides, the nurses and doctors on the unit were always very good at providing telephone updates when we called.

As each of our babies left the hospital one by one we celebrated with each other; with cards, with hugs, with smiles and of course tears. We are fortunate that we live close to each other. Our WhatsApp group continues: reflux updates, night feed chats and now weaning tips. We also try and see each other as much as we can, and the way we supported each other in ward continues. I will forever value the support, friendship, kindness, and humour we found with each other, and I don’t think I could have got through the past six months without it.

If you are reading this and you have just had a baby admitted to a neonatal ward my advice would be just to say hello. Ask someone how they are, ask if they want some water - those wards are very hot - ask if they want to join you for lunch and get that conversation going. It could really help your neonatal journey to have friends who can hold you up along the way.

If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this post and would like support, you can view our online support pages.

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