A letter to our neonatal staff- Sarra Hoy

Ahead of World Prematurity Day, Bliss Scotland Ambassador Sarra Hoy shares a letter she wrote to unit staff after her son was discharged from hospital.

An introduction to this letter

I started chatting recently to a lady in my gym class, who had a 30 year old son. Somewhat in passing she told me he had been born, without warning, 10 weeks early. I smiled and told her my 4 year old son had been born 11 weeks early. We looked at each other for a few moments as we both silently acknowledged a mutual understanding of what we had each been through and what we had witnessed. Our eyes both involuntarily filled with tears and she simply said “it never leaves you.”

For me, at least, this is statement is so true. Never a day goes by when I don’t think about our weeks on the neonatal unit. But there are certain days that act as landmarks in each year, like birthdays, Christmas or World Prematurity Day, that can make you stop and take stock of just how far we have come.

So as we approach World Prematurity Day this year, I thought I would share extracts of a letter I wrote to our neonatal unit after Callum was discharged. We owe so much to those who cared for Callum and to the researchers and scientists who have dedicated their lives to improving outcomes of babies like ours. Whilst these wonderful people may not remember all of the names and faces of the babies they have cared for, We would like them to know they are always remembered by us, especially on these landmark days.

The NHS staff are made up of amazing people who go above and beyond. Currently in the UK, over 60% of neonatal units are grossly understaffed. Nurses and doctors work tirelessly to cover these gaps but it means, for example, there are often not enough neonatal nurses to staff all of the cots on a unit. So for World Prematurity Day this year, I’d like to say thank you to the wonderful neonatal staff around the country who have loved and cared for our babies in our absence and who continue to do so, despite such difficult working conditions.

A letter to our neonatal unit staff

To you all,

I have written this letter many times already in my head and in fact, not a day has gone by when I haven't thought of you all and given thanks for the role each one of you played in our journey through neonatal care.

Our baby boy, Callum arrived 11 weeks early. His premature arrival was a terrible shock and we were very, very scared about what lay ahead, both for him and for us as a family.

He was transferred immediately into intensive care and twenty four long hours later, I was wheeled into the hushed, darkened room to meet Callum for the first time and that is where we were introduced to you all.

I stared, shocked, startled and stunned, as you quietly introduced me to my baby. I watched through the incubator glass as you cared for him, always ensuring he was as comfortable as possible. It was clear to see you performed your roles with care and devotion. We looked on as you delicately used one finger and one thumb to gently lift him, move him, change him and adjust the countless tubes and wires that surrounded him and covered his tiny face.

He was so fragile and vulnerable, like a baby bird that had fallen from its nest; no feathers, just translucent, impossibly paper thin skin, which was draped over the tiniest of bodies.

We listened as you reassured us. You encouraged us while we learned to do the same as you: how to change his nappy; how to wash his face; and how to move him, all within the confines of his incubator and machines that kept him alive.

You stood quietly by our side, as we learned how to hold him and how to cuddle him amidst all of those terrifying tubes and wires. Behind every picture of a mother holding her baby in NICU, is a nurse who is keeping a watchful eye. Despite the sound of those relentless beeps and alarms, we were guided by you and we learned to keep calm (or at least pretend to keep calm) while his numbers fluctuated and the machines bonged and alarms sounded.

You taught me how to use a breast pump. Even though I produced far more tears than milk each day, you encouraged me not to give up on my quest. In time, you taught us how to tube feed Callum, how to bathe him and eventually how to breastfeed him, when I thought it was an impossible dream. But with your help, I did it!

I listened as you cooed and aah-ed over Callum, calling him beautiful nicknames. You demonstrated that you would cuddle him, hold him, reassure him and love him when I was not there and I was unable to be by his side.

In sum, we watched on as you taught us how to be parents to our tiny, tiny baby.

When I look back at our time in the Neonatal Unit, it feels like an out of body experience. Despite the vivid memories, I can barely believe we went through it. I can barely believe we came out the other side either. I look at Callum now and cannot comprehend he was ever that small and vulnerable. He is now a happy and healthy little boy who takes great delight in spending his day in peels of delirious laughter.

We are so proud of our baby, as of course are any parents. But when we look at Callum, every single time I look into his eyes, I thank God and the universe for being so kind to us, for I know that not every family has the fortunate outcome we did.

You will each care for so many babies during the course of your careers and you will meet so many families that I am sure you will lose track of their names and faces. However I hope you will each understand that every single one of those families will remember your involvement in their lives, forever.

We shall never forget what you did for Callum. We are forever indebted to you and feel privileged to have seen our baby grow under your watchful care.

With our grateful thanks to you, always,

Sarra Hoy

Callum In Hospital