Staying in hospital accommodation – Ashleigh and Josh’s story

Ashleigh and Josh were able to stay in hospital accommodation when their son Alfie was born at 30 weeks gestation. In this blog, Ashleigh explains that although there are many positives to being able to stay near your baby, it is important for parents to take care of themselves too.

Our son Alfie was born at 30 weeks gestation, weighing 3lb 12oz. What followed was a 27 day stay in hospital; for Alfie on neonatal and for us in the parent accommodation.

My partner Josh had to go back to work pretty quickly because he wanted to use his paternity leave after Alfie was discharged. Recovering from a c-section meant that I had to wait for Josh to come home from work to go to the hospital, or rely on family members and friends to drive me when they could. The nurses on the ward could see my frustration with our situation and offered us a room in the hospital’s charity house.

At first, it is hard to accept that an unfamiliar room so far away from home will be where you are living – especially when you don’t know how long it will be for. I quickly realised that it was important to make where we were staying feel homely to help me to relax when I was taking a break from sitting at Alfie’s beside. I brought pillows and towels from home and unpacked our bags properly in order to bring a sense of normality to this unfamiliar world.

I was surprised at how homely the communal areas of the house were; ours had a lounge area with sofas and a television. There was also a large dining table and a fully kitted out kitchen. Every room had its own food cupboard with a key and a shelf in the fridge, but we never worried about other people using our things. The rooms were very large. I expected it to feel like a small bed and breakfast but we have stayed in hotels that weren't as nice! All the rooms had double or twin beds with en suite bathrooms, a television with Freeview and access to the hospitals Wi-Fi.

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At first, meeting other parents in the communal area was a bit daunting. The house we stayed in was shared between NICU and the two children’s wards. We recognised another couple from NICU and got chatting to them. People are mostly happy to share their stories and journeys with you and happy to answer questions if you haven't been at the hospital long, or to ask you questions if they haven't. Speaking to the other parents, especially if you're a single parent or your partner hasn't been able to stay with you definitely helps you get through the day.

Although I didn't spend a lot of time in the accommodation itself - as I mostly wanted to be with my son - it was nice to have somewhere other than the ward kitchen to go and share a meal and talk about our days. Hearing about Josh's time at work reminded me that we did still have lives on the outside and we wouldn't be cooped up in a hospital environment forever. The nurses on our ward encouraged most parents to go out for a meal or a coffee or even just a chat if they spent as much time with their babies as we did with Alfie.

The fact that parent accommodation is available to some parents is such a positive thing, however I felt as though we were in a self-contained bubble. There were days where people were desperate to come and see Alfie but I didn't want people to intrude; it had been just us three for so many hours. We only left the hospital to buy food, and although Josh went off to work I spent all of my day in a hospital environment, mostly sitting by Alfie's side. I spent most of the night there too because it was so important for us to be taking part in his care. One night I was sent away by the nurses after a feed because they told me I looked exhausted and I wasn't to come back for at least another two feeds. At the time I was horrified but after catching up on some much needed sleep I was so very grateful.

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If you are going to stay in hospital accommodation, my number one tip is to leave the hospital. It’s important to be involved but don't feel like because you are closer to/in the hospital you have to be there for every nappy change, every feed, every weigh in and every shift changeover. It's the most stressful thing we have ever experienced and you need to take some time out for yourself. It sounds almost counter-intuitive but being in the NICU environment 24/7 is physically and mentally draining. It had a long lasting effect on my mental health even once Alfie was home.

If a family member or friend is offering to take you for a coffee off-site do it! Any guilt you feel at the time will pass. Just keep in mind that your baby is in the best possible hands with the doctors and nurses and give yourself a break. The cabin fever is certainly not worth it and a healthy parent will be much better equipped to take care of their baby in the long run.

Alfie is now 13 months old and has already taken his first steps. We will never forget how far he’s come and we’ll continue to walk by his side every step of the way.

If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this post and would like support, you can call our helpline on 0808 801 0322 or view our online support pages.

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