It has taken me almost 2 years to be able to tell our birth story and it's still very upsetting to remember.
Some people can talk about their birth stories immediately and some will take longer than me - it's incredibly personal and everyone must process what they go through in their own time.
SSCB Alphabet - free colouring sheets
I suppose, by creating and donating my Bendy People Alphabet to the SSCB charity, this is me acknowledging that I am now ready and able to talk about what we went through and would like to offer some comfort to those going through it right now and in the future.
Having been encouraged to share our story, it's reminded me of everything the SSCB charity and all the specialist staff working in NNC do. Although it's painful to remember, I will be forever grateful and thankful to have been cared for the way we were and know that Maisie would not be here without the help we were given.
Maisie was born in October 2020, full-term plus a few extra days. We had an extremely healthy pregnancy but as I started labour, it all got very scary. Without much warning and only mild symptoms, I had an eclamptic fit and Maisie arrived by emergency c-section suffering from meconium aspiration; she had breathed meconium into her lungs, possibly from getting a shock when I began seizing we were told, and was unable to breathe by herself.
I was recovering in hospital for just over a week and Maisie was in the NNC wards for 3 and a half weeks. She was in ICU initially, unable to come out of her "tank" and hooked up to so, so many wires. Poor little one. I felt so guilty and still do, even though it was no one's fault, just the way it went for us.
Once she was "out of the woods" she was moved into a cot and we were able to get to know each other better. She was still hooked up to oxygen though and all my husband and I could do was wait. Wait for her to be strong enough to breathe on her own so we could go home.
I had many wobbly moments in the hospital being completely overwhelmed, exhausted, sore from my surgery, self-consciously exposed but mostly just plain terrified for Maisie's life. We struggled and struggled to get the hang of breast feeding and if I wasn't fighting to get her to latch on avoiding the wires, I was hooked up to a "milking machine", looking between her beautiful little face, red raw from the plasters holding the wires in place, and the monitor showing her oxygen saturation levels. It was miserable and every hour dragged.
There was no let-up, no escape. And that memory of "no escape" is what led me to develop the SSCB Bendy People Alphabet. I find colouring very relaxing (which is lucky since I'm an illustrator) and I would have enjoyed something like this during our time in NNC.
Parent care in neonatal units
On the wards, the staff try to celebrate every achievement with beautiful landmark cards. They made first footprint cards for us and even celebrated Halloween. Their efforts to help me relax, be happy and get my oxytocin levels up to produce milk were extraordinary. But I found it almost impossible. What I really wanted was to escape with Maisie, be alone and peaceful together without any pressure, business to attend to, or goals to achieve.
Free colouring sheets
I hope these colouring sheets will bring some calm and comfort to those sitting right where I was. To anyone sat beside tanks and cots, unable to connect physically to each other as you may have dreamed. I hope new parents will be able to connect with their baby's name, with calming, happy colours and find that escape I longed for.
As well as those sat with their babies, I hope this Bendy Alphabet will help connect family and friends to those inside NNC. My Mum was at a complete loss when Maisie arrived, unable to visit due to covid restrictions, just waiting from a distance. She took to making needle felted daisies to give the staff at the hospital as a "thank you from Maisie". Maybe she would have enjoyed colouring too.
I tell Maisie that she's a good girl, a clever girl, and the best little girl in the world, and I mean it with my whole heart. We are very lucky that she is here without any lasting damage after her traumatic entrance into the world. I know some are not so lucky. The care that every baby receives at The Simpson Neonatal Unit is outstanding and I am grateful that, as a new family, we learned so much from our time there with support from medical specialists and neonatal staff. They should be hailed as heroes, helping families through the toughest days of their lives.
Rachel, James & Maisie x
You can learn more about Rachel and view her work at woollygran.com